By Alison Chiu and Heather Borror
Background and Questions
The UK is famed for being a well-monitored state, with London being the most highly “watched” city in the world, with approximately 7,431 security cameras in usage. Naturally, our first question was “why?” After sifting through the history and ideals of the Security Service (MI5, domestic affairs) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6, international), we discovered that that terrorism is one of their biggest perceived threats in the current age. The acts themselves stem from various groups – from Al-Qaeda to violent Irish Nationalists – but regardless of motivation, the safety of the general populace is at stake in all instances. The state recognizes that these events often occur when many people have congregated in public spaces.
At the same time, we know that public space does not necessarily “belong” to the public. More often than not, it is organized and managed by a committee, council, or other such organization; in other words, groups of people control how these spaces are operated. For instance, there are many spaces on campus considered to be public (notably, Red Square and the Quad) yet groups such as RSOs must first receive approval from the University to conduct events open to public. To host an outdoor event, the RSO’s plan must be approved by the Use of University Facilities Committee (UUFC). To post flyers on the HUB walls, the main desk must first approve it.
As one can see, the state doesn’t necessarily have a direct hand in the ongoings of these such spaces. They have established strategies for the management of large potential gathering areas, such as this one, yet usage of these spaces is still largely at the discretion of the management.
This brings us to the following question:
How do the managers of these “public” spaces manage security, with the government’s regulations/guidelines/strategies/concerns in mind?
This question opens the doors for many others:
- How do these managers feel about these measures?
- Is there any consensus among various organizations?
- What aspects of their space do they have most control over? The least?
- How, if at all, does that affect the way they conduct business (non-profit, otherwise)?
- What are their larger concerns about big crowds? Ones that don’t align with the government?
- How much do these concerns vary between rural and urban areas?
- Were there any changes made before and after an attack? Were they effective or not? How so?
To provide meaningful data, we will interview those who manage these large spaces. This will vary from shop owner, to workers and public officials. Members of the public may also be interviewed and inquired about their experience with the public spaces in relation to security features. Individuals that are interviewed will be given anonymity and an alias when referred to unless otherwise given permission. We will also be making observations at select locations on how each location reflects any government regulations that may be in place. Each location will be determined by the day’s activities and therefore, are both flexible and variable. Several locations that are currently under consideration are: Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
Prior to arriving at Oxford, we plan to conduct further research on government regulations that are currently implemented within England. We will also be researching past events of terrorism, demonstrations and protests–which will include the recent Occupy Movements. Documents we may consult are city planning or renovation plans in order to understand the current values concerning public safety. With this supplemental, contextual knowledge in mind, we hope to gain an awareness of the measures taken to ensure public safety by the government.
Our plan will be largely dependent on the availability of our interviewees. We would make initial contact through email while still in the US, ideally having our interviews queued up by the time we arrive. Preferably, we would have these meetings completed in the first three weeks, allowing us to use the last week to prepare for the final presentation. These interviews would be preceded and followed by on-site exploration, making note of things we see. On-site exploration will depend on locations planned for the day, though additional excursions may be taken as well.
There may also be interesting government history texts or official government documentations–land ordinances, amendments or additions to current regulations for the public, etc–that are not available to us in the states, but available at Oxford. We will try to exhaust materials easily accessible from or within the US before approaching our interviewees, thus doing most of the book work in the beginning. We would like, or aim to, review texts and timelines concerning the history of the UK which may be done through books or online resources.