As you have been watching the television in the last few days I hope your excitement has been building for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022!
Last week I joined four of our staff, as part of a wider Birmingham and UK Government group, on the Gold Coast to begin the process of understanding the requirements of the Games and to begin our own planning.
Before we talk about what we have learned let’s get the obvious questions out of the way. The overall cost of sending myself and staff out was around £13k. The force will receive a budget to pay for Games delivery and we intend to draw down funds for this. I lost four working days as a result of the visit. I flew economy. We attended as part of planned programmes put on by the Games Federation and Queensland Police for nations hosting major games. Yes, there is lots of learning in the UK from Glasgow and London and my own experiences from Manchester which we are using. However the threat picture evolves and it’s vital we and partners are absorbing the learning of a live event as you see it warts and all. We are about to host the third largest multi-sport event in the world costing millions of pounds and the eyes will be on the city. I can’t think of anything that deserves more attention in its ability to shape this region in the future.
I would at this point also pay tribute to Queensland Police for their hospitality and a level of access I would never have dreamed of asking for.
What are the big issues for West Midlands Police?
The Games are not the Olympics BUT in terms of the size of our force and city they will feel very close to one. The events are accompanied by a huge level of festivals and trade events. The security stretches across multiple venues and will require the biggest security operation we have ever delivered spanning a pre-event, event and post-event period of around three weeks of intense activity. We have four years of planning ahead but the period 2020-22 will be demanding and we also have to deliver support to the Coventry City of Culture 2021 in that period!
Refocusing the force’s change programme to be games ready will be a major effort. We have already identified an upgrade of the Event Control Centre in the estate programme as a major priority and steps are in place to deliver this. The overall readiness of the force to deliver the logistics around the event will be a big challenge. In June the team who have travelled out there will produce our first concept of operations that will be our first cut of the plan and help size the overall security budget.
The work is likely to cover two main periods. The next two years are about working to build an overall games design with secure venues and supporting infrastructure with the local organising committee. We are already closely engaged in the design of the new build venues. That will expand to transport and the overall strategy for security between policing and law enforcement, event organisers and the military. The final two years will be very intensive operational planning. The planning team will start in earnest after the summer and grow with adverts for roles when we have set out the team structure.
Policing will have many challenges. Clearly normal policing continues and that will be a big test for the force to do as well as meet the Game’s needs. There will be an enhanced intelligence capability to ensure we anticipate and manage security threats at a time where the world’s eyes fall on the region. We will be delivering elements of an operation that looks very similar to Pelkin as well as more traditional sports and public celebration events.
As we looked at the Australian operation we saw some good innovation. We drew some good ideas from their control room and command structures and how they organised the planning. The threat picture is changing and the growth of hostile vehicle attacks has now created the need for some radical thinking on how crowds waiting for events as well as at festivals are protected. Australian Police were actually very creative with some of their measures as you can see with these sandbags!
There was also some great work on anti-drone measures.
Every large event of this type faces challenges with the recruitment of a private sector security workforce at the venues. The gaps seen at London 2012 were also evident in Gold Coast and we are going to have to think hard about the approach we take with local organisers.
Creating a warm environment for visitors but a strong deterrence to threats will be critical. We saw some great examples of good engagement with residents to minimise disruption and maximise vigilance. A friendly policing style was very much in place. Volunteers are a big part of delivering a Games and we will be looking at how we create a Games security family with some key roles for volunteers from the potential we saw.
However the big reflection was on the Games legacy. A strong feature of any event is what it leaves behind. We will have a newly refurbished athletics venue and a swimming pool. We also need to use the event to change the feel of our place. Gold Coast have tried to use the event to build reconciliation with aboriginal communities. I believe the Games legacy in our young diverse city has to be about young people. Creating a more peaceful less violent city. Serious work needs to begin on ensuring this legacy is a major part of our collective Games effort.
Enjoy the closing ceremony on Sunday as it showcases our region. Bask in the return of our athletes and get excited! An amazing event is coming to Birmingham and the West Midlands and we all have a huge role in delivering this event. It’s going to be fantastic.