Garry Wardell

by Mark Rowe

Think back to the summer of 2012. You may have watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics; some readers may well have been at work that night; some may even have been in the stadium. The nation had been through the near-hysteria over the G4S guarding shortfall, which reflected the fear; would it be all right on the night? Not even for fear of a terrorist outrage – would someone stuff up? Think of the Olympic flame coming towards the stadium by water, carried by footballer David Beckham. Garry Wardell, before and since of Securex Security, was the Games organiser LOCOG man in charge of securing that. He invited Professional Security to his suburban Birmingham office to reflect on the ‘summer like no other’, Mark Rowe writes.

On the walls are framed and signed photos of people Garry has done security for at events: Katie Price and Peter Andre for example. Such a background earned Garry the LOCOG job of security manager at the Olympic Park for perimeter and patrols, and found him briefing senior Army and police, and Home Secretary Theresa May. As I said to Garry, Mrs May was not being briefed by him for the good of her health; there was pressure on the shoulders of Olympic security people. Garry’s photos of the Olympic Stadium, and the royal boat Gloriana, under summer-blue skies seemed a long way in time and place now; outside Garry’s office, some youths were hanging around a bus stop, until a double decker came. It was snowing slightly as I came in and I had to apologise for my cold handshake. As elsewhere, security at the Park was only half about making sure nothing bad happened; security had to recognise what was supposed to come in, and promptly let it through. Take the boat Gloriana for instance, which Garry recalled had to come in under cover of darkness – for practical reasons, leaving security aside. That was the only time the vessel could fit under low bridges, at low tide. And organisers had to drain the water around the Park to bring the boat out. Garry’s security responsibility was to search the boat, and travel with it to keep the integrity of the security. Nor could he or anyone simply climb on a boat; there was a safety jacket to wear and an induction to go through. As for the Beckham boat ride with the torch, there was a ‘dummy run, which required work with the Metropolitan Police and British Waterways. Consider also the fireworks, or ‘pyros’ in LOCOG-speak, of the opening and closing ceremony. A cordon had to be around the pyros for safety and security. “That was a bit of a challenge, certainly on the opening night, because you had competitors who had to be ready to start their events early next morning, but you couldn’t allow them to move around certain parts where we had a cordon in place for the fireworks; so all sorts f things were going on and all sorts of things we had to manage in and around the Park.”

Garry recalled the Olympic Park perimeter was 11 miles of fence, and site protection had to take in waterways around and through the Park, vulnerable points (VPs) and hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM for short) on and off the Park: “That was my remit.” As Garry recalled, terrorism even at some points outside the Park would have had an impact on the Games (and never mind the damaging publicity). For example a path, a ‘Green Way’ to the Park from West Ham Underground station, went over roads, estates, and a bridge which carried a mains sewer. HVM – barriers and bollards – as elsewhere was to deter or slow vehicle bombs; yet the Park still had to let service vehicles in and out (and David Beckham carrying the torch – only the Queen could parachute into the Games!?). As for vulnerable points, the railway went to Stratford and the Park, giving the potential for people to walk along the track to gain access to the Olympic Park perimeter. LOCOG, then, had to manage its VPs 24-7: hence besides fencing, CCTV, passive infra-red detectors, and patrolling officers.

Eleven miles of fencing! As Garry added, nor could anyone cut easily from one side of the Park to the other. Gary had just under 180 staff per shift, to manage that perimeter and to patrol, on foot and in vehicles, besides dogs and handlers as back-up. Each foot patrol pair had its own section and had to be able to attend to an alarm activation within two minutes, ‘wherever that was on the perimeter of the Olympic park’, and then to assess the alarm, to cancel or escalate. Shift change-overs were managed by having patterns of six to six and eight to eight so that as someone came on at six, they were in place before the man came off at eight. Garry was also responsible for LOCOG assets. Think back to venue accreditation and tickets; you had to collect your ticket off-Park, as it was hardly secure to have people who could claim to be calling for tickets coming to the Park. The place holding the tickets, therefore, had to be secured 24-7; you can imagine the risk arising from any ‘shrinkage’ (to use a retail term) of tickets whether stolen or simply mislaid. External patrols, too, managed the perimeter. At Games time, some roads were closed – that is, HVM was ‘activated’ – to better manage the sheer flow of people to and from the Park. All delivery and other traffic had to be searched, at vehicle screening areas (VSAs – by now readers may have noted the sheer number of acronyms Games workers had to master). Likewise people were searched airport-style, at personnel screening areas (PSAs). Given the complexity of the operation, not only for security but for a pleasurable time at what was after all a sporting event, and the complexity of how everything – logistics and catering (think of the McDonalds restaurants alone, or the food vouchers that patrollers would need), communications (and patroller briefings), ticketing, media, sponsors and VIPs, besides the various buildings housing all the competitions. Think also of how all those related to each other. Plans and policies abounded; and had to. Garry for instance was also responsible for the emergency services area, which was ‘tucked out of the way’, housing police, military, horse-boxes, and so forth.

Garry lived in London from January to the end of September: “Fortunately I was able to get a flat, 15 minutes walk from the site.” So he would walk to work perhaps at 5am, which was ‘an experience in itself’. One of the reasons London won the right to host the Games in 2005 was that it pointed to re-generation of what has historically been a deprived area of east London. That is one other security aspect to keep in mind; that the shiniest, newest development in Britain of our time was next door to everyday crime. Besides, the Games site faced the risk – unfounded, but real enough at the time – of single-issue campaigners occupying or climbing a building, such as the Orbit statue near the Olympic Stadium, to publicise their cause. By the week before the Games and during the event, the police profile around the Park was stepped up, 24-hours. Garry began his work for LOCOG at their Canary Wharf offices, taking the Docklands Light Railway into the City; seeing the contractors coming to work while the Park was still in the building phase. LOCOG ran open days; there were test events, that on the May Bank Holiday for instance saw some 140,000 people on the Park – a small number compared with the August peak, but huge by any other standard. Such tests were needed to see how the PSAs worked – the screening of visitors – and to identify any pinch-points as crowds moved around. “That gave us the opportunity to test the security systems from a control room point of view.” In a word, putting the plans into practice.

Was I right in thinking, I asked, that it was a relief to get to the big day? Garry replied that some had been at LOCOG years planning; Garry, only months. He agreed it was a satisfying day to open a world event, ‘and I am the first line of defence, the perimeter’. They were as they say – and they did say – ‘living the dream’. The athletes of all nations, all enjoying the spectacle (that the athletes, too had devoted years to train for), were there. “The weather was awful last year but fortunately for most of the Olympics we had some cracking weather and the weather made it.” Readers may well have been among the crowds cheering at British victories; as Garry made plain, workers shared the joy of those watching. “You can’t buy those moments,” Garry recalled. “Just being part of that moment. And as they said afterwards, it was the biggest and the best Olympics they had in terms of attendance.” And, I went on, a security success. Garry laughed and paused, and told of a breach, though he did stress it was a breach not of the Olympic Park itself but into a sterile area outside the Park perimeter which was monitored by security. “There was a procedure that we had which they called a flash call. A flash call came in; you just ran out and this guy had breached the fencing, come over the fencing and done a runner from G4S, heading towards the main arena. We responded quickly and put him down and got the police involved long before he got to the arena.” The intruder was not found with anything, but at the time the security officers were not to know that he could have been carrying explosives. During the ‘transition’ days after the Olympics, when banners and equipment were changed for the Paralympics, it was still ‘business as usual’ for Garry as the perimeter still had to be maintained.

It was hard work – putting in 14 and 15 hour days. As you would expect from any event so large, there were highs and lows, not least sharing the spectators’ highs and lows as British athletes did well or not. “There were different levels of threat you were constantly dealing with. You had to be on the ball 24-7, this was not a nine to five job.” Because, as Garry added, the Olympics (and Paralympics) were not 9-5 events. Some sports ran until 11.30pm and the last spectators might leave only at 1am. At the same time it plainly was a defining experience for those who worked there. “A great place to be, the atmosphere was great,” was one way Garry summed it up. I thought of how veterans, even after the hardest wars, can also have fond memories of the comradeship of the battlefield, as the war demanded a team spirit that veterans cherish and can never find again as a civilian. And there is the satisfaction in an important job well done. Garry showed me a couple of testimonials on LOCOG paper. Stephen Cooper, head of security for the Olympic Park, wrote of Garry as hard-working, determined and sensible, with a ‘strong appetite for work’ and a ‘good humoured personality’, well-liked and respected, highly capable, and ending: “He had my total confidence and delivered an excellent performance all round; he is widely employable and is capable of filling a range of demanding appointments.” And Sir Ian Johnston, the former chief constable who was LOCOG director of security and resilience, wrote likewise, and thanked Garry for a job well done. Sir Ian summed up: “The London 2012 programme has been one of the most challenging and demanding operations ever seen; the security element of that operation has required some imaginative and lateral thinking on a scale most of us will only ever Experience on this one occasion. The provision of a safe and secure Games in the glare of the media and with public expectation extremely high has been a immense and unenviable challenge for us.” Sir Ian hoped that Garry’s Olympic experience ‘remained a fulfilling and enjoyable memory on which you can reflect upon in the months and years ahead’. Just as some people working at Sydney and other Games have made Games work their career, so some in London 2012 may seek work – and be welcomed for their experience – in other big sporting competitions, whether the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow or the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Because while the terror threat may not be the same, or will be different, in Brazil, such gigantic and varied events demand the same planning. “One day I could have been briefing G4S and the next day briefing colonels and majors of the military.” Another day, counter-terror people. Very different people? I suggested. “Very different backgrounds and different organisations,” Garry replied. “It opened up a whole new network for me, of people and organisations to deal with.” The different cultures that had to come together for LOCOG security – men with police and military backgrounds, and Garry who quite unusually had a background in actual events, from his security officer days in the 1990s – is a subject in itself. So is securing of boats at water events, not something most security people ever handle. Garry plans to speak at industry events, for instance at the Emergency Services Show at the NEC in September.

In Birmingham, meanwhile, Garry’s event security company Securex was among other things securing that city’s Olympic-related event. Garry’s son, Scott, being SIA-badged, worked as security manager at the O2 Arena, again, working with silver and gold commanders. I wondered if, again as veterans might feel after the strong experiences of a war, after the end of the event, the Paralympics closing ceremony, there was a feeling of let-down? Garry answered with a story: it was security’s job – again, as after any pop concert or cup final – to steward the crowds out of the Park, to lock up for the last time. “Now that was the hardest thing we could ever do.” People did not want to leave. As Garry recalled, a band struck up at 11.30pm in the main area of the Olympic Park: “Everybody started singing and dancing; the staff joined in, in the end, we all joined in. That was the end of the Olympics. That will always be in here,” he said, tapping his head. As he recalled, everybody had had a good time; were security staff to spoil it, at this last hour, by pushing people out of the Park?! And, to repeat, bearing in mind that the Olympians and Paralympians had been working for years to earn this hour. “It was a great experience.”

About Garry Wardell – visit http://www.securexsecurity.com

If a council or other body is interested in an Olympics presentation ring Garry at Securex on 0121 742 4333. He is speaking at the Emergency Services Show at the Birmingham NEC – a change of venue from previous years and at a new time of year, on September 25 and 26. Visit www.emergencyuk.com.

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