Contributor: Ellis M. Stanley, Sr.
For the last four decades, the Summer Olympics have attracted—in addition to excited crowds, motivated athletes, and wealthy sponsors—people intent on violence:
- 1992 Summer Olympics – Barcelona, Spain
The Basque separatist group, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), staged a terror campaign ahead of the games
- 1996 Centennial Summer Olympics – Atlanta, Georgia
A nail bomb killed one woman and injured more than 100 people
- 2008 Summer Olympics – Beijing, China
Prior to the event, Chinese authorities announced that they had detected and disrupted planned suicide-bomb attacks and kidnappings
London Olympics: The “Most Vulnerable Games since Munich”
In the book Predictable Surprises, Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins say most violent events that catch us by surprise are both predictable and preventable, but we consistently miss (or ignore) the warning signs.
There is no question that the Olympics, with the presence of vulnerable crowds and television cameras, are an attractive target for terrorist groups. Andrew Silke, director of terrorism studies at the University of East London and advisor to the London Games, believes London is probably the most vulnerable Games since Munich—in terms of broader security environment—for several reasons:
- The city has already had serious terrorist attacks
- There are a range of groups that could potentially be interested in causing harm
- London is a very cosmopolitan society with populations from a wide range of different countries. An attack in relation to conflicts taking place elsewhere in the world could be a threat
On July 7, 2005, after it was announced that London was the city of choice for the next Games, four Islamist home-grown terrorists detonated four bombs—three in quick succession aboard London Underground trains, and a fourth on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Fifty-two people, as well as the four bombers, were killed, and more than 700 others were injured. The city was chosen because of the increased media attention surrounding the Olympic announcement.
So it’s not really a question of whether the motivation is there for terrorists. The key question is about capability. Do terrorist groups have the capacity to attack at the Games?
London Olympics: Security
It was recently reported that the private firm responsible for security at the 2012 London Olympic Games was coming up woefully short with the number of available security personnel.
As I think back to the Atlanta Games, where I was the emergency manager and ran the Consequence Management Emergency Operations Center, I remember the necessity to constantly review and exercise security plans. Security was not simply the uniformed services from around the world that partnered with us; it was every member of the Olympic Team.
Having experienced many terrorist threats, London has done much to prepare for everyday events and probably has more surveillance than any other city. I personally know some of the leadership in the city’s law enforcement and know they do a great job at the “process of planning.” They work closely with other public safety entities including fire, emergency medical services (EMS), public health, and public works.
In London, it appears that not having enough security personnel at the Olympics was one of the scenarios they exercised. In addition to the private security company’s personnel, the city has called in tens of thousands of military troops and police in order to increase security. All risk can never be eliminated, but by working through potential gaps—as London is doing in preparation for the Olympic Games—you will always be better prepared.