Olympic Games security: where do we go from here?

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Olympic Games security: where do we go from here?

18 Jul 12

Abbey Petkar examines the ramifications of developments involving security at the Olympic Games, and an unwarranted legacy that must be avoided.

By Abbey Petkar

The way in which G4S has been forced to handle the provision of security for what is arguably the largest event ever to be held in the UK will have implications for the rest of the industry for years to come.

There have been many contributing factors to the security staff shortages, but we cannot say we were not warned that problems would arise.

In the run-up to the Games beginning next week, there have been many national media reports stating that more security staff would be needed than had been originally planned for by the authorities. Industry insiders, including myself, have been saying for several years now that the original numbers specified would be inadequate. This has proven to be the case when you examine the latest figures put forward by the Home Office.

Much of the problem has been caused by the fact that G4S could only offer people temporary contracts to work as security staff, some of them well in advance of the Games taking place. A ‘Just in Time’ approach could not work due to the complex scheduling situation that would be needed for the Games.

Many of the people offered temporary contracts months ago have since gone on to find permanent employment with other businesses, which is completely understandable in the current economic climate.

Volunteer schemes: a legacy

Volunteer schemes were launched to induce a legacy for the Games, but these have also raised further issues. The security industry was concerned that trained staff on proper pay and conditions would be replaced in favour of volunteers, but the use of volunteers for such an important job was never going to work due to the fact that they are volunteers – they simply do not have the same experience or commitment of a Security Industry Authority (SIA)-licensed and trained security officer.

While I understand the need to boost the number of people working on security for the Games, working on the Olympics is not a ‘stop gap’ but rather a step forward that could lead to a career within the security industry thanks to experience gained.

The security success of the Olympics should have been based on effective partnerships. When London was first awarded the Olympic Games, it was suggested that members of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) worked in partnership to provide security. This notion fell by the wayside when the Government decided in favour of awarding the contract to a single solutions supplier.

Working in partnership is vital to the success of any security project, no matter how big or small, as such a process allows different groups to exchange ideas and share expertise. However, LOCOG’s restrictions have not allowed G4S to work in partnership with other security companies such as ourselves.

For example, we have worked with The Royal Parks – whose sites will be extensively used throughout both the Olympic and Paralympic Games – for many years now and our staff have in-depth knowledge of the local areas. We’ve been unable to share our experience due to the restrictions and penalties imposed.

Tarnishing the industry’s reputation

The biggest issue is that the national media coverage of the current situation will tarnish the reputation of the security industry. Security companies have worked hard for many years to promote its professionalism, and in particular since regulation and licensing was brought in. The picture currently being painted of security staff in the national media is one of untrained personnel who turn up late or not at all. This is simply not the case.

Security officers are often the unsung heroes who act as additional ‘eyes and ears’ for the police service. In London, a large proportion of security officers are trained to Project Griffin standards, involving specific counter-terrorism instruction provided by the police. They are highly trained individuals who have received specific training and are licensed to carry out that crucial work. They serve on the frontline, often under exceptional circumstances, to protect members of the public.

We have many examples of our own staff saving peoples’ lives. As recently as last week, one of our officers was called on to use a defibrillator to save a man’s life. There was another instance where a young woman slashed her wrists and one of our officers stemmed the blood flow until the ambulance arrived, therefore saving her life.

Due to the current situation the whole security industry is being tarnished and potentially pushed back ten years to a time when security personnel were not licensed and almost anybody could become a security officer.

These days, since the introduction of the SIA, everybody on the frontline has to carry a security licence, undergo a criminal record check (together with a credit check) and be subjected to a five-year history check.

Making ACS membership mandatory

All industries harbolur rogue operators, and the security industry is no different. This situation could be resolved quite quickly and easily by the SIA making Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) membership mandatory and not voluntary as it is at the moment. This would allow all companies to achieve a basic level of quality audited by SIA-approved auditors.

Companies can improve on their basic score to achieve much higher levels. We currently sit in the Top 5% of all SIA-accredited private security companies in the UK.

Today’s security officers are not only well trained but also use the latest technology to perform their duties. Therefore, it’s wholly wrong that the industry should be portrayed in the way that it has been (and is being), thus resulting in security companies having to work even harder to shrug off a negative image that has remained for far too long and is now some way from the truth of the matter.

Abbey Petkar is managing director of Magenta Security Services

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Abbey Petkar: managing director at Magenta Security Services

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