After a 35-year absence, the treasures of Tutankhamun have returned to London for the stunning ‘Golden Age of the Pharaohs’ Exhibition. With – literally – priceless artefacts on display, the event presents the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and service partner G4S Security Services (UK) with a unique protection challenge. Brian Sims chats with Paul Bullen, Tom Bell and Sally Davies to unearth the security solutions put in place. Photos courtesy of G4S Security Services (UK)
The O2 in London’s Docklands is Europe’s newest entertainment destination. Redevelopment of the former Millennium Dome costing multi-billions of pounds has realised a 20,000-seat arena, a 12-screen multiplex cinema (and a similar number of restaurants), several swanky bars, two-storeys’ worth of exhibition space and The Indigo2 live entertainment venue (recently graced by none other than ‘Legends of Rock’ Led Zeppelin).
In addition, there are two nightclubs (including the Studio2 Music Club that can accommodate 2,000 paying punters).
Media types are already waxing lyrical that The O2 has “redefined the face of entertainment in the UK”. Much of their reason for doing so focuses on the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of this fabulous complex – a somewhat unusual exhibition area designated The O2 Bubble. This is the cultural hub of The O2, designed to house a unique mix of display and themed exhibitions. How appropriate, then, that the exhibition the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) has chosen as the launch event for this genuinely unique venue is swiftly proving to be one of the most popular of modern times.
For over 3,000 years, King Tut’s vast array of treasures lay buried deep beneath the golden Egyptian sands. When those treasures ‘toured the world’ in 1977, audiences were awestruck and, almost overnight, ‘The Boy King’ became a global sensation. Now, after a 35-year absence, the 130-plus artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun have returned to the Capital once more for the dazzling ‘Golden Age of the Pharaohs’ Exhibition (which opened last November, and is expected to draw crowds of more than two million).
The security challenge
Maintaining the myriad features that make The O2 Bubble such a popular destination for visitors – while at the same time delivering robust protection for priceless treasures – presents AEG’s venue manager Sally Davies with a rather unique security challenge.
“The accessibility of the venue and its position in the wider O2 complex makes it attractive to members of the public who would otherwise probably not even consider visiting a ‘museum’ in the traditional sense,” suggests King. “However, because The O2 Bubble wasn’t built as a traditional museum, it didn’t benefit from the established security infrastructures normally found in such an environment. Necessarily, we had to make those infrastructures our foremost priority.”
At the start of the project, AEG employed independent risk assessors who were brought in to evaluate the integrity of the site in relation to the value of King Tut’s treasure trove. “The O2 Bubble is essentially a building inside a tent. It wasn’t really built to house priceless artefacts, so we also sought advice from specialists in the museums world,” explains G4S operations manager Tom Bell. “The O2 is a 24-hour venue. It cannot be locked down at night in the traditional sense. There are people coming out of clubs, and upwards of 20,000 exiting The Arena Indigo2 after a concert. All of this had to be taken into consideration.”
Being an ex-military man, Bell followed what he describes as “a platoon-level plan” for the security strategy at The O2 Bubble, encompassing the gallery spaces, the retail area and the ‘profiling’ of both in a building that could be playing host to between 2,000 and 2,500 visitors at any given time. Potential theft and/or vandalism of the exhibits would obviously be a key issue here, but so too is the potential for an act of terrorism.
Using the information gleaned from discussions with leading practitioners in the museums field as a base point, Davies then commissioned the installation of high-tech surveillance and security systems. All entrance and exit ways within The O2 Bubble are fully alarmed. Leaving absolutely nothing to chance, there’s even a laser alarm system covering the roof of the building.
A key part of developing an established security infrastructure lay in the creation of a dedicated Control Room for the building, providing the venue with a secure base from where operations may be co-ordinated. All internal and external activities are continually tracked by CCTV and a host of related security monitoring equipment.
Establishing major procedures
Post-risk assessment and systems commissioning, security solutions partner G4S Security Services (UK) was brought in to develop and realise the security strategy for the exhibition building proper. “What we were faced with was providing tight security in a museum-style environment that’s a public exhibitions space,” explains G4S Security Services (UK)’s events director Paul Bullen. “It’s a non-traditional environment.”
AEG’s ethos is all about the customer experience, and how visitors engage with the venue, so a fine balance has to be struck between protective security and accessibility. No easy task.
Daily procedures were consequently established by G4S and AEG to ensure that security levels are appropriate for the building and the nature of the present exhibition. Additionally, G4S officers are in close contact across the venue with a direct link to a police-team based onsite, allowing for an immediate response in the event of an incident.
“We’re in constant contact with the Borough Police,” adds Tom Bell, “and they could instigate a lockdown process for The O2 Bubble if required. G4S officers at The Bubble have dedicated experience of event security, and have undergone a bespoke training programme designed around the specific needs of the exhibition.
Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences are held by all officers as standard, and the team includes operatives specially trained in CCTV monitoring, x-ray scanning and traditional bag searching techniques. All officers hold SIA door supervisor licenses for good measure.
Each morning, staff receive a briefing with the whole G4S team – including management – to highlight any particular problems expected that day, and to review each individual’s performance and presentation. A tried-and-tested management structure offers several attributes, ensuring that security procedures are rigidly adhered to at all times.
For example, every member of staff has a clearly defined role, and there’s a clear reporting structure. Any serious problems that might arise are communicated to top management and dealt with immediately.
Conversely, smaller day-to-day issues on a lesser scale are filtered and resolved by supervisors. All procedures are routinely checked by different members of the team for accuracy and consistency. “An excellent communications structure is absolutely vital,” stresses Paul Bullen.
Benefiting from Gurkha Services
AEG is benefiting from G4S’ newly-launched Gurkha Services division. This uses specialist security officers – all of them former Gurkha soldiers – with extensive experience of safeguarding sensitive sites, and at least 12 years’ experience of dealing with crisis situations. Unobtrusive and totally focused, these officers constantly monitor the exhibits and watch for suspicious behaviour.
“The ex-Gurkhas are there not to talk to members of the public but purely to guard the exhibits,” explains Tom Bell. “Their skills are ideal for guarding exactly the sort of crowded public place Lord West referred to in his recent report.” Bell and Bullen explain that the number of officers on site will vary, and that x-ray systems are employed as and when the defined risk level deems this to be appropriate.
“We need a high level of security planning and execution to keep the public safe,” adds Bullen, “but that must be balanced with the need for visitors to have a good time. Part of our role is to make them want to come back.”
Constantly updated training has seen practice evacuations carried out smoothly such that AEG and G4S have the ability to seamlessly clear the building when it’s at full capacity within five minutes. That’s impressive in itself. Best Practice procedures like this ensure that security at The O2 Bubble is as good as you’ll find in any museum/gallery environment.
Museum Security Network / Museum Security Consultancy
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