As the dust settles on another Tory Party Conference, with news reports of the week, fortunately, being more about keeping people in the party than out of the conference, it got me thinking about how to party conference security has changed over the years – and since the dust settled in a rather more alarming way 30 years ago at their conference in Brighton that year.
I wrote two years ago about my thoughts about the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel, which killed five, including one MP, permanently disabled Lord Tebbitt’s wife Margaret and which then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher emerged defiant from the wreckage of the hotel.
Her impromptu interview with the BBC’s John Cole as she announced that the conference would go on still haunts me today and acts as a compelling reminder, should we need it, of the importance of the job we do.
Conferences were always going to be high-security affairs from that point on. As vehicles increasingly came to be used as ramrods for robberies and terrorism, the authorities have looked to what is known as hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) to protect against such attacks.
And where this used to mean just protecting the entrances to conferences with HVM, the police now expect the fencing around venues to be part of that overall HVM solution.
Every year we’re making technical improvements to the security we provide at party conferences.
We developed our RDS (Rapidly Deployable System) two years ago with a minimal ground footprint compared to other temporary PAS 68 solutions.
It continues to earn us police accolades, who say it reduces the number of police needed to secure major events by up to 90%. It also won us the Security Innovation Award 2013, and two category wins at the Counter Terror Expo Excellence Awards.
A year later, we incorporated the latest Video Content Analysis system using high-performance Pan Tilt and Zoom cameras into RDS and pioneered the remote policing initiative when the Conservatives hit Manchester.
That system was used again this week in Birmingham, along with a new ‘light’ version of RDS, imaginatively entitled RDS Lite!) that employs recycled plastic blocks for anchoring the fence line favouring the massive concrete blocks that help give its parent RDS system a PAS 68 rating.
The configuration means blocks can be carried up and downstairs and onto canal footpaths, which would have been impossible with the 750kg concrete blocks placed into position by a forklift truck for RDS.
The innovation followed a request to develop temporary crowd perimeter protection that can be carried by hand and deployed in places that forklift trucks cannot access and where structural restrictions on weight loading exist.
We put RDS Lite through extensive factory testing. Still, it was live trialled ‘live in the field’ for the first time this week on canal footpaths in Birmingham – the fourth time in seven years the city has hosted the Conservative Autumn Conference with up to 14,000 delegates expected to attend, and which will return twice in the next four years.
So progress insecurity has been rapid since Maggie led the party all those years ago – and ever since her death 18 months ago.
And while the ‘enemies’ may have changed, I like to think she’s up there somewhere looking down on what we’ve done with a little nod of approval!