Video Interview with Michael Fuller

Michael, good morning.

Good morning David.

Nice to see you, and thank you for coming in today. We’re looking forward to having a chat about various aspects of your security career, and obviously the London 2012 Olympics. But first of all would you like to introduce yourself?

Yeah, my name is Michael Fuller, I was a commissioned officer in the British Army and after a twenty-one year career, I established a company called Global Resilience Partners Limited, and we had some very early successes with the London 2012 Olympics, being involved directly in the design and implementation of the UK’s National Olympic Coordination Centre.

We also led the planning for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the design of their national and we were also fortunate enough to work in the Middle East with critical national infrastructure, oil and gas, for the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, around designing their emergency response mechanisms and architecture.

And we’ve done some work in the Safer City program areas in Beirut designing policing and security, and also in London with the London Resilience team designing their information exchange solutions.

To do a London 2012, how early were you brought in and what role did you play in the initial scoping and design of the overall management program?

So the unique security challenge that the Olympic Games presented to the United Kingdom was based on scope and scale, so the sheer size of the Olympic Games. My initial requirement was to understand, at a high level, what the key elements of the security and safety and resilience needed to be, and then to be able to look into more detail into those security requirements, so we could identify the organisations, the information exchange requirements, and the memorandum of understanding that we needed to put in place between those organizations.

Ok so two questions then, first of all, looking back did you actually understand what was required at the beginning, or did that emerge as you were going through the process? And the second question is, how many organisations were involved in the initial discussion, and how many organizations were eventually brought on as part of the overall management team?

To answer the first part of your question, no we did not understand fully the scope and scale, nor the complexity of the safe and security need. And that was because our security strategy was based on the UK’s counter terrorist strategy called CONTEST, which was not quite fit for purpose for an event of the scope and scale of the Olympic Games.

The second aspect to your question, or answer to your question, is that the Home Office, the UK Government, kept the planning and preparation fairly close to its own organization, and therefore initially the numbers of organisations and agencies involved in the planning and preparation were very small.

Ok, was there at any stage, during the four years, when you went, oh my god, we’re in trouble here?

No, I wouldn’t go to the extremes of suggesting we were in trouble, there were one or two, perhaps more occasions, when our planning and preparation had to be very different to the routine security arrangements that we had in place, and for example, because we were putting in place with the National Olympic Coordination Centre, a new level of coordination function, there were legislative arrangements, so legal arrangements that we had to amend, so that our central government had access to information at a much faster timescale, shall we say, then they originally would have had.

That’s an interesting point, because reading the post event reviews, and we are very lucky because in London we have a massive amount of information that was put on record, it seems that one of the significant, fundamental foundations that allowed London to work was the cooperation from the beginning between government agencies, the Olympic LOCOG and IOC, and then local security agencies in the UK. And it seems that was one of the real successful things that came out of that, how significant was that to you as a planner?

It was essential that we had the understanding and cooperation in place from a very early stage, but what I would like to say is, you absolutely right, the domains as they were called, that were designed to establish a safe and secure delivery of the Olympic Games, worked very well together. What took a lot more time, was to get the engagement and understanding from the nineteen agencies that had to come together, in order to deliver a safe and secure games, through the effective information exchange, and effective collaborative planning and preparation.

Well that brings us very nicely to the NOCC, for which you are well known across the world. The NOCC was the National Olympic Coordination Centre, which was the overarching architecture that allowed all these agencies to come together. Would you like to tell us a bit about the NOCC?

Certainly. The NOCC was a, as I mentioned, a new and unique capability, and I think I’m right in saying that nothing like the NOCC had been in place since the end of the Second World War. Its principle function was to provide a coordination role around the understanding of national level risk and threats to both the UK, its infrastructure, and the Games, but also to ensure that we had a single common point of truth, with regards to what was happening at any one stage, whether that be from a terrorist perspective, a security threat other than terrorism, such as serious and organised crime, or general safety circumstances.

It comprised upwards of four hundred people, once you take into consideration the shifts, the patterns we had to work on a twenty-four seven basis, and it was also made up of nineteen critical security and safety organisations.

Ok, two questions from that then. Was there a problem integrating, what one might call, restricted information, intelligence, and sharing that within a wider community? And second, this is another critical issue, what role did training and exercising take in capability development?

And very valid questions. The National Intelligence Model for the United Kingdom allows our security services and agencies, and security responders, to receive the most appropriate intelligence at the most appropriate time, to elicit the most appropriate response. During the Olympic Games we had to change that model slightly to ensure that our critical resources were available at any one time on a national basis, but also to ensure that our key government decision makers had access to the right intelligence at the right time.

Yes, initially there was a real reluctance to share intelligence, of course, as there generally is, and in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, and during the Olympic Games itself, the appetite for sharing intelligence became much less restricted, out of necessity. That doesn’t mean to say the sharing of intelligence went beyond those organisations that needed to know, because it was critical that it was still retained within those organisations that needed to know.

What we had to do from a very early stage, was a number of strategic, tactical and operational level work-shops, table-top exercises and scenario based live play exercises, using quite often real intelligence, or based on real life scenarios, we had to test that the intelligence model would work, we had to test that we were able to share information in the right timescales between the right organisations, we had to test that we had the right response at every level of command, control and coordination, and I include in that the need for exchanging information or escalating decision making from the gold level of command and control up to central government. And we did that using a progressive assurance model to ensure that every level, down to individual people, were tested and understood their role under a number of different threats and risks that were presented.

So yes, out of necessity, what we had to do from a very early stage was, ensure that all levels of the command, control, coordination structure were involved in our planning and preparation to ensure there was a common understanding across the security architecture around the roles and responsibilities of different levels of command, control and coordination.

As long as three and a half years out from the Games, we held the first exercise, which was a table-top discussion between all of the security agencies at the time that were expected to be represented in the Olympic Coordination Centre, as well as many of the forty-three police forces, who were represented by their Chief Constables.

And the progressive assurance approach, allowed us to confirm that we had the right structures in place, the right information exchange model in place, the right processes in place, and really critically and importantly, the right legal arrangements in place for decision making and escalation of decision making. So, what we tried to do at every point, was test the full spectrum from operational to government-level cabinet office briefing room level, of decision making wherever we could.

So now we come to the 26th of July, 2012, the day before the Olympics kicks-off, the greatest event, the greatest security event in post-World War 2 Europe. Are we ready? I mean, it’s always nice to have more time, but are we ready?

We certainly were as ready as we could be in my view, and what I would like to stress as well was of course we had three and a half months of torch relay, that we had to be ready for, and prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. And, in many respects the torch relay around the United Kingdom presented as big a security challenge to the UK as the Games themselves, because of the sheer scope and scale, and the almost impossible task of securing thousands of kilometres of roadway.

But yes, I think the answer to the question is we were as ready as we could have been on the 26th of July. What we didn’t anticipate was the first major security challenge, which was the threat, the cyber threat that was posed to the Olympic Stadium on the day of the opening ceremony. But having rehearsed and prepared for, pretty much every threat or risk that we could anticipate, we were well placed to deal with that and the Games opening ceremony went ahead as planned.

And I’m sure that during the course of the Olympics, every morning you were getting up, hoping to see nothing in the headlines except good news about gold medals. What sort of review process was there, because of course however much you prepare, the moment you go live, you start to discover things you hadn’t thought about or weren’t aware of. Was that an issue, and were you a learning organisation, where you’re actually within the challenges of the Olympic management project?

Yes, to answer the last bit of that first. We had to be a learning organisation, both from a National Olympic Coordination Centre perspective, and from a UK government perspective. So, every day to coin a phrase, was a school day, that we learnt from the challenges of the previous day, and prepared for the foreseen challenges going forward. There were situations that arose during the Olympic Games that had to be dealt with, some of which understandably were not articulated in the safety and security risk assessments.

But our preparation and our planning allowed us to deal with the situations because we were prepared, generically, for pretty much every eventuality. And the key to success was the way in which we shared information, and the consistency of that information sharing, to ensure we could elicit the exact response in the right timescale.

I must say, as one project manager to another, congratulations, it was a massive success, and it was, I’m sure, both a challenging, but a rewarding experience. As you said at the beginning, it is a unique experience. So my final question to you is, what is the legacy? Has something changed within the UK security and risk management architecture, framework, concept, that has learnt from that and that we’re actually benefiting from in the post-Olympic period?

Yes there has been a legacy, and the legacy of learning and understanding around the significant threats to the UK as a country, and its critical national infrastructure, is a wonderful legacy. The willingness to collaborate and cooperate, when sharing information intelligence, I believe is a fundamental important legacy as well.

And I think the third area of significant legacy from a safety and security perspective, is the UK’s ability to undertake security, policing and counter-terrorist operations crossborders, between different police forces, different emergency responders, areas of responsibility, which is something that wasn’t impossible before the Olympic Games by any stretch of the imagination, but the ability to share information, as part of cross-border, cross-boundary operations, was significantly enhanced, and is much better now after the Olympic Games.