David Rubens – A Great Success – But Will The Hard Questions Be Asked?

David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates
David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates

In David Rubens fourth exclusive article for Infologue.com he takes a look back at the Olympics. David writes;

“Well, after all of the build-up, it seems hard to believe that as I write this the Olympics have been and gone, and suddenly we are in the post-party euphoria – and perhaps in the all-too-predictable adrenaline-dump blues, that vague feeling of emptiness and regret when you realise that what you have just experienced might turn out to be the peak experience of your life. Of course, we still have the Paralympics to come, with all of the challenges that that brings, but there is no doubt that, from the perspective of the inter-Olympic period, what we have just seen was by any definition a success on a global scale, one which has undoubtedly re-written the manual on how you deliver a successful Olympics. Who would’ve believed it only four short weeks ago?

“So, how did we get from the pre-event doom-and-gloom to the post-event self-congratulation? As in any major operation, there were the Controllables and the Uncontrollables, and both have had their part to play. There has undoubtedly been a sliver of luck (and perhaps more than a sliver) that has helped bring about the success, but then again, being lucky is an important skill in any commander’s portfolio, and we certainly should not begrudge the Olympic planners that.

“As far as the Uncontrollable are concerned, the most significant ingredient was the weather. The overriding memories of the London Olympics will undoubtedly be connected (for the vast majority of memories, at least), with sunny days, and the smiles and sense of shared community that warm weather brings. Even now, Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and a hundred other memories are intimately connected in my mind’s eye with a backdrop of sunny days and Summer heat – and that would have been completely different if the weather had been cold and rainy for the duration of the Games. The second Uncontrollable (at least as far as the Olympic managers are concerned) is the success of the British athletes in coming third in the medal table. ‘Control the news agenda, and you control the world’ could well be the lesson learned from the last thirty years of conflict, and the fact that, at least since the fifth day, every morning paper and every evening news programme has started with news of British success has certainly taken the focus away from the logistical issues that might otherwise have taken more of the centre stage. The third uncontrollable that went the right way, and which certainly backs up the idea that this was a ‘lucky’ project, is the fact that the transport system didn’t have any major breakdowns, and that all of the technology around the Games lived up to its promise.  It may well be that the Game’s managers will claim that that is down to their good planning and management, but I would still like to see how many crossed fingers, rosary beads and prayers to whichever gods they believe in (and when you are under that sort of pressure, it is wise to believe in all of them!), they resorted to both before and during the events.

“However, if those were the Uncontrollables, which held the organisers’ destiny hostage on a daily basis, then there are two aspects of the success of the London Olympics that the organisers can take credit for.  The first is the 70,000 Game Makers, the ubiquitous volunteers in their purple and pink outfits who were absolutely everywhere in London, and who will perhaps, along with the athletic events themselves and Danny Boyle’s (literally) game-changing Opening Ceremony, become the defining image of the Games for the hundreds of thousands of visitors and guests who have experience the Games in person over the last three weeks. Whoever thought of that, and put it into practice, deserves the gratitude of a nation.

“The second Controllable, which only came about because of a major cock-up, was the participation of the military. Despite initial doubts by many people (including myself), the military personnel, from senior commanders to on-the-ground squaddies and fresh recruits, have, once again, shown us what pride we should have in the military system, and its ability not only to deliver a major task under almost unbelievable time-pressure, but the ability to do it with a smile, without fuss, and with  a level of professionalism and discipline that should make every politician, financier, and G4S executive literally bow down in thanks. It just shows you what can be done with professional, motivated people who are ‘fit for purpose’ in every way, and who can then be trusted to deliver based on a pride in their own sense of service and duty.

“There will undoubtedly be no end of reviews of the Games, all of them positive and laudatory (and it is always a sure sign of success of an event when politicians are fighting to be seen to be a part of it….), but as people involved in the security sector, the hard questions about the failure of G4S to deliver the security cover as promised is not something that should be forgotten, or pushed under the carpet. It should be a source of mortification that in all of the wonderful things that happened over the last two and a half weeks, whether in the planning and delivery of the events or in the performances of the athletes themselves, all of which are the culmination of many years of painstaking planning and effort, it was only the security sector that failed to deliver, and did so on a massive and project-critical scale.

“There is no doubt that G4S have, from their perspective, ‘got away with it’, and as I predicted in a previous column, from a corporate perspective it is likely that their London failures will have little impact on their global operations. It is even possible, as an extreme example of corporate chutzpah, that they could put themselves forward as the security supplier for the 2014 Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow on the basis that having learned the lessons of 2012, they are the only organisation capable of delivering that scale of operation.

“The issue of the whole conceptualisation of the security programme as designed by LOCOG, the Home Office and G4S; the inability to plan for the final period of training, licensing and deployment; the clear willingness to compromise the quality of personnel, training and security readiness, are all issues that have serious implications for our industry, and we should take responsibility for addressing and examining them, even if others do not.”

David Rubens has been involved in UK security consultancy for twenty years. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management (Leicester University), and is a Visiting Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor on their Security, Terrorism and Policing MSc programme. He was a Visiting Lecturer on the Strategic Leadership Programme at the Security and Resilience Department, Cranfield University, UK Defence Academy (2009-’10), focusing on terrorism & public policy and the management of large-scale, multi-agency operations.  He has written specialist reports for government agencies in Japan, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, Liberia and the Caribbean, and is highly-regarded as a speaker on the international security circuit. He is currently on the Professional Doctorate programme at Portsmouth University Department of Criminology & Justice, where his research is concerned with the strategic management of security operations at the extremes of organisational complexity. He can be contacted at david@davidrubens-associates.com /www.davidrubens-associates.com

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