What London’s Riot Response Says About Olympic Preparedness

Four days after the fatal shooting of a man in its Tottenham neighborhood, London is still burning. As firefighters douse the flames of buildings set ablaze from gasoline bombs, the riots responsible for much of the destruction are spreading to other parts of the country. In London, even areas that haven’t been affected by rioting and violence are under a self-imposed curfew that sees stores shuttering early and normally busy streets emptied after sunset.

Four days after the initial incident that sparked the unrest, there still appears to be no definitive end to the organized violence. Some blame BlackBerry BBMs and Twitter for facilitating the organization of riots and looting, but regardless of the communication tools used to communicate, London faces a bigger problem: police can’t figure out how to quell outbursts of violence and stop them from spreading. That doesn’t lend a lot of confidence to the city’s ability to ensure safety for the 2012 Olympics.

The athlete’s village and stadiums for the 2012 Olympics will come with a $15 billion price tag. Officials have said that athlete accommodations will become community housing after the games are over, leaving the city with a net benefit. The destroyed areas of London are just a few miles away from this area. {NY Times}

Much of the destruction has been caused by groups of a few hundred people or so. At one point it was reported that 1700 police officers were on duty, compared to 5000 for the Royal Wedding. {Gawker} Granted, the Royal Wedding was a planned event, but what happens if an unexpected event occurs during the Olympic games?

Will there be a plan in place to handle simultaneous civil protests, terrorist threats and general crowd related security at the same time? Part of the current problem lies with austerity budget cuts that haven’t seen police jobs spared. There are plans to cut 9,000 of 35,000 police jobs, and emergency responders like firefighters and paramedics face staff cuts as well. When the police are busy protecting firefighters trying to extinguish fires, riots spring up in other areas where there is no police presence.

While the city surely has some sort of plan for dealing with the security challenges that come with a major public event, the lack of a tenable plan for keeping unplanned criminal behavior under control with less than 12 months til the Olympic games begin has to be of concern to residents and visitors alike.

Before and after image of  the Allied Carpets store building via the Guardian

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