FIRE Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett (11/7/2012) discusses the key safety considerations in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games:
With the start of the Olympic Games rapidly approaching it is understandable that the emergency services in the Midlands reacted in the way they did when a passenger on a bus rang in to express her concerns about a substance that was apparently releasing vapours. Whilst the overall response was ultimately a fruitless exercise and the whole event a false alarm, the teams involved gained a useful remainder of what could actually happen to them one day in a real event.
This was not the usual staged exercise. An immediate sense of danger would have prevailed in the multi-agency response. Whilst the immediacy of danger may have passed quite quickly, it was important that appropriate operational procedures were followed and lessons drawn in its aftermath. The television pictures of the professional response of the emergency services on the motorway will have had a deterrent effect upon some that may have contemplated getting involved in terrorism. For others, deeply committed to their cause, the pictures would have had an opposite effect.
A matter of hours after the M6 Toll incident had been successfully resolved the police announced that earlier in the week they had made a number of arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. A routine inspection of a car concerning the validity of its MOT certificate had resulted in a small quantity of arms being seized. With visions of a Mumbai-style attack ever-present in the thinking before the Olympic Games it is clear that the police had to act upon the discovery. Those directly implicated had to be taken into custody and an investigation launched into the circumstances surrounding the discovery. The outcome of that investigation remains to be seen. This may again turn out to be a false alarm. However, the fact that this was not an intelligence-led operation serves to remind everyone that there are those that may have intent to create mayhem that may yet be operating just below the radar horizon of the security services. They cannot be everywhere and the public does have a duty to report in its concerns.
The events have had an equally understandable impact upon the media. Reports that two people had been acting suspiciously around one of the Olympic sites had also emerged over the previous few days. Arrests of others thought to be involved in terrorism just a matter of a few hundred yards away from the main venue also inevitably added extra weight to the media's coverage. It seemed as if suddenly the security environment had got dramatically worse. This sequence of events all serves to heighten tensions ahead of the start of the Olympic Games. Perhaps given the uncertainty over the security situation this was inevitable. If the police or the security services had any realistic intelligence on any group thought to be planning an attack, irrespective of any apparent link to the Olympics, they would need to act. This may not be the last arrests that get reported over the coming days.
These are nervous times as the Olympic Torch enters the final stages of its journey into London. Its success to date is not an excuse to let our guard down. An act of terrorism designed to leverage the international media's coverage of the sporting events could occur at any time. For all members of the public and the emergency services the next few days are crucial. The person that made the phone call reporting the vapours on the coach should not reproach herself for the inconvenience caused to their fellow passengers. The call was the right thing to do.