Already months ago, gossip was buzzing about G4S being behind schedule and using questionable vetting practices in fulfillment of its London Olympics security contract. With barely two weeks to go, G4S has in place only 4,000 of the 10,000 it was committed to providing. G4S Chief Executive Buckles did a mea culpa in Parliament this week. In this instance, the British government is at least able to step in and contribute larger police and military forces to fill in the gaps.
Perhaps the massive size and density of an Olympic event, coupled with its relatively short duration, make these games more like a hurricane or natural disaster than anything else. Maybe
just as they are best prepared to deal with emergency affairs (OK, never mind FEMA), the government in the form of policing and military is better able to deal with security on this large level. Soldiers and law enforcement officers are already trained and equipped. G4S was being paid a gigantic $450 million to fulfill the gigantic task of hiring, vetting and training thousands of employees to work very part time positions. It’s not quite the same as hiring on extra sales staff for Christmas at Harrods, after all. Or is it?
This mess has brought up a few other interesting issues. The trend towards privatization of security contracts may be hampered by the negative publicity. A number of UK Police Departments are backing out of privatization schemes in direct response to the G4S scandal. Those who protest the privatization trend posit that officers of the government work for the public good, whereas private security officers work for their company’s bottom line. The implication is that motivations are purer and commitments stronger in the former case. I don’t know.
I do know that the two most important variables for effective security are a solid SOP and good training. The London Olympics security scandal is about missing numbers. Although having enough officers to do the job is of course important, no less important is that the screening staff or perimeter guards actually know what they are doing. I’d go for quality over quantity any day.