Safety first

Security will be a priority for the London Olympics and technology developers must be involved from an early stage, says Bill Mawer.


In 1972 the Munich Olympics was the setting for the massacre of 11 Israelis. Ever since then the Olympic Games, unrivalled as a world media event, has been seen as a potential terrorist target.


At Athens, which was the first summer Olympics after the 9/11 events and came just months after the rail bombings in Madrid, security against terrorism was a top priority. Dark threats facing the organisers ranged from kidnappings to bombings to attacks by chemical, biological and radiological weapons.


Countermeasures varied from additional X-ray screening of incoming passengers and cargo to the deployment of explosives and chemical weapons detectors. As a provider of advanced security equipment, Smiths Detection was a front-runner in meeting the special requirements of the Games in Athens.


In the run-up to 2012 London will similarly have to plan to cover a range of threats while ensuring the Games can be held with the minimum of hindrance from overt measures. Terrorists and criminals must be hindered to the maximum with the aid of a security plan.


Crucial to any such plan is integration — electronic, physical and human. The equipment and services provided by companies such as ours may be what stop or deflect an attack or lead to the capture of terrorists. Critical information can be obtained from sensors deployed and redeployed in ways that allow security staff to be used in the most effective way. And the sensitivity and selectivity of the sensors should be automatically adjustable to meet changing threat assessments.


The siting of electronic security hardware is critical and means the manufacturer and its engineers must work closely with the designers of the facilities, security forces and venue staff.


Some of the relatively young technologies in use today will be mature solutions at the heart of the security programme by 2012. Miniaturisation will allow teams to employ unobtrusive sensors or detection devices more widely, networked to control centres.


We will also see the emergence of new technologies such as those employing little-used parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Already being developed for transportation security purposes are screening devices employing terahertz light and millimetre waves to reveal hidden threats such as ceramic knives or explosives. These could be the norm for high-risk locations by 2012.


As a manufacturer, our role in an integrated security team includes equipment reliability and availability plus training and service. This means a high level of engineering input at all stages so we can meet the objectives of other team members. With seven years to go before the big flame is lit, it’s not too early for the security team to come together and formulate a strategy so we can start the process that will lead to a safe and enjoyable Olympics.


Bill Mawer is director of strategy and business development, Smiths Detection.