Urban crisis workshop to discuss ‘very real’ security threats ahead of the 2012 Olympics

A one-day workshop on Wednesday 17th November will bring together world leaders in the field of emergency response to present and discuss new ways to manage urban-based crises and hazards.

Urban Crisis Workshop

Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute is investigating the use of computer-based modelling and simulation for emergency response training, and is trialling the online virtual platform Second Life to determine its effectiveness and value as a crisis management tool.

Amid warnings from British intelligence services that the 2012 Olympic Games are set to pose an unprecedented threat to national security, the first Urban Crisis Workshop will be hosted at Coventry University’s London Campus.

Former Brigadier General John Galatas, the man responsible for planning against the threat of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) attacks at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Greece, heads an array of expert speakers and panellists at the event, and will scrutinise the security risks associated with the 2012 Olympic Games.

The speakers – which include House of Lords peers, academics and professionals from key international security and disaster management organisations – will also talk about lessons learned from major urban emergencies such as the London bombings, 9/11, worldwide flooding crises and the tsunami-nuclear catastrophe in Japan, and propose ways to improve response capabilities.

Amongst the confirmed speakers is Professor Sir John Beddington, chief scientific advisor to the UK government; Lord Toby Harris, former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and current chairman of City Security and Resilience Networks (CSARN); and the director of the world-renowned Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Bob McKee, who was involved in the search and rescue operations in New York City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Professor Sara de Freitas of Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute (SGI) will chair the workshop and will lead a unique debate on how gaming and simulation technologies can help create better, more realistic training exercises for modern search and rescue scenarios.

The grand aim of the Urban Crisis Workshop will be to set in motion plans to establish a London-based International Risk, Resilience and Response Centre (IRRRC) to spearhead collaborations between specialists in emergency response and management, training, simulation and gaming.

The event is being sponsored by security thinktank CSARN, Arup and the Prime Minister’s Initiative for International Education – a government fund to attract more overseas students to Britain through investment in projects which boost the global profile of UK education.

The Serious Games Institute and the Centre for Disaster Management (CDM) – two of Coventry University’s most prominent applied research centres – have been instrumental in devising the Urban Crisis Workshop in partnership with TEEX.

John Galatas, former Brigadier General and CBRNE planner for the 2004 Athens Olympics, said:  “Despite the vigilance and preparations of the UK’s national security agencies, a terrorist attack – conventional or CRBNE-related – during the world’s biggest sporting event, the London 2012 Olympic Games, remains a very real threat.

“The first Urban Crisis Workshop will address the important parameters in urban defence, and will identify the gaps and possible weak points which need to be updated and managed. There is still some time until July 2012, and this time must be used as wisely as possible.”

Professor Sara de Freitas, director of the SGI and chair of the Urban Crisis Workshop, said:  “This workshop aims to bring together communities in risk, resilience and response to save lives. It represents an exciting opportunity not only for the international emergency response community and relevant policy-makers in government, but also for game development companies.

“The industry for serious games is relatively young, but there’s a rapidly growing appreciation for the relevance of its technology to education and, in this instance, emergency planning and training. Its potential applications are endless.”

Wayne Harrop, director of the Centre for Disaster Management at Coventry University, said: “In the wake of urban catastrophes such as 9/11, the London bombings, the devastating tsunami in Japan and the recent earthquake in Turkey, it is more important than ever to consider how the lessons identified through these disasters can be better learned, retained and implemented in the future. This requires better collaboration efforts and the sharing of best practices on a global scale.

“The Urban Crisis Workshop will be the first time our plans for an International Risk, Resilience and Response Centre will be made public, and we’re thrilled to be able to share them with the disaster management community as a means of encouraging continuous development and improvement in global response capabilities.”