Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Changing Homeland Security: A Strategic Logic of Special Event Security

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Changing Homeland Security: A Strategic Logic of Special Event Security

Article excerpt

Late one Sunday afternoon two people met in the Utah public safety commissioner's office to talk about Olympic security. One was the commissioner, who also served as the Olympic security commander. The other person was me. We were five months away from the Opening Ceremony for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The commissioner thought it was time for a change, for security planning to transition into security operations. While not quite finished, the Olympic plan was good enough to start using. The purpose of the Sunday meeting was to figure out how to introduce the new strategy to the other members of the public safety security coalition. The date was September 9, 2001. Two days later the Olympic Games became a trivial concern.

Within a few weeks, the embryonic interest in calling off the Olympics had disappeared. The Games became a symbol of national resolve in the face of barbarism. The Olympics would not be cancelled.

The public safety community began to consider what the new terrorism threat meant for Olympic security operations, with the national government leading most of those discussions. Olympic security was now too important to remain exclusively under local control. The first order of business was to examine the Utah Olympic security plan. A variety of federal agencies wanted to make sure there were no flaws in it.

By the time security experts from the national government finished their review, very little in the plan had changed. Aviation support was expanded, access control procedures were tightened, and a few other elements were slightly modified. It was very easy to get money and people ? two resources hard to obtain before the attacks. 1

Even before the Games were over, national leaders praised what was called the "Utah Model" for organizing and planning a major event and recommended it as a best practice for future events. 2 This praise was testament to the thousands of dedicated people who made Olympic security a success. But at a less grandiloquent level, the Utah security organization and plan were in all significant respects based on the same model used for just about every major U.S. special event since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. 3 While the scale and complexity of the Olympic Games are unique among international events, there are not many unique ways to structure security for a major special event.

Most American communities will never host a large-scale event, but the lessons learned from providing security at major events can be scaled to other events. The lessons may also help guide homeland security preparedness, particularly in states, regions, and cities. As one Utah public safety agency director put it, homeland security preparedness "feels like we are preparing for the Olympics all over again, we just don't know when they are coming." 4


Many communities in the United States host sporting events, concerts, festivals, and other gatherings that have the potential to attract large crowds and dignitaries. These activities are called "special events." 5 The events can also attract criminals and terrorists.

Security has been an integral part of major special events since the 1972 attack at the Munich Olympic Games. In 1980, the United States hosted the XIII Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Since then, the nation has hosted three Olympic Games, a World Cup, and several dozen other major international sporting and political events. Each of those events received a level of security designed to ensure there would be no repeat of the 1972 Munich attack. Attention to event security increased significantly after September 11, 2001. 6

For many years, the details of major event security activities were known only within a comparatively small community. 7 The "secrecy" resulted from lack of interest, more than from any concerted effort to keep details hidden. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.