Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
August 24, 2022

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The 2022 State of Physical Access Control Report

IFSEC Interviews

How the Commonwealth Games were protected – Proportional solutions and embedding a security culture

With over 1.3 million tickets sold and 450 athletes competing in 280 medal events taking place across 15 venues, the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was described as a triumph for the city – both in a sporting sense and as a spectacle. But, with so much activity taking place in venues spread across the West Midlands, securing the event posed a significant challenge. IFSEC Global speaks with Claire Thorn, Venue Security Manager at the Alexander Stadium to find out how her team stepped up to the plate.

Claire Thorn in her role as Venue Security Cluster Manager at the 2022 Commonwealth Games

When moving from her job on the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Police department to an in-house role as Venue Security Cluster Manager for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in January 2021, Claire Thorn may not have expected opening ceremony duties to include liaising with the police to coordinate screening and searching 72 cars and their drivers on five separate occasions in the build-up.

Then again, managing the physical security of the 2022 Commonwealth Games is not ordinary role. Claire and her team secured the only tier one (the highest level of security) sporting venue, which played host to the opening (see video below) and closing ceremonies, as well as the track and field athletics and para-athletics.

After spending 30 years with West Midlands Police – 12 of those were on the counter terrorism team – and having worked as counter terror liaison for the Games before moving desks into the internal Games security team, Claire brought valuable experience with her. In particular, the understanding of processes within the police ensured a more streamlined collaborative effort with the event security team to protect the games.

“Did we agree on everything? No. But nor should we – it’s about understanding each other’s aims and responsibilities, and then working through them together when delivering an event of this magnitude. Managing the security processes for the opening and closing ceremonies would never have happened without a lot of communication between us – we needed police search dogs to cover searching the 72 cars, as just one example,” explains Claire.

Collaboration between the private security sector, public venues and the police has been under the spotlight since the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. It’s a focus area the incoming Protect Duty is looking to develop as an underlying requirement, and it is little wonder when you consider the sheer scale of the work that goes into protecting large events.

Claire took charge of the delivery of all the physical security measures at the Alexander Stadium. Specified as the only ‘tier one’ sporting venue – meaning that it required the most robust security measures outside of the villages – physical measures included a 2.3km security fence (both rapid deployment and lightweight), 114 CCTV overlay cameras, 53 X-ray machines and walk-through metal detectors (WTMD).

The delivery of the video surveillance CCTV system was crucial, Claire adds. “One of the findings that came out of the Manchester Inquiry was the CCTV blind spot, so we know, as an industry, how important it is to mitigate against such an instance. Working with Wilson James on delivery, we had to ensure the correct people were monitoring it and we covered as many viable angles as we could.

“We also had analytics included with the system along the fencing to spot potential intruders – though we did have to alter the sensitivity to reduce false alarms. Analytics tech no doubt has a place in an overall physical security solution, but you just have to think about how and where you use it for it to be most effective.”

The CCTV and access control technology worked as part of the solution, but in conjunction with all the security and behaviour detection officers that were also stationed to watch for potential protesters and illicit activity.

Protection strategies – Proportionate response and building a security culture

As part of a proportional response strategy, not all areas were specified as tier one. Venues such as the National Exhibition Centre and Aquatics Centre were tier two, while Greenfield sites hosting events such as mountain biking, triathlon and cycling in Cannock, Sutton Coldfield, Wolverhampton and Warwick were considered tier three.

“Ultimately, you have to build in proportionate measures for each venue”, says Claire. “The security for the games was by no means a one size fits all model. Together with the police, we carried out the Comparative Risk Assessment Model (also used for the London 2012 Olympics), to assess each venue’s risk level, which included analysing aspects like the expected crowd size, capacity, and profile of visitors.

“Based on that, we could implement a proportional response – it’s always a balance of ensuring safety for visitors, staff and athletes, without unnecessary measures that actually cause more harm than good. For instance, tier one venues would have cameras across the fence, line of sight officers, and X-ray bag searches with a follow up manual search if required – whereas tier three venues might rely on manual processes.”

Claire explains how building a security culture throughout the venue team was also important – again, something that the incoming Protect Duty will be looking to address. With thousands of volunteer staff to manage, checking relevant accreditations was vital, but so was incorporating basic security principles into day-to-day routines.

“Education is always key. It’s all very well telling staff not to put photographs online and to keep IDs and access cards secure on their person at all times, but it’s crucial to explain the reasoning behind this and what the risks are of not doing so. We had a list of prohibited items that was about 335 pages long, which was always going to be a challenge, so obviously we had to really ensure focus on anything that could potentially cause harm – we still kept a lookout for things like oversized flags, but understandably they weren’t always the priority.

“It was also important to keep communicating security practices to staff members not in the immediate security team, too. Ultimately, the safety of visitors and the venue is everyone’s responsibility – be vigilant and report anything that might seem out of place.”

So, what was Claire’s overall experience of the games and of her first role in the private security sector? Well, we’ll let her answer that.

“Working on the security of the Games was certainly challenging, especially when I had not originally been part of the planning for Alexander Stadium, so there was a lot to get up to speed with quickly. There were many long hours and some lows along the way, but overall, it was such an amazing experience.

“Athletics had over 300,000 spectators across the six days of sport. I am immensely proud of what I have delivered and achieved over the past 18 months. I have met some amazing people and I’m now looking forward to finding my next project which will excite and challenge me!”

 

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