Q&A: Dr Peter Ryan

Sport Business News

Dr Peter Ryan, former New South Wales (Australia) police commissioner and head of security for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, talks to Jane Symonds, security editor for MEI. Ryan is an international expert on security with a list of high–profile clients.

Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you got into the industry? "Following my experience in policing for nearly 40 years, where I was actively involved in counter–terrorism planning and operations at a national level, as well as being the overall commander for planning and operations for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games security operation, I proceeded to become a security consultant worldwide. The experience gained with Sydney particularly was a very good starting point, which enabled me to move into the broader international strategic security realm. People were aware of my background, and as a result, sought my assistance and advice for major political and sporting events. "You were responsible for the 2000 Sydney Olympic security operation, which took place in a pre–9/11 environment. Can you tell me a little about that experience? Have approaches to major event security changed noticeably since then? "Approaches have changed. For the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, I was working full time for the organising committee. It was in a post–9/11 scenario, it was the time when the conflict in Iraq was beginning, it was a period of widespread increase in Al Qaeda operations across the Middle East and southern parts of the Mediterranean, and in addition, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans regions had always been thought of as unstable. A whole new school of thought went into how best we could plan for major public events, and how we could use intelligence as a main tool with which all risks could be assessed and a security response arrived at. Prior to this change to intelligence–driven risk assessment, I don't think people had come to terms with risk and threat assessment. It was talked about, but not really understood. There hadn't been proper training in security areas; security had been left largely to a local police force, or to some, in my view, ill–structured and poorly managed private security operations who concentrated on land–gaurding rather than seeking out and analysing intelligence. "You were also involved in the coordination of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. In your view, how did arrangements for Sydney and Beijing compare? "Sydney rewrote the book on major event security planning. There hadn't been sufficient information made available to industry prior to Sydney. Event security planning was an evolving science, and there were very few experienced practitioners available. The thought that went into Sydney became a blueprint. Beijing started similarly to Sydney; early learning had come from people visiting Sydney and Athens, who took that learning back and we worked together to form a planning regime which started from first principles and used new thinking in relation to the new urban built environment. This means that if you're building new cities, new parts of cities, new stadia, we bring in techniques such as designing out crime and opportunities for terrorism. In the design phase of the buildings and the public domain areas, we incorporated this thinking to make them safer. There was also a focus on the way that security forces were trained for the job, greater analysis of what they were required to do, and efforts made to train appropriate numbers of personnel. In Beijing, there was a huge investment in training of forces, and in addition, there was a great leap forward in availability of very sophisticated technology used by forces. "With the rise in international terrorist activity, over the past decade in particular, do you think that event organisers and those responsible for event security are learning lessons as time passes? What, in your opinion, still needs to be addressed? "A lot of people entered the security game without really true and relevant experience. They promote themselves and their companies as being able to provide security advice, when truthfully they're not properly experienced to do so. That needs to be considered by anyone wishing to organise a public event. Law enforcement agencies, who have an enormous responsibility and role to play in securing public areas in events, need to be more willing to work alongside commercial and industrial enterprises, such as the owners and operators of mega venues. They need to listen to what is said to them by security consultants, and to learn from them. We need to look at the best way for law enforcement and those responsible for public safety and security to integrate with organisers. Law enforcement needs to learn to work with industry. I find this happens worldwide. Law enforcement may be very good at doing what they do, but they're not experts at working with commerce and industry on these huge events, or at being comfortable with sitting alongside experts in consultancy roles. They prefer to be in a position to say, "We're law enforcement, we know what we're doing, we'll tell you how things are going to be. "There's no place for that. The problems are too immense, and everyone needs to be fully integrated and singing from the same hymnsheet. It's a big issue that needs to be worked on in many countries. It's a matter of accepting advice that is available, and bringing disparate groups together. Another important lesson is that technology does not produce 100% solutions. Over–reliance on technology can leave gaps in security; technology doesn't always operate to the level a manufacturer claims. It can't always handle mass crowds or huge open spaces. It might handle an office block, for example, but for a huge open area with masses of people moving around, it can't operate as it should. Technology is very good, but it needs to be used wisely. "In terms of major event security, what are your thoughts on technology and research and development (R&D)? Is enough being done? "A lot is being done. Since 9/11, there has been growth in R&D. Each new attack brings a rush of new developments with solutions that might have mitigated or prevented those attacks. I reiterate my previous point about the use of technology–it's got to be fit for purpose. New technology needs to be easily managed and able to be integrated into a technical solution. Things operate in isolation are just another problem for the manpower or management of a security operation. "You have a lot of experience in security planning for major sporting events. Does this planning differ from that for other major events (eg political or social), or are the key considerations relevant across the board? "There are a lot of similarities to any event which involves large numbers of people both moving about on transport and collecting in open public places, en route to a closed public place like a large sporting venue or a concert hall or a stadium of any kind. A lot of planning principals are basically the same. I operate on a blueprint of masterplanning for all major public events. A lot of what I do is informed by 18 months I spent working for a large international engineering and design group. My role was homeland security which looked at critical infrastructure protection, and safety and security of new buildings, open spaces and transport systems. I spent a lot of time with engineers, designers and architects, and a lot of what we designed had to be environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing–for example, large barriers used as preventative measures to stop truck or car bombs could be integrated into street furnishings. I have applied that experience to my consultancy. "What are your thoughts on the major event industry as a whole at the current time? What do you see as being the effects of the financial crisis? How will the industry move forward? "The current economic crisis does create problems for the major event industry. If new facilities are required, it becomes more difficult now–will money be available to develop the way we want? Existing systems need to be adapted and modified and improved–can we do that? Can we afford the technology required for an event? As well as these considerations, there is the sheer cost of putting these events on, irrespective of construction required. Will people come? Will people fly to a location? Can the local population afford tickets? Will it be worthwhile? It's difficult to see what will happen. We've already seen a decline in the number of spectators going to soccer [football] matches, because of the economic environment and the cost of tickets. They prefer to stay at home and watch. We may see a decline in spectator numbers for major events, which will be quite a financial hit for organisers. "'Legacy' is a term that is thrown around a lot in relation to major events. Do you see legacy as a valid concern during event planning, and what do you think should be addressed in future to improve event legacy? "I think legacy is one of the most important areas when planning anything, even in designing a building. There are several factors relevant to security. Firstly, many major events are held in countries that are less advanced than others, particularly in delivery of emergency services and response. If a proper planning regime is created, it involves the fire brigade, emergency response, the coast guard if there is one, hospitals and medical facilities–all these are included and an assessment is made of how good they are at what they do. All that is built into, or should be built into, a master plan. The legacy opportunities are enormous. For a start, acquisition, use, and future use of technology and other equipment–new ambulances, police cars, radios, hospital facilities–all provide an equipment legacy that is really required for the job and that will have a great life for the future. Another legacy area is in the training of personnel and the structure of emergency services. For a major event you get them thinking in new ways and performing to a new level. They will have undergone enormous, properly directed, managed and assessed training, and eventually they will have equipment they can move onto and use. Command and control systems will have been tested. There's an enormous legacy for the host country or city. Eventually there will be a legacy from buildings in which an event takes place. Rather than wasting money by sticking technology onto a building and later taking it down and throwing it away, if planning is done properly, technology applied in the first place can be regarded as a legacy for the future operation of that building. There's bound to be some waste, because some things are very temporary. But even then we can think about how and where things can be used in the future–technology removed from event sites can be applied to government buildings, for example. "Finally, what can security companies offer in order to work with event organisers and security planners? What are the necessary ingredients for good working relationships in the industry? "For a start, everyone's chasing business; but on the part of the client who is going to take on a company, there ought to be due diligence to make sure they're getting the right people. Company claims can be verified–have they done what they say they've done? Can they deliver on the day? Quite often, client–industry relationships could be better served so that the client feels they are part of the process rather than a receiver of services. Security is not a turnkey solution. It requires the client to adopt what's being proposed into its own working practices. It can't be seen in total isolation; there must be integration. Clients must work alongside contracted security experts–be they consultants or service providers–otherwise the operation will not work properly. There must be testing. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. This doesn't always happen. You have to be sure that the technology works, that the people responsible are exercised, that senior management who may be called upon to make critical decisions have a good critical management and recovery plan. "

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