Home Secretary's Olympic security conference speech

Theresa May gave this speech to the Olympic security conference on 21 November 2011. This version is checked against delivery.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

Can I start by saying thank you all for coming.

I know some of you have had a long trip to get here so we appreciate you making the effort.

We have, I understand, over 500 representatives coming over the two days from countries from Azerbaijan to Zambia. That underlines just how important a conference this is and how important it will be for all of our countries to work together to ensure a safe and secure Olympic Games next year.

When London first bid for the Games, our bid came with a personal guarantee from the Home Secretary to the IOC for the security of the games.

So, as Home Secretary, today I wanted to talk about the preparations and investments that have already been made to secure the Olympics, the testing and exercising that will continue from now until Games time to ensure our plans are robust, and to give you some idea of the scale of the security operation that will be happening during the Games themselves.

Overall Security Approach

First I want us all to remember why you, your athletes and your spectators will be coming to London next year.

They won’t be coming for a security exhibition. Or to examine British policing techniques. Or to look at the latest in scanning technology.

They will be coming to be part of the greatest show on earth. They will be coming to watch and to demonstrate the purest and highest standards of sporting excellence.

But they need to be able to do that in safety and security. That means we must have two goals, encapsulated by the aim of our Olympic Security programme - ‘To deliver a safe and secure London 2012 Games, in keeping with the Olympic culture and spirit.’

So our security plans must be robust but seamless; tough but intelligent.

And that is why our starting point is an intelligence-led approach, and it’s why our security plans are firmly risk-based.

It is important to understand what this means. Intelligence-led means we started by analysing the covert and overt intelligence on the likely threats to the Games. A risk-based approach means we looked at all the potential risks to the Games that intelligence identified, and we then designed our security plan accordingly, with resources prioritised to the highest likelihood and highest impact risks.

Importantly, our strategy has also been specifically designed to be flexible, allowing us to respond to any changes in the intelligence picture or to the risk or threat environment that might take place between now and 2012.


We have known for some time that terrorism will represent a major threat to the games and have been preparing accordingly.

The games will be an iconic event, and they will therefore represent an iconic target. That is why we protected the Olympic security budget and the overall counter-terrorism policing budget in our recent spending review.

Our security plans are consistent with and dependent on our broader counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, which is recognised as world leading.

It will draw on the capabilities and expertise that our police and security and intelligence agencies have developed over many years of confronting both the threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism and international terrorism, linked to Al Qa’ida.

As the Minister responsible for our domestic Security Service, MI5, I am well aware of just how seriously they are taking the potential threat and of the level of resources they are devoting to combating that threat. But terrorism is not the only threat to the Games that our safety and security strategy must take account of.

As well as non-malicious incidents such as extreme weather conditions or major accidents, a further significant threat is that of serious and organised crime.

Since the Games were won in 2005 the threats to Cyber Security have also grown. I am clear that we need to protect spectators from all countries from ticket touts, scalpers and fraudsters.

I have already announced plans to quadruple the maximum fine for touting Olympic and Paralympic tickets from £5,000 to £20,000.

There have already been over ninety arrests for serious and organised crime relating to the Olympics under the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Podium, which is funded by the Home Office.
I stand ready to support the police with any additional powers they need to stop serious and organised criminals targeting the Games.

Public Order

The other major threat to the Games is public disorder.

The riots this summer shocked me, the government and the entire British public. We are already devoting significant efforts to making sure they never happen again, let alone during the Games.

Our courts passed very tough, but entirely fair, sentences against those involved in the riots. Those sentences will assure any would be looters that if they commit a crime, they will face the consequences.

We are also putting in place specific policies and putting in place new resources to better tackle the gang culture that fuelled the riots.

And our Olympic Security plans take into account the need to cope with the risk of either planned or spontaneous disorder and to ensure the police have the resources they need to deal with it.

So if anyone is foolish enough to try and repeat what we saw last summer, then we will be ready.

Specific Investment and Preparation

To deal with all of these threats to the Games, significant specific Olympic Security investments have already been made and will continue to be made right through to Games time.

So we have upgraded and enhanced the capability of police control rooms - including command and control technology and CCTV to manage incidents.

We have expanded the capacity of the Airwave emergency services radio system, to ensure that there is a common communication system for each and every officer working on or around the Olympic venues.

A police led multi-agency National Olympic Coordination Centre is now up and running. Led by Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, this unique facility will have a national overview of the Olympic security operation.

The Olympic Intelligence Centre is also now operating. This produces and disseminates national Olympic threat assessments on areas like crime and terrorism and will be providing assessments to your security liaison officers.

And just a few weeks ago we opened the Olympic Clearing House. There they will screen and background check more than 380,000 applicants for accreditation to the Games to ensure no one who poses a threat to safety and security is granted accreditation.

Already, with some 249 days to go until the opening ceremony, those investments are beginning to show their value.

Now to Games - Exercising

But investment, building, planning and training are not the only things happening between now and the Games. We are also undertaking an extensive testing and exercising programme to ensure we are ready for anything.

Those exercises range from ‘table top’ exercises - effectively using computers to discuss how we would respond to a simulated incident - to “live play” where we actually have police officers and other emergency services with the blue lights on and sirens blaring as they would during a real incident.

Indeed, the testing and exercise programme has already started.

In September the first ‘command post exercise’ was held - this involved 2,000 participants acting in the role they would actually play during the Games.

This exercise tested all aspects of planning, including resilience and decision-making capability.

Throughout the run up to the Games each and every aspect of the security programme will be thoroughly tested - from plans; to structures; to how government departments, the police and the emergency services interact, communicate and respond to a range of incidents.

A second much larger command post exercise is planned to take place in two weeks time aimed at testing crisis scenarios. That exercise will take place over a 3-day period and I will be playing a full part.

In February, a ‘Live’ exercise will take place with real officers responding as they would to a real incident. And I’m delighted to say that we will be inviting international observers from several of your countries to that exercise.

All of these exercises in the run up to the Games are aimed at testing our plans and learning the lessons. Where things go well, we will build on that success. Where things go wrong, we will correct the mistakes. But it is only be practice that we will make our Games time operation perfect.

Games Times

Because all of this, of course, is geared up towards what we call ‘Games Time’.

The sheer scale of the Games Time security operation is astonishing. It will involve over 370,000 police officer deployments across the country at 36 competition venues.

They will be securing 10,500 Olympic Athletes from 205 countries. And, interestingly, they will also be looking after 21,000 media and broadcasters - or twice the number of athletes!

There will also be a need to secure the live spectators. A total of 10.8 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets will be available, with safe transport needed for 800,000 spectators on the busiest single competition day.

Our armed forces will of course also be on hand to provide the civilian authorities with support should they need it, as of course they already routinely do.

That is only right and prudent.

The overall security operation will be active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from before the Torch Relay starts in May right through to after the Paralympics closing ceremony in September 2012.

The challenge is unprecedented, but I am confident that Britain is up to the task.

We have a long history of hosting major events safely and securely - from 3,000 league football matches a year, to state visits, world summits and Royal Weddings.

Our track record is one of the reasons we won the bid.


London and the whole of the UK is immensely proud to be hosting the Olympic Games.

As one of the world’s great cities, it is only right that we will have the chance to host one of the world’s great events.

We want an Olympics that the whole world can celebrate.

That is why we are leaving nothing to chance in our security planning.

We are drawing on our existing capabilities and expertise; we are investing heavily in new technology and new facilities; and we are testing and exercising each and every one of our plans, making sure all lessons are learned and all creases are ironed out.

That meticulous planning and testing will help us to deliver a spectacular, safe and secure Games.

Of that, you should have no doubt.

All of our energy and all of our efforts from now until the summer will be devoted to that task.

Thank you.


Published 21 November 2011