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With two weeks until the Olympic Games begin in London, journalists covering the international sporting event should be aware of the security concerns there.
The Olympics run from 27 July to 12 August and the Paralympics run from 29 August to 9 September. The events will attract an estimated 260,000 visitors to the capital.
London is already one of the most surveyed locations in the world, with more CCTV cameras than any other city, but the media’s focus on Olympic security has highlighted some of the more extreme measures taken – most notably the stationing of surface-to-air missiles atop nearby apartment complexes in East London.
London is on a high security alert ahead of the Olympics. The army, the police, private security firms and teams of hazardous materials handlers are on standby for any security-related incidents.
Earlier this week, the BBC learned that the army will provide an additional 3,500 troops to the 13,500 already tasked to attend the Olympics. It comes amid fears that private security firms contracted to cover the Olympics may not be able to provide enough trained staff in time.
Last week, seven men were arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences after weapons were found in a vehicle stopped on a motorway. In a separate incident parts of a motorway were shut down for four hours after authorities received a tip-off about security concerns on a bus. Neither incident seemed directly related to the Olympic Games but the speed at which the incidents were responded to suggests a zero tolerance approach to security breaches.
The International News Safety Institute issues the following safety advice for journalists operating in London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer:
Access to the Olympic park will not be possible without accreditation. Locog, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, estimates that 21,000 journalists have been accredited for the games.
INSI advises journalists to carry ID and accreditation at all times and have it on display when working around security personnel and trying to enter facilities.
The London Underground has never had to deal with such a large scale event before.
Be aware of overcrowding on Tube trains and other public transport. London is expecting an additional 260,000 visitors so platforms are likely to be very crowded. Be sure not to stand too close to platform edges as sudden surges may cause an accident.
Overheating is also likely on crowded trains, so always carry water while travelling.
Where there is pomp and ceremony in major cities these days, it is fair to expect protest; the coming Olympic games are no exception.
Olympic protests are largely organised by a coalition of anti-corporate organisations. The Counter Olympics Network, a coalition of activist groups, local trade councils and individuals, have planned a large march from Mile End Park to Victoria to coincide with the opening ceremony on July 28. The network's website lists other upcoming protest plans, which journalists may wish to keep an eye on.
Of course, INSI advises reporters expect the unexpected too -- during the Olympics, unauthorised protests could erupt at any point. Check out INSI's tips on covering civil unrest, including gear, preparation and on-the-ground advice.
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) also provides a safety guide for journalists covering public disorder.
The London riots last summer show that motivation for disorder can be criminal. Journalists who might cover any civil disorder should be conscious that elements of the crowd may try and rob them, particularly if they care carrying expensive cameras, laptops, etc.
LONDON POLICE WEAPONRY AND TACTICS
Understanding likely police tactics is important when covering events which may turn into protests and civil disorder. Based on incidents of crowd control in London including last December’s student protests and the G20 summit in 2009, 'kettling' is the Metropolitan Police’s tactic of choice when it comes to controlling large and potentially violent crowds. The Olympics are, however, an unknown quantity for the city and reporters should not rely on knowledge of police behaviour during previous protests, least of all since thousands of private security agents have been hired, who have different jurisdiction and may behave differently from the police.
Kettling is when police surround a group of people on all sides and may direct them to another location, often funnelling them down side streets to disperse energy. Presence will increase as the crowd grows and mounted police on horses may also provide backup. Be aware that anyone caught in a police ‘kettle’ may be held for hours without access to food, water or toilets.
Be aware that any mounted police will be higher up than you and horses can kick and bite. Never stand in front of them as they are taught to hold a line and stampede if necessary to disperse crowds.
INSI advises keeping an eye on the less lethal weaponry brought in for crowd control. Security officials recently announced that a sound canon -- a Long-Range Acoustic Device (L-RAD) may be on hand for potential crowd dispersal purposes. The L-RAD can be used in protests merely as a means of transmitting messages and dispersal orders to large crowds. However, the device can also serve as crowd deterrent, blasting out non-lethal sound waves, which cause extreme pain, headaches and potentially irreversible hearing damage to those in its direct path. INSI advises journalists therefore take foam earplugs to any Olympic protest in case the L-RAD is used; the din can be unpleasant and disorientating some distance from the canon's targeted area.
Following last summer's riots, the Metropolitan police have built up their non lethal weapons for crowd control. The Guardian reported a stockpiling of over 10,000 rounds of plastic bullets -- which are intended to be less than lethal and shot by police at individuals' legs to disperse crowds. Some reporters may choose to bring helmets as protection from plastic bullets and police batons.
INSI advises that reporters should avoid getting trapped between police and protest front lines, where injury from horses, plastic bullets and batons are most likely. Stay to the side of any crowd with a clear eye on side streets to escape down should a kettle or a tense confrontation seem likely.
DEALING WITH PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS
Olympic organisers have brought in the private security company G4S, which will provide 10,000 personnel and will train over 23,000 -- including members of the military -- to act as security during the Olympics. G4S agents are briefed to act in line with the police guidelines, however private security firms do not yet have the same oversight or accountability to the public as the police.
There has been one instance where photographers and videographers had some trouble with G4S Olympic security. In April, two security guards attempted to block photographers filming outside the east London Olympic complex. Filming is permitted in public spaces but it is advisable to check that you are on public land before you start filming.
Private security firms have the right to detain you on private land, so be aware of your surroundings and your rights. The police have assured the National Union of Journalists of the same fact. Importantly, journalists should be aware that with the diversity of security forces consisting of law enforcement and private security firms, this may produce unpredictable policing patterns.
Journalists are advised to carry ID and accreditation on display at all times, so it is visible to security personnel.
INSI will be monitoring the safety and security of journalists throughout the Olympics and asks anybody with information on any incidents involving journalists to contact Rodney Pinder + 44 7734 70 92 67 firstname.lastname@example.org; or Hannah Storm +44 7766 814274 email@example.com