Safeguarding the Olympic spirit

Joint ISO/IEC Committee work central to Olympic Games organization

By Morand Fachot

Ensuring the security of major global sporting events such as the Olympic Games or the World Cup represents a major challenge for organizers. The contests attract huge crowds and universal media coverage. Many of the technical measures that underpin the overall security system for the London Games depend on electronic devices and installations that rely on International Standards prepared by ISO/IEC JTC 1, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC Joint Technical Committee that deals with information technology matters. ISO/IEC JTC 1 work is also widely used in systems introduced to help athletes and spectators enjoy the Olympic experience.

Officials inaugurating biometric site access control system in October 2009 (London 2012) Officials inaugurating biometric site access control system in October 2009 (London 2012)

The end of innocence

No other event attracts as much attention as the Olympic Games. Extensive media coverage and the presence of athletes from around the world make them ideal targets for groups, particularly terrorists, that are seeking maximum publicity and for criminal actors that see them as opportunities for rich pickings.

At the same time host nations, cities and organizing bodies under the world's spotlight must provide maximum security for competitors and spectators alike, a difficult and very expensive undertaking.

Ever since the tragic events at the Munich Games in 1972, security has figured at the top of the agenda of organizers, in particular during the summer Games which are notably harder to secure. And this concern is fully justified, as incidents in the runup of the 1992 Barcelona and the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games clearly demonstrated. Extensive technical security and surveillance measures were introduced during the 2004 Games in Athens for the first time, and for this year's London Games all the agencies and organizations involved stressed that security would figure as one of their main priorities.

Spiralling costs for a multi-layered approach

The cost of ensuring the security of competitors and spectators as well as that of venues before and during the Olympics has been spiralling over the years. The security budget for the 2000 Sydney Games reached USD 180 million. Four years later it had multiplied eight times to reach USD 1,5 billion for Athens.

The provisional cost of the London Games security operations was set at USD 865 million in a March 2012 House of Commons Committee report, representing some 5% of the total budget for the Games and legacy projects.

The need to ensure maximum security for the events has gradually led to a multi-layered approach that integrates physical, human and technological resources. During the London Games, up to 27 000 private security contractors, police and military personnel will be deployed to control access and ensure the security of athletes, spectators and the Olympic venues. High-tech systems and installations will back up human resources.

ISO/IEC JTC 1 role in controlling access

Many of the technologies used to safeguard London 2012, in particular for controlling access for authorized personnel, the movements of individuals and other aspects of the Games, rely on standards developed by various ISO/IEC JTC 1 TCs (Technical Committees) and WGs (Working Groups).

The London ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) in its series of tenders for the security plan clearly spelled out the need to use technological solutions to secure the site areas including "ACS (access control systems) comprising RFID (radio-frequency identification) token and biometrics".
RFID is a wireless technology enabling communication between interrogating devices and embedded electronic tags. It can be used to identify and track people and any type of product. RFID standards are prepared by JTC 1/SC (subcommittee) 31: Automatic identification and data capture techniques.

Biometric hand and iris scanners were installed as early as October 2009 to let authorized workers enter and leave the Olympic Park site. Hand scanners provide access control for up to 5 000 workers an hour.

During the enrolment process all workers had their hand scanned to enable access to the Olympic Park. A 3D digital photograph of the hand was taken and the unique size and shape of the hand matched and linked to the individual’s smart photographic site pass to enable access. The data was encrypted, stored securely and used to provide access to the site during the construction work. Iris scanning was used on the same basis where required.

Biometrics is the responsibility of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 37, which as of July 2012 had published some 80 International Standards and reports covering applications, exchange formats and even societal, cultural and ethical issues related to use of biometric technologies for identifying people.
Access for athletes and staff involved in the Games will continue to rely on these ACS for the duration of the event.

Contributing to the enjoyment

Focusing on security issues alone could provide a distorted image of the overall contribution made by ISO/IEC JTC 1 to the entire Olympic experience for athletes and spectators alike. 
Many of the systems used to ensure the security of the Games have also been deployed to facilitate the stay of athletes and enhance the pleasure of spectators.

For instance, it was announced in June that German Olympians would be provided with an exclusive dual-interface Visa card for contactless and contact payment wherever the Visa standard for contactless payment is accepted.

There are thousands of contactless payment terminals in London, with another 3 000 planned for the Olympic Games alone. Some 8 000 London buses and 2 500 taxis will also be equipped with terminals to accept contactless payment.

Contactless NFC (Near Field Communication) is based on existing RFID standards and on the ISO/IEC 14443 series of International Standards for identification cards. These standards are developed by JTC 1/SC 17/WG 8: Integrated circuit cards without contacts. 
These systems should help reduce waiting times for payment as well as for transport for participants and members of the public.

Countless other systems that rely on ICT (information and communication technologies) will be installed in Olympic venues and in London itself, including many that will be deployed to support the sporting events themselves. All will depend on standards prepared by a variety of ISO/IEC JTC 1 SCs and WGs.

They will contribute to provision of the safest and best possible conditions for participants and spectators, allowing them to enjoy the Olympic experience to the full.

Officials inaugurating biometric site access control system in October 2009 (London 2012) Officials inaugurating biometric site access control system in October 2009 (London 2012)
Ensuring the safety of competitors in the athletes village (Photo: LOCOG) Ensuring the safety of competitors in the athletes village (Photo: LOCOG)
Safer Olympic Park and other venues for athletes and members of the public (Photo: LOCOG). Safer Olympic Park and other venues for athletes and members of the public (Photo: LOCOG).