The countdown clock began long ago. We’re now under a week to go until the 2012 Summer Olympic Games begin in the United Kingdom (UK). But sadly for security pros preparing for this massive undertaking, the unflattering headlines pretty much summed up ongoing security problems. Here are a few samples:
Wall Street Journal: An Olympic Security Mess
“Last week, global security contractor G4S, which had contracted to provide 10,400 temporary security staff, announced that it could not meet its target. It now hopes it can provide some 7,000, but remains thousands short of even that.
G4S's failure has forced the British government to call in the Army and police from around the country to make up the difference. It has also led, predictably, to a round of condemnation not only for the private firm responsible, but for private contracting by public bodies.”
CBC News (Canada): Olympics security chief admits firm humiliated Britain
“The chief executive of the G4S security group acknowledged today in London that his company's failure to live up to its Olympic obligations has turned into a country-wide humiliation.
Quizzed by a panel of angry British lawmakers Tuesday over his company's failure to recruit enough people to guard the Games, Nick Buckles gave a grovelling mea culpa.
‘It's a humiliating shambles for the country, isn't it?’ asked Labour lawmaker David Winnick.
‘I cannot disagree with you,’ Buckles said.”
CBS News (US): Olympic security shortfall called “absolute chaos”
“G4S, one of the world's largest private security firms, says it has recruited more than 20,000 staff for the games. But its failure to have them all trained and deployed, two weeks before the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics begin, has left British officials scrambling to plug the gaps.
There are very few security bright spots so far. This fiasco is clearly that kind of negative press that security leaders hope to avoid when preparing for major world-wide events. This series of events is also a far-cry from the positive Olympic security attention received at the Vancouver Winter Olympics Games in 2010. In general, security pros “win” when they stay out of the news.
British security teams have quickly moved to “Plan B” with local police taking on the duties that their private sector partners could not perform, such as becoming venue guards.
Perhaps even more embarrassing, if that is possible, was the announcement last week that two G4S security guards who were recently hired were arrested on suspicions of being illegal immigrants.
“The men, who are believed to be from Pakistan, had secured jobs with the under-fire firm to work at the City of Coventry stadium, which is due to host 12 matches.
Officers swooped on the venue after their alleged bogus status is said to have been revealed in an accreditation check by G4S, which has been criticised after failing to provide enough staff for the Games.”
As might be expected, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to go after G4S for the extra costs to the public.
The Games Must Go On
But despite all this bad news, the excitement is building around the world as we prepare for the Friday, July 27, 2012, opening ceremony and a packed two weeks of sports competition. (Side note: more events than ever will be online. So expect a people to be watching events at work and on vacation.)
The Olympic Torch has now reached “sky-Eye” central London, and I suspect that most people are ready for the real (sports) action. It was announced that Bob Costas will pay respects to the victims of the 1972 Munich Massacre during the opening broadcast. And this historic story offers a potential path for redemption for the current security mess, I think.
The real security test comes during the next three weeks. Will any bombs go off? Will all athletes and spectators be safe? Will protests cause major disruptions? Was London, a high-profile target for terrorism, a bad choice for this globally-watched series of sporting events?
If all goes well, without a significant terrorist incident or major security headline during the games, the lasting security damage can still be minimal in my view – when compared to Munich, 1972.
What I mean is that the world is excited about the opening and closing ceremonies, our gymnasts, track and field events, swimming world records, the personal journey for athletes and so much more. If things get back on track this week, all may still be forgiven – with a few inevitable lawsuits. So while gold may be out of reach, the security teams can still go for the silver lining.
Could most of this security trouble have been avoided? No doubt. Do the authorities need to hold G4S accountable? For sure. Will there be “lessons-learned” reports on security for future Olympic cities? Absolutely.
Nevertheless, this chief security officer remains somewhat optimistic. I’m hoping that, as our friends from India are saying: It’s okay London.