The reality after the euphoria of winning the 2012 bid
31 October 2007
As the estimated bill of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games hits home, British Transport Police Federation Chairman Alex Robertson assesses the implications for the BTP in taking sufficient measures to ensure a safe and successful event.
It did not take long after the excitement of winning the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games in London for the harsh actuality to sink in: the event would cost billions. It is not only the infrastructure of arenas, athlete and official housing, but the £1bn transport network upgrading and other support services that will surely test the public purse. Added to that are the requirements to ensure we have a safe, enjoyable Olympic Games.
At a promotional reception by Ken Livingstone in early 2005, I was publicly in favour of the securing of the Games; I said that bringing the Olympic Games to London would be a fabulous achievement. Since then, we have had the heightened threat of terrorism, and with that are further costs to combat the threat. We will need more police officers and they will need specialist training to deal with some of the more bizarre forms of attack.
Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. Our experience in dealing with Irish Republican Army bomb attacks on the railway network has already stood us in good stead and provides a solid grounding for today's threat. We also, together with the Metropolitan Police Service, know how to police large events both safely and unobtrusively.
But this should not suggest that there is any complacency about security in the run-up to the Games. First, the ingenuity and determination of modern terrorism requires a matching vigilance if we are not to be caught off-guard and with disastrous results. But secondly, and just as importantly, the resources estimated by our Chief Constable at over £13m, have to be in place to adequately resource the British Transport Police (BTP).
The BTP is unique among the civilian police services, as its £188m budget is funded partly by the Department for Transport and by the Train Operating Companies (TOCs). This funding arrangement is the 'user pays' principle and normally is valid given that the BTP is a national railway service. However, some of the TOCs are querying why they should fund the extra costs of the BTP's London Olympic requirements when there will be no passenger or revenue benefit to them. Clearly, managing the demands generated during the lead up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a priority for BTP.
Any shortfall in the budget will not be willingly forthcoming from the TOCs. The Government, either through the Department for Transport or the Home Office, should accept that counter-terrorism measures and training should be recognised as a key responsibility.
BTP officers have shown great courage over the years in dealing with terrorist incidents. Our officers are heading into the underground network as everyone else is being evacuated. A major concern, apart from delayed explosive devices, is chemical and biological attacks. Extensive training and rehearsal are essential for such incidents.
The Federation is also becoming increasingly aware of the need to recognise the possibility of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in officers. This can arise either through attendance at horrific incidents or through prolonged exposure to an ongoing threat or a series of lesser incidents. PTSD is moving up the agenda of all emergency services and obviously none more so than the police following the identification of some specific shortcomings in how the Royal Ulster Constabulary dealt with PTSD among its officers.
All of this sounds challenging, but it is capable of being resolved. Time is still on our side but the pressure is coming on to ensure that not only are the competitors fit for the Games, but so is our Police Service.