Gold CoastA very important meeting is scheduled to take place in Birmingham in June.  A multifunctional review of the Gold Coast Games review is scheduled to occur and, given its importance to the delivery of the Games, the performance of security at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games is expected to be high on the agenda.

The Commonwealth Games Federation, the CGF, will host a meeting to discuss the key learnings from the recent Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Invitees from the Gold Coast operation will participate and, facilitated by senior executives from the CGF, they will discuss the Games outcomes – the good and the bad – with the British stakeholders who will have key roles and responsibilities delivering the next edition of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

Representatives from Birmingham City, the County of West Midlands and United Kingdom ministries and agencies will have an opportunity to talk with the CGF and its Queensland and Gold Coast guests on the sports delivery program, venue design and operations, transport, the accreditation system, the athletes’ village, broadcasting, the live sites and security.  Like every previous Games debrief, it should prove to be a frank, objective and wide-ranging discussion.

There is little doubt most aspects of the Gold Coast Games met and even exceeded expectations.  The sports program was a sensational success.  Similarly, athletes from the 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth were virtually unanimous in their unstinting praise for the organisation of the Games.

There were lots of strong positives about the Gold Coast Games but there is one truth about international major events – there is no such thing as a perfect event.  There are too many moving parts, complex interdependencies and operational variables.  Every Games has its weaknesses and the rationale for a Games debrief is to identify them, discuss solutions and make the next edition of the event even better than the preceding one.  The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games was an outstanding success – including the security operation – and Australian observers attended and brought back lots of lessons for the Gold Coast.

There was a tidal wave of international publicity generated by the recent Gold Coast Games.  Much of it, thankfully, was about the sensational sporting achievements – the feats of strength, endurance, dignity and courage.   Five Commonwealth teams won their first ever medals, 14 world records were broken, there was a PNG weightlifting gold medal for the ages and the unprecedented integration of the Paralympic program into the Games was a massive success.

On the negative, it was widely reported the closing ceremony was a disaster of style, form and substance.  And transport incurred several days of challenges starting with long delays at the Broadbeach transport interchange on the evening of the opening ceremony.

So how is the CGF likely to rate security outcomes at the Games?

The complexity of delivering a major international multi-sport event over 11 days, comprising 275 events in 19 sports, involving 4500 athletes from 72 nations and territories should not be underestimated.   Similar to challenges confronted by the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, the Gold Coast commercial security operation was always going to be a significant challenge for GOLDOC, the organising committee contracted by the CGF.

Outstanding support was provided to GOLDOC by its governmental partners, particularly the Queensland Police Service, to assist it discharge its responsibilities.  Nevertheless, it’s the organising committee which had to scope and install much of the security overlay around venues and had to contract, train, deploy and oversee the security guard force for the Games.

GOLDOC received a great deal of media criticism over the no-show and attrition rates among its contracted guard force.  However, there are extenuating circumstances that need to be understood; and, frankly, these risks were foreseen and largely mitigated by adept contingency planning.

The State Government and Gold Coast Council were understandably keen for the Games to generate local employment opportunities and the guard force was identified as a pathway to train or reskill unemployed people in south-east Queensland.  There were always concerns about how many in this demographic were serious about entering or getting back into the work force and those concerns were validated as most of the no-shows came from this local pool of people.

GOLDOC had the foresight to contract several of the most reputable national guarding providers so it had the option to cover shortfalls by flying in additional personnel from interstate or New Zealand.  And that was exactly what happened.

Moreover, there was always a plan to ensure there was no possibility of a London 2012 Games calamity (when G4S couldn’t provide the contracted guard force required and the British Army had come to the rescue).  Apart from the Army personnel undertaking vehicle screening operations at selected locations like the International Broadcast Centre, GOLDOC had also arranged for several hundred Army Reserves to be on standby at Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane.  If required, they would have been back-filled into screening operations at Games sports venues. As it happened, those Reserves were not needed.

Despite the contingency planning, there was an initial delay in GOLDOC backfilling its ‘no-shows’ and this certainly contributed to adverse media coverage.  The reason for the delay was because the replacement guards had to be brought in from interstate, briefed, kitted out and deployed.   Consequently, the first few days of the Games were challenging for security and GOLDOC had to prioritise its deployment decisions based on practical requirements and risk assessments.

For example, the CGF was initially concerned that less than half the anticipated number of guards were deployed at the Sheraton Mirage, the Games Family Hotel and CGF headquarters, during the first few days of the Games.  However, by the time of the pre-Games meeting of the Sports Ministers of the Commonwealth – and prior to the arrival of Prime Minister Turnbull, Governor-General Cosgrove and CGF Vice-Patron Prince Edward – an adequate cohort of guards were deployed at the venue and the GOLDOC security operation proceeded smoothly and effectively.

Notwithstanding the initial challenges faced by GOLDOC, it needs to be emphasised the security screening operations at key venues like Carrara and Robina met CGF and public expectations and, in fact, the conduct of venue screening operations and the throughputs achieved were arguably as good as could be achieved at any international major event.

The CGF is expected to evaluate the performance of security at the Gold Coast venues quite positively.  However, the Games security operation is too big and complex, it has too many “moving parts”, to ever be perfect.  There will be some quite specific issues discussed with the next hosts from Birmingham – areas and issues for redress or improvement.

In particular, there were constant worries about security breaches of access control between the International Zone and the Residential Zone within the Athletes’ Village.  Regrettably, GOLDOC omitted to install accreditation bar-code reader technology so security guards had to try and match faces with the photos on individual accreditation cards.   Given the many thousands of pedestrian movements through that critical check point each day, this proved to be a virtually impossible task and it was, therefore, unsurprising some unauthorised people gained access into the residential zone.  This was a very disturbing and frankly unacceptable situation to occur in an Athletes’ Village – which is frankly the heart of every multi-sport Games.

There was also a security issue about the use of drones over Games venues, including the Village, as the venues need to be regulated as restricted airspace under the terms of the Host City Contract (HCC) and drones present a security risk.  Fortunately, due to the efforts of the Queensland Police, this situation was largely contained.  Over a dozen drones were seized by police at Gold Coast venues and this issue is going to become an even greater security challenge for future Games security operations.

An issue the CGF flagged repeatedly for action by GOLDOC involved the need to refresh Emergency Management Plans (EMPs) for each Games venue.   Once a Games overlay has been installed around existing venues, it is not uncommon for the ingress and egress pathways and assembly point for evacuation to change – particularly when a venue has to transitioned from business as usual into a configuration for an Opening or Closing Ceremony.   As has happened in previous Games cities, including Melbourne in 2006, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and GOLDOC arguably took some time to fully appreciate the changed Games context and requirements.  However, fortunately, the relevant EMPs were appropriately revised prior to the commencement of the Games.

Another planning issue the CGF raised with GOLDOC on several occasions involved its concerns about the budget and operational risks of GOLDOC Security managing the delivery and installation of the security overlay at venues separately from the venue development and overlay team in GOLDOC.   The problems appear to have been deconflicted successfully by GOLDOC during the Games – although it remains to be seen if this organisational arrangement contributed to the design problems at the Broadbeach Transport Hub that took several days to rectify.  Those particular transport challenges are likely to be analysed very closely at the June meeting.

Queensland Police Service (QPS) played a pivotal role in the success of security at these Games.  Apart from providing direct support to GOLDOC at all Games venues, including a level of assurance on screening operations, QPS performed an outstanding role in traffic management and VIP movements, including the movements of athletes.

One of the notable legacies of the Games is the state-of- the-art Joint Emergency Services Coordination Centre (JESCC) which is now operating on the Gold Coast.  The purpose built JESCC proved to be an extremely successful command centre for police and security agencies to discharge their responsibilities during the Games.  It will provide benefits for the Gold Coast population and its visitors very capably for many years to come.

National agencies also made an important contribution: particularly ASIO (Australia Security & Intelligence Organisation), the AFP (Australian Federal Police) and the Attorney-General’s Department.  One matter that will be discussed in Birmingham next month involves the cooperative arrangements with the Australian Border Force (ABF).  As with any Games, there were a few allegations relating to the misuse of accreditations to gain visa access (into Australia).  The CGF has developed and maintains oversight of the Games accreditation system and expected to work closely with the ABF to understand and address any anomalies or breaches in the system which might impact future editions of the Games.

Unfortunately, the ABF effectively declined to cooperate with the CGF due to an internal interpretation of its Act, despite ABF legislation containing provisions to enable cooperation with international organisations.  The CGF will probably refer some of the accreditation related matters to its Governance and Integrity Committee (GIC) but its inquiries will be made more difficult due to the situation with the ABF.  This is an issue that might require further CGF discussion and deliberation with future host city governments.

There is one last point on the security operation about which the CGF is always cognizant – the budget.   Nobody wants to see a situation where the cost of delivering an effective security operation for the Games becomes so prohibitive it acts as a deterrent to cities bidding to host this complex international major event.  The CGF wants security to be kept proportionate, scoped on a risk management methodology consistent with ISO 31000, and with CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) investment leaving a legitimate legacy for public security rather than gold-plating the capabilities of police and security agencies or enriching entrepreneurs.

The good news is the Gold Coast security budget outcomes appear to be positive.  Early indications are that both QPS and GOLDOC did not exceed their budget estimates and, as mentioned earlier, there are some very worthwhile legacies including the new JESCC on the Gold Coast.   This is welcome news for the Queensland Government but equally so for the CGF as it now moves on to work with Birmingham 2022.

While there might be other aspects of the security operation that will be raised and discussed at the Birmingham debrief next month, the CGF executive team is very cognisant of the principal issues, the key successes and the challenges that unfolded.

It’s impossible to predict definitively what the CGFs final judgement will be in assessing the success of the Gold Coast security operation.  That will only be clear after the June meeting as it will depend largely on the views of the senior CGF executives: CGF Chief Executive David Grevemberg CBE, Chief Operating Officer Darren Hall, President Louise Martin CBE and Vice-President Bruce Robertson.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to say we expect the CGF assessment to be positive.  To use the language of the Games, the security operation is almost certainly going to be rated as “on the podium” – a medal worthy effort.    But it remains to be seen if it will be assessed as either Bronze, Silver or Gold.

Neil Fergus
Neil Fergus is the Chief Executive of Intelligent Risks (IR); Australia’s leading provider of management services for security, risk and crisis management. He has been involved in the planning and delivery of numerous international major events including eight Olympics. He has been the Security Adviser to the Commonwealth Games Federation since 2004.