NEWS

Games experience proved invaluable

In an interview with Kathimerini, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis stressed the need to maintain a crisis-management system that can go into action automatically and endure, no matter who staffs it at any one time. As the minister explained, the management of last week’s bus hijacking crisis showed that the system used for the Olympic Games can be a model of how to deal with similar situations and can be adapted for use in various crises. Voulgarakis pointed out that the management of the incident and the mistakes that were made during it can be utilized to draw helpful conclusions for the future. He also commented that the outcome could have been very different without the C41 electronic security system, as plans would have been made on the basis of estimates instead of on specific data. The minister referred to the enhanced international prestige of Greece and its police force in terms of security, and concluded by saying that the matter of security has emerged as a major factor in the government’s approach to everyday problems. Crisis-management system swung into action automatically For the first time we have had a hijacking that was managed without any foul-ups, as least as far as what was made public is concerned. What went differently from past occasions? To begin with, I am certain that if we examine the case, we’ll find some mistakes. No human action is without error. But there were no major errors. To a large extent, that is due to the excellent preparedness of the police following the training of officers, the development of internal cooperation structures, and the expertise they have gained, much of which came from training for the Olympic Games. You mention mistakes. Will they be investigated? I have already issued orders to senior officers who were involved in the crisis management to record the actions taken and to report on the positive and negative aspects. This will be compared with the management of similar incidents in the past to ascertain what progress the police force has made. Automatic response How much would it have tarnished the prestige of the police and of Greece itself if the crisis had not been handled successfully? If that had happened, I think Greece would be in the unhappy position of having to explain itself. People could say that the successful organization of the Olympic Games was just a matter of luck and not of capability and preparation. The incident showed that there is the machinery, coordination and cooperation. From the beginning of the incident, one had the impression that a crisis-management system had automatically been activated. Is that so? Indeed, there was an automatic response. As soon as I was informed of the incident, the crisis-management procedures were automatically activated at three levels: the political, operational and the on-site management of the incident, based on the experience acquired from the Olympic Games. The experience I personally gained during the preparations for the Games was the experience of a lifetime and it helped me significantly to manage the consequences of the tragic road accident at Maliakos, the crowd at the Polytechnic commemoration and the bus hijacking crisis. The results are the same at every level of the machinery: At the crucial moment, everyone knows what to do, who to contact, and how to make measured use of their interlocutors’ time. Of course, there were moments when we had questions, anxieties and uncertainty about the outcome. Are there plans to develop similar initiatives so that the experience and expertise are maintained? This is my responsibility… The experience gained during the Olympic Games will be fully utilized by placing the right people in the right posts. The successful management of the crisis shows that the Greek police force is under the direction of extremely capable officers and that alone is an answer to criticisms voiced in October. By setting up the Civil Security Research center at the ministry, we aim to incorporate that experience institutionally into the force, and there are plans to introduce related subjects at police colleges and to run seminars for serving officers. Handling such crises concerns the police and a broad swathe of the state machinery. Has the need to establish some structure to secure overall readiness and coordination been noted? The government has diagnosed such a need and the Olympic Games system can be the model for dealing with it. It is very easy to adapt it appropriately to deal with various crises. Will this be an institution, regardless of the people who staff it? The secret is to set up a system that will endure, regardless of the people who staff it at any one time. In the recent crisis, the system I activated could have gone into operation even if I had been absent. Take the example of the explosion [on May 4 at a police station] in Kallithea, where the party leader and I were absent. That would be handled very differently now than it was handled then. In order to handle the bus hijacking, permission had to be obtained from the Data Protection Authority for the exceptional activation of the C41 system. How much did C41 contribute to the positive outcome? I cannot predict to what extent the outcome would have been different had this system not been activated. I can say that it gave us the ability to plan minute-by-minute, based on specific facts. Otherwise we would have been planning based on assumptions, which is not the best way to handle a crisis. In short, I believe that all this technology, for which the Greek people have paid a great deal, must be put at the service of the authorities in cases where its use is indicated, it benefits society as a whole, and it does transgress the personal data code.