Let the Games Begin--and End--Securely

By John Barham

Health and Safety

Security directors expect to spend their time dealing with high-probability, low-risk problems such as illness and injuries, lost documents and credit cards, or the occasional arrest for drunken or disorderly behavior. Road accidents, foul air, and Beijing’s extreme summer heat are the main threats to visitors and residents alike. “People drive like maniacs so you have got to have trained drivers if you are going out of the city,” says Beatty.

This will be the first time a developing country has hosted an Olympic event since Mexico in 1968. China has spent heavily on upgrading its transportation, health, and communications infrastructure, but the infrastructure is still precarious even inside the main cities.

English-speaking physicians and modern ambulances are all in short supply; but there shouldn’t be any problem as long as China doesn’t face a major emergency during the games.

Providers like International SOS have modern facilities in Beijing and can medically evacuate acute cases if necessary. “We expect a doubling in the number of [medical] cases during the Olympics,” says Williams. “We’re expecting a lot more dental cases, and a lot more cases of heat stroke, respiratory problems, fractures, and sprains.”

International SOS has moved to modern new facilities in downtown Beijing, stockpiled medication, and given clients smart cards to get quick access to its 24-hour medical center. “We’ve been working with clients on security. We are activating more charter [ambulance] aircraft to get people to centers of medical excellence.”

But China may struggle to cope with anything more serious. Supplies of safe blood might run out quickly, especially for RH-negative blood, which is relatively rare in China. Also, China is a breeding ground for infectious diseases like SARS and avian flu. An epidemic is unlikely, but if one were to break out, it would quickly overload China’s health system.

“How do you evacuate a city the size of Beijing? The answer is you can’t. Everyone will have to hunker down in a hotel room and wait it out,” says Wilcox. The wait might be a long one, since the home countries of infected travelers might not allow them back in immediately.

Yet China has shown that it can deal with emergencies well. Military and emergency services responded promptly and efficiently to this year’s Chengdu earthquake.


There will be a surge in demand for bandwidth and telecom capacity during the games. China has expanded these services, but teething problems and occasional breakdowns should be expected. Nokia’s Wang, a former police officer with close links to the PSB, thinks Internet and telecommunications networks will be more at risk from cyberattacks during the Olympics.

Also, China is a hotbed of piracy and industrial espionage. Business travelers will need to secure cell phones and laptops carefully to prevent them from being loaded with malware. Computers left in hotel rooms in China in the past have been infected with keyloggers, Trojans, and other more exotic eavesdropping programs. 

Security Equipment

Big U.S. and European vendors, such as Honeywell, GE Security, and Siemens have ramped up sales ahead of the Olympics. New equipment from GE Security installed at Beijing’s new airport terminal can detect explosives in seconds, and its VisioWave, IP-based analytic CCTV system will monitor Beijing’s national convention center and the Olympics media center.

Though competition from local companies for these contracts is fierce, exposure at the Olympics has helped U.S. companies. “Reliability is at the top of the list of requirements [for the Olympics],” says J.J. Caine, head of sales at Vicon, a CCTV manufacturer that subcontracts to Honeywell. “We had to offer a special price to be competitive in China for the Olympics, because there are hundreds of Chinese companies offering lower prices.”

News reports say that some American security products sold in China may violate sanctions imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and raised concern that the equipment would be used against dissidents.

The New York Times reported that Honeywell is working with China’s police to install a complex computer system to monitor CCTV networks in a busy Beijing district where Olympic sites are located. United Technologies is helping the southeastern city of Guangzhou to begin installing a planned citywide network of 250,000 cameras for the 2010 Asian Games.

The Olympics fit into a wider government security strategy, called Peaceful Cities, to wire China’s cities with CCTV cameras. Beijing and Shanghai will have 250,000-300,000 cameras each; smaller cities would have 1,000-5,000 cameras each. The government invested $937 million to install camera networks in 26 cities last year, according to the Security Industry Association.

As with any Olympics, once the games are on, the crowds will hold their collective breadth as they hope their country or their favorite competitor takes home the gold—and security professionals will hold their collective breadth hoping that no incident occurs that takes attention away from the good times.

John Barham is a senior editor with Security Management magazine.



The Magazine — Past Issues


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.