Security concerns at the London Olympics have dominated headlines since problems with private security forces were revealed last week.
The latest reports say that an additional 1,200 army personnel will be put on standby in the face of those problems, and that border guards at Heathrow Airport will walk off the job for 24 hours within one day before the Games open.
But amid all the current finger pointing it’s worth stepping back to get a sense of just how massive this security project really is. This doesn’t excuse the ongoing issues. But it helps put them into perspective.
Consider the following facts, culled from various news sources:
- A huge international media presence makes the Olympics a prime target for any terror group intent on wreaking havoc on live events broadcast worldwide
- British authorities have pegged the threat level for the London Games as “severe,” meaning an attack is “highly likely.”
- The Thames River runs directly past the O2 Arena, which will be known as the North Greenwich Arena for the purpose of the Games, when it will host events including gymnastics. The British military have been practicing their security protocols for protecting this vital waterway for years.
- There are more than 27 distinct venues spread across 4 geographic zones throughout Greater London and beyond.
- There will be over 20 Live Sites – official big screen centres with associated activities – throughout the UK.
- Estimates suggest that the Games will attract upwards of 11 million people to the UK – more than 11 times the number visiting for the Royal Wedding in 2011.
- On the busiest day it is estimated that 800,000 people will use public transport to travel to Games events.
- Police say that upwards of 1,700 people a day are being pick-pocketed in London.
- More than 235,000 passengers flew into Heathrow in one day last week, more than 47,000 more than the average day.
- Horrendous weather has added to security woes.
- The rapid use of Twitter can spread news – and rumours – faster than any security force can respond to, an issue that the London Organizing Committee has to grapple with.
So while the G4S security problems get sorted out – which Jacques Rogge, head of the IOC, said are now under control – it bears remembering the overall scale of the security challenge confronting the Olympic organizers.