Lockdown security and temporary urban resilience

In recent years the risk of terrorism has seen sporting spectacles merging with dystopian images of cities under siege as resilience and security professionals attempt to deliver, for example, an Olympics or a football World Cup in maximum safety and with minimum disruption to the event schedule. Spectacular events are also spectacular targets. They are defended through highly militarised tactics and both detailed and expensive contingency planning. In other words lockdown military security has become an essential part of ensuring (temporary) resilience for mega sporting events.

 The ‘superpanopticon’ advanced in Greece in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics exemplifies this. In the midst of the ‘war on terror’, Athens spent well over five times the amount spent by Sydney in 2000, deploying over 70,000 specially trained police and soldiers at Olympic venues as well as another 35,000 military personnel to patrol the streets. Military hardware included a network of 13,000 surveillance cameras, mobile surveillance vans, chemical detectors, a number of Patriot anti-aircraft missile sites, NATO troops specialising in weapons of mass destruction, AWACS early warning surveillance planes, police helicopters, fighter jets, minesweepers and monitoring airships.

 In the UK, the securitising of sporting spectacles has become increasingly prominent as London gears up to hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. Security concerns and responses not only played a critical part in the bidding process, but also dominated media discussion after the host city was announced on 6th July 2005. The day after the announcement a series of co-ordinated terrorist bomb attacks took place on the London transport network. These attacks have prompted even more detailed security plans which could lead to the initial security bill being quadrupled from £225 million to over £1 billion and the adoption of advanced biometric security systems to monitor crowds and athletes and to track suspects across the city.

 The final preparations for Olympic security planning are now under way, managed by the security services, the Olympic Security Directorate and multi stakeholder London Resilience forum who have developed detailed pre-emptive security plans to sit alongside pre-existing resilience plans, to plan-out vulnerabilities in advance. Most recently, in May 2012 Operation Olympic Guardian began – a pre-emptive scenario planning exercise intended to test security and resilience preparedness ahead of the Games. This has involved testing air missile defence systems, the responsiveness of Typhoon jet forces and the establishment of no fly Zones over London. As a BBC correspondent noted:

Exercise Olympic Guardian is an opportunity to fine-tune military plans. But it is also aimed at reassuring the public. The Olympics is the biggest global sporting event and  the world will be watching. The sound of fighter jets and military helicopters, along   with the sight of the Royal Navy’s largest warship, HMS Ocean, in the Thames may     reassure many. But for some, just talk of this military hardware is causing alarm –  most notably the plans to station ground-based air defence systems at six sites   around the capital.

 For example campaign groups such as the Stop the War coalition have accused the government of causing unnecessary alarm and a climate of fear in the capital. This has been exacerbated by related plans to site anti-aircraft missiles on the top of residential tower blocks in East London, the resident of which have received leaflets saying that a higher velocity missile system could be placed on a nearby water tower which offered a perfect view of the nearby Olympic park site.

Such militarisation of the immediate areas surrounding a high profile sporting event should however come as no surprise given the standardisation of security that has become an accepted part of the Olympic over the last thirty years. However the lockdown security that London will increasingly experience – both as the Olympics draw near and during the Games themselves – will raise questions over the proportionality of the security effort and the extent to which local people have been consulted, or not, over resilience-related plans that will effect their neighbourhood both now and into the future.

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