The British have pulled off an amazing feat, presenting what has been hailed as one of the best Olympic and Paralympic Games in its history and receiving outstanding reviews from administrators, fans, athletes and the world’s media.  No small feat by any standards.

As can be expected with any major event, the various organizing bodies for London 2012 experienced their fair share of challenges, the most exasperating and most publicized one being the delivery of private security services for the Games.

The fact that this issue arose in a country that has hosted so many major events in the past is surprising, but is not totally uncommon to major events in general as there is no ’one size fits all’ to arranging security for major events. There are however basic principles that must be understood and executed effectively. 

Major event organizers and the UK government should learn from the G4S experience by performing a thorough and urgent assessment of the future major events landscape to determine the risks associated with involving private security companies in future major events.

It has been reported with interest today that the Home Affairs Committee has concluded its inquiry into security arrangements at London 2012. For the benefit of major events in the UK and abroad, it is important to highlight that the Committee have now arrived at what is a holistic and honest assessment of the root causes of the failure of G4S to deliver on their private security and how to avoid a situation like this arising in the future.  The results of this inquiry will support major event organizers around the world as well as London and the rest of the UK as it looks to host a number of major international events over the coming decade.

Additionally, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games organizing committee must be most keen to learn from this experience in order to ensure that they can prevent any such problems.  And with the 2015 Rugby World Cup and 2017 World IAAF Championships also being hosted in the UK, as well as Glasgow’s bid to host the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the next few years will be an important time for the reputation of the UK and its major event hosting capability.

Nevertheless, major event organizers and the UK government should learn from the G4S experience by performing a thorough and urgent assessment of the future landscape to determine the risks, challenges and requirements associated with involving private security companies in future major events.

A key question is whether or not the UK private security industry is able to handle all of the above events over a compact period of five years, as no single private security company would be able to provide all of the security requirements for all of these events.  In addition, the UK government will need to consider what the bill could be for the tax payer if government decides to take the primary role in providing private security services by utilizing government forces. 

This is a key challenge, especially if government forces are required to perform more statutory functions over the same period due to unforeseen events that take place in the wider international security environment.  The consequences could leave UK organizers and the government with little choice but to rely on the private security industry to plug the gap as the primary resource to safeguard these major sport events

In addition, there are currently many key factors that organizing committees need to address to prevent these types of problems and successfully deliver a safe event, including:

  • Addressing the standard phases of a major event and understanding what the requirements are for each one(Bidding- and Technical Inspection phases before being awarded the event, and then the Planning-, Implementation-, Testing-, Execution-, Close-out- and Legacy Phases after being awarded the event)
  • Establishing a compact yet complete Security Committee free of politics and vested interests (including the Local Organizing Committee and relevant government law enforcement-, intelligence- and military stakeholders) to jointly manage all security aspects of the event
  • Ensuring a quality tender and contracting (procurement) programme based upon sound security requirements (with quantities and quality of required resources per location, including shifts and contingency) followed by continuous contracts-, project- and operations management throughout the respective phases with a clear and agreed timeline.  The contract should also insist on the service provider to appoint a dedicated project team to manage the event’s requirements.
  • The quality of the private security resources should be ensured at all costs.  Even if this means that a slightly better remuneration is offered to the event security staff to ensure that they are content enough not to strike during the event (as opposed to being paid a minimal wage as also reported in the media of the £8.50 per hour wage paid to G4S security guards). The basic adherence to contract quality requirements of language, communications skills, training requirements (inclusive of participation in test events), equipment, clothing / uniform and especially the quality of the food and transport plan for the event security staff.
  • Another crucial aspect is the planning and execution of a Testing Programme.  It is imperative to plan well in advance to host one’s own test events in order to ensure that policies, procedures, training and operations are optimal for the main event.  If the private security service provider is managed effectively, then private security will form a key aspect planned way in advance to be tested during the Testing Programme. 

Although more light will most likely be shed in the coming months on the exact causes of the reported failure of G4S and their delivery of security for the Games, one of the contributing factors for this situation could be as a result of inadequate governance of the  London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games delivering authorities as well as the procurement – and general management of G4S.

A cumbersome governance structure and lengthy decision-making process blurs responsibility and accountability which will often result in poor reporting and tracking mechanisms. More often than not, another major constraint is the lack of a holistic and integrated Security Committee with an effective organizational structure for the pre-event and event execution phases.  One should also ensure that an integrated risk management model is also applied from an early stage.

It would also seem that the initial quantity of required security guards (2, 000) was already far below actual requirements, which were increased to 10, 000 and a few months before the Games again to 23,500.  Many will remember that it was just a few weeks before the Games were to start when it surfaced within the media that G4S could not provide the required quantity and quality of security personnel at all.

This leaves one key question; why did it take this long to realize this sad state of affairs?  Where was the oversight to monitor, track and report on progress?   One thing that is clear though, is that it is vital that quality planning must be performed to establish realistic requirements.

However, it is just as vital to ensure that private security providers can respond in an effective and timely manner to an increase in manpower as a consequence of dynamic threat assessment.  Ultimately though, if the organizing committee’s private security assessment is done effectively, a significant increase in private security resources should not be required.

Failure of private security providers can never be their failure alone.

Interestingly enough, the question of private security versus government forces performing general private security functions at sport events is quite topical, yet not a new issue.  However, it is the issue of replacing government forces with private security that is being addressed by host countries, and not the opposite.

In short, when organizing a major event, if one simply sticks to the basics, then common sense should become common practice

The ICSS was recently involved in the security operations of the UEFA EURO 2012, where it witnessed the handover of the private security and stewarding functions from the police to newly established private security companies.  Currently Brazil is busy planning their security arrangements for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Traditionally the Brazilian Federal Police provide the private security functions at sport events, which will gradually be transferred to private security companies.

Whatever the challenges facing the delivery of private security services for major sport events around the globe, security service providers need to be aware of the realistic requirements, be duly vetted to minimize the risk of failure, properly briefed and integrated into the organizing committee’s structures, planning, testing and operations. 

Failure of private security providers can never be their failure alone.  As the primary guarantor of public safety for major sport events, governments and local authorities have ultimate responsibility to protect the wider public and, in the current economic climate and with many new nations looking to host major sport events, I believe that the safety and security of all those who enjoy the drama and theatre of sport should be guaranteed, whatever the cost.