Playing it safe: Olympics venue feels like a war zone
LONDON — “Panic on the streets of London,” Morrissey sang for the British band The Smiths, and that might seem an apt reaction to the buildup for the 2012 Olympics, which officially light the torch on Friday night.
A military jet scrambled to intercept a passenger plane that accidentally veered into no-fly territory over the city, frightening folks on the ground.
Both aircraft landed safely.
Worry about terrorist drone strikes prompted the military to place anti-aircraft artillery atop apartment buildings near the Olympic Park in East London. Residents of those buildings howled in protest, to no avail.
Yet there's been no gunfire from anyone's penthouse.
Authorities evacuated The Westfield, a major mall near the Olympic Park, on Thursday when someone pulled an alarm.
It was false.
People were shopping again within a half-hour.
What next? The guards at Buckingham Palace walking off the job?
This is life for Londoners right now, and it's a royal pain. But it's come without the punch so far, and that's the way the British government and Olympic organizers hope to keep it, no matter the cost in money, manpower or inconveniences.
“You can never provide a 100 percent guarantee, but what I've seen is, I think, a fully joined-up effort that involves one of the best armed services anywhere in the world,” Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters. “I'm confident we can deliver on that.”
Boris Johnson, London's colorful mayor, found a deft description in saying that security preparations were going “worryingly well.”
The topic became especially combustible last week when G4S, a private contractor the British government commissioned to protect these games, fell 3,500 short of hiring and training the 10,400 officers it promised. Parliament, easily riled in the best of circumstances, angrily responded with harsh rebukes, and more importantly, the government deployed members of the military to make up the difference.
Now there are 18,200 troops participating in Olympic security — nearly double the British presence in combat in Afghanistan — and this city of 8 million indeed has the feel of a war zone.
It's not just the Olympic venues, historic monuments and transport modes. The Westfield mall at lunchtime had, on just one floor, no fewer than a dozen uniformed soldiers bearing machine guns and many more metro police.
“Security has not been compromised,” said Sebastian Coe, head of the London organizing committee and famed British distance runner. “... We will remedy this. I can't put it more simply than this: G4S expected people to materialize, and when they didn't, we moved very quickly to fill that gap.”
The British have a history of anti-terrorism practice: from the decades-long (now dormant) duel with the Irish Republican Army to continuously combating various terrorist groups within the borders. Many consider the police and intelligence communities among the world's best financed and operated, and their stance is to be excessively prepared.
That might best explain why London organizing committee CEO Paul Deighton bluntly called G4S's effort “a big disappointment.” Some in Parliament want the firm to reimburse the government for troops used in place of people it was supposed to hire. Even Cameron stepped into the fray by vowing to “go after” G4S once the games end.
In response, G4S said: “Significant numbers of candidates are now reaching the final stages of the security training and accreditation process each day.”
But the vision of novices protecting lives undoubtedly did little to assuage concern.
The Olympic Park strikes the greatest contrast with past games. The mile-long, multiple-venue area is completely wrapped in 13-foot wire fencing, even between the venues. Walking through it has the feel of a metal maze — nothing like that of recent hosts.
In another unprecedented move, no one can enter the park without security clearance or — beginning on Friday — a ticket. That's unpopular here, as it was in Vancouver two years ago when organizers eventually caved to public pressure and removed a wire fence that kept visitors from the Olympic flame. But this isn't just the flame; it's the entire complex.
Despite the security spat and other problems mostly related to transportation, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called London's preparation “a great success” and said he's “optimistic it will all go well.”
Maybe the most compelling sign of that confidence: The popular beach volleyball competition will be held within a couple of blocks of 10 Downing St., the prime minister's home. Prince Harry himself plans to catch some of the bikini-clad women's action on Aug. 8.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rain postpones Pirates-Cubs game
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- McKeesport man accused of firing at child to stand trial
- East Allegheny may meet this week with education association
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Erie attorney named trustee for bankrupt Homestead Cemetery
- Ankle replacement makes UPMC McKeesport history
- Charges held against suspect in McKeesport market robbery, assault
- Steelers notebook: No decision on surgery for rookie CB Golson
- Steelers’ Mitchell taking cautious approach about dealing with injuries
- McKeesport man charged with sex assault on 13-year-old girl