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Working together on complex international events will boost security practices for all

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PARIS – The EU and its 28 member states will cooperate more closely with partner countries and organisations in the coming years to build on lessons learned from the security practices that surround complex international events, say first-responder and policy officials.

“Major international events are a window of opportunity for improving security, John Gilligan, Detective Chief Superintendent, Liaison and Protection with Ireland’s National Police force, said during the Commission’s 19-20 November conference at the Milipol Paris 2013 technology exhibit near Paris. “Past terrorist attacks on such soft targets point to future tragedies if we don’t work together to disrupt them. Major international events are vehicles for developing cooperative work and the systems to make the world a safer place.”

The two-day conference unveiled the priorities that the Commission will pursue via its Security and Innovation Research programme, part of the EU’s wider Horizon 2020 research budget for 2014-2020. Among these is the growing requirement to integrate security practices among the diversity of players linked to complex public gatherings such as sports events, musical festivals or international meetings of political and economic leaders.

The Olympic games are a case in point, said Peter Ryan, security expert with the International Olympic Committee. Noting that the games constitute the world’s biggest public event today, he said they take place in concentrated fashion across the “relatively small footprint” of a city, with few events taking place elsewhere in the host country.

As a result, he said ensuring the games’ security is often beyond the capability of the host nation itself. “The security requirement today really stretches the ability of a host city to do this all on its own. Even large, well developed societies turn to international assistance via the liaison officers, workshops and meetings of security specialists from the countries whose teams will be at the games,” said Ryan. He added that in the last 10-12 years “we’ve seen a high degree of risk and a greater range of threats coming from actors who can pull off attacks anywhere in the world. The Olympics’ security demands international cooperation.”

The need for cutting-edge technologies and security capabilities is keenly felt at such mass-scale events, though Ryan and other experts warned against relying on sophisticated technology alone to control the risks.

For example, the next Olympics take place in Brazil, a country with 54 military and civil police forces spread across its 26 states and federal district. Given that each state has its own citizen identification card system, the real security issue for Brazil is coordination.

“The real issue is figuring out whether technology can be used as a common tool between our federal and state forces,” Marcos David Salem, a police attaché in Paris with Brazil’s Federal Police who is working with Brazil’s international partners in preparation for the 2016 games. “It is all about improving cooperation between our different security services.”

Ryan cautioned against over-investing in technology that may prove ill-suited after an event is over. “We’ve all see rows of security detectors at events that stand idle. These are very expensive to buy and it’s not easy to lease or sell them if technology has evolved beyond them,” he said.

Salem agreed. “Technology is very important for us, but we have to make sure it is priced appropriately and whether it will be used after the event,” Salem said. 

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