Queen’s funeral is Britain’s largest-ever security operation

The scale is epic: potentially millions of people crowding the streets, more than 100 foreign dignitaries and their staff pouring in from around the world, hundreds of national and international government agencies coordinating logistics, major roads and transportation networks are closed or blocked.

For London’s Metropolitan Police – the legendary force also known as Scotland Yard – Monday’s funeral of Queen Elizabeth II promises to be a security challenge unlike any they’ve faced.

“It is probably the largest public order or ceremonial event that Britain has ever held,” said former police chief Supt Parm Sandhu. “Even when the queen mother died or [Princess] Diana, it wasn’t that big.”

Tens of thousands of people have already flocked to the British capital to attend the public ceremonies leading up to the funeral, with rail officials warning of “unprecedented travel demand”. Crowds flooded the Mall to watch the procession of the Queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament, and the line of people to pay their respects to the coffin while it lay in state has stretched over five miles – a waiting time of 14 hours. On Friday, officials temporarily turned newcomers away from the line because it had grown too long.

Just to manage the queue, authorities recruited 779 professional stewards from private security firms, 100 volunteer civil service marshals, 30 clergymen, 10 Red Cross members and hundreds of other volunteers.

But that’s dwarfed by the logistical and security headaches of the funeral itself, with crowd estimates ranging from 750,000 to 3 million people.

“It’s more of a forecast than a reality and that creates problems because you don’t know how to reconcile that with the number of police officers,” said Nick Aldworth, a private security adviser who previously served as the national coordinator for the UK anti-terrorism.

The operation is further complicated by leaders – including President Biden – who are due to arrive in London as early as Friday with their own delegation and security requirements.

So far, the Metropolitan Police have deployed 10,000 police officers from across the country and deployed 1,500 soldiers. Three Met Air Support Unit helicopters will be added, and additional surveillance cameras will be installed in what is already the world’s most heavily monitored city.

Pictures of Queen Elizabeth II on display while people queue to pay their respects to her coffin

Pictures of the late Queen Elizabeth II are seen as people queue to pay their respects to her coffin at Westminster Hall in London.

(Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

Armed scouts have taken up position on the rooftops in the area around Westminster Abbey, where the funeral will take place, while sniffer dogs roam the sidewalks and crews search shafts and lampposts for bombs. More security personnel will be added on Monday and the Special Air Service, an elite Army commando unit, will be placed on standby.

Still, there’s inevitably a risk — from pickpockets or worse, said Rafaello Pantucci, an expert on counterterrorism and radicalization at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank. The authorities’ greatest fear when it comes to terrorism is so-called lone fighter attacks, carried out by people acting alone without coordinating with militant groups.

“That’s the dominant part of the threat that they can’t control,” Pantucci said. “They are volatile and difficult to predict.”

Police have a number of built in advantages based around Westminster Abbey which is a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament.

“This is a heavily fortified area of ​​London. They have permanent barriers, thousands of police officers and extensive surveillance systems,” said Aldworth, who once headed Parliament’s security.

Additionally, what Aldworth called the “last mile” is where people could be vulnerable to attack as they exit transportation hubs and head to the ceremonial area.

“We know terrorists like to attack crowds, and you can’t stop a single actor, someone with a knife or whatever. But there are large numbers of law enforcement officers — they’re everywhere — who can respond quickly and effectively to malicious activity,” Aldworth said.

Not everyone is happy about the extra police work.

Although anti-monarchists and republican activists have largely kept a low profile during the Queen’s mourning period, some protests have ended with police arrests of protesters. They include Paul Powlesland, a lawyer who was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank sign near Parliament Square. Public anger at the authorities’ response prompted police to issue instructions to officers to ensure the incident does not happen again.

“A period of quiet mourning for the Queen is fine, but it is outrageous to use this time to cement Charles’ accession to the throne and to dismiss any opposition as disrespectful,” Powlesland said in an interview with British television.

King Charles III will host a reception for heads of state on Sunday evening. According to a government document leaked to Politico, visiting leaders are unable to bring their cars to the funeral the next morning and are instead being bussed en masse to Westminster Abbey. Exceptions will be made for some high-risk dignitaries, including Biden, who will be traveling in his own armored limousine. The British government faced a backlash in what some diplomats are calling an unfair two-tier system.

Another issue is mitigating the risk for members of the royal family when they make “walkabouts” to greet the general public. The main threat comes from those who are obsessed with the royal family and who may express that obsession in a violent manner.

“Not all fixed people pose a risk; we all fixate on friends, hobbies, family to some degree in our lives. But you see those who are highly fixed,” said Andrew Wolfe Murray, a former investigator with the Fixed Threat Assessment Centre, a specialist police unit set up jointly by the Home Office, the Department of Health and Scotland Yard. “Some of these people could be suffering from a serious mental illness.”

Much of the work to assess these threats is done in advance, Murray said, because those who are fixated on a specific person usually find it important for the object of their obsession to know of their presence.

“They usually arrive early and communicate the fact that they’re there,” he said.

Sandhu, the former chief superintendent, said royals are briefed on a list of around 10 to 20 people pinned before each tour. Tight protection teams around them stand guard.

“They’re not watching the royal family, they’re watching the crowd, and they will have been trained in body language and body awareness,” she said. “So they’re looking for the person who isn’t smiling or being respectful, someone who’s showing signs of excitement.”

Despite the plethora of challenges, security officials point out the Queen’s funeral – dubbed Operation London Bridge – has been planned for decades.

“My first contact with the planning of this operation was 20 years ago. It is recorded, polished and validated every year,” Aldworth said, adding that the funeral of the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, last year provided additional lessons. “I am convinced that the plan itself is really effective. It depends on how it is delivered that day.”

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-09-16/massive-security-operation-queen-elizabeth-funeral Queen’s funeral is Britain’s largest-ever security operation

Alley Einstein

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