Go Inside the Command Center Keeping the Winter Olympics Safe

    It’s a Sunday through the Winter Olympic Video games in South Korea, at one within the afternoon—no less than on this simulation. The US safety forces in control of defending Group USA obtain phrase of an explosion outdoors the principle entrance of the hockey area, the place groups have been battling for gold.

    “Followers start to panic, leading to a stampede,” says Donald Grinder, a disaster administration skilled with the State Division’s Overseas Service Institute. His first query to the room stuffed with particular brokers, analysts, and intelligence consultants goes to Mark Woods-Hawkins, deputy Olympic safety coordinator on the Diplomatic Safety Service: How do you begin gathering the data the crew might want to tackle the unfolding disaster?

    “We’ll first attain out to our individuals within the venues to get reporting and accountability,” Woods-Hawkins says, referring to the brokers stationed on the area, a number of of whom would probably already be transferring the U.S. athletes to a safe space. “If the cell community goes down or is overwhelmed, we’ll use the radios.”

    The DSS’s tech specialist, sitting at a close-by station, interjects to elucidate how these methods will work, in addition to the satellite-based communications that may pipe real-time intel to the command heart. “We are able to be sure that they’re OK and get affirmation on their standing,” he says.

    Woods-Hawkins continues together with his sport plan. They’ll contact the situational consciousness crew outdoors the sector to see what they see. Two DSS brokers assigned to South Korea’s personal safety command heart will corroborate the reporting coming in from the US brokers. Some crew members will pull safety digital camera streams from the sector and surrounding space. Others will attain out to native hospitals to gauge casualty numbers and identities, to US Forces Korea (the Division of Protection’s longstanding army presence within the nation) to debate attainable medevac flights, and to Korea’s disaster response groups to find out the character of the blast, whether or not supposed or unintentional. If they think the previous, they’ll search out intelligence on different attainable assaults. The FBI consultant provides assist sending out a bomb tech crew for proof restoration, if terrorism proves to be the case.

    On the Joint Operations Middle within the US Embassy in Seoul, State Division disaster administration specialist Donald Grinder moderates a simulation a number of days earlier than the Opening Ceremony. The safety brokers, analysts, and intelligence personnel established the protocols that will assist outline programs of motion ought to an incident happen on the Video games.

    Eric Adams for WIRED

    This entire scene is unfolding on the Joint Operations Middle, the command put up on the US Embassy in Seoul. The tightly packed room, lined with dozens of similar black laptops and telephones, is residence to the American effort to maintain the Winter Video games secure. The crew is led by the Diplomatic Safety Service, the State Division’s safety and law-enforcement company.

    “You may see how this spins up rapidly,” Grinder says, “with a number of nodes of data.”

    Shortly certainly. All of this could transpire inside minutes—had been it to be an actual incident—and precede a full preliminary report back to Washington, DC, outlining what’s at the moment identified. Thankfully, although, this situation is a mockup, one among a number of worst case conditions performed out within the operations heart throughout a two-hour pre-Video games simulation that grows progressively grimmer. A cyberattack cuts energy, strands hundreds, and plunges the nation right into a deep-freeze within the lifeless of winter. Troops north of the DMZ mobilize, prompting the White Home to order the evacuation of hundreds of US civilians from the Korean peninsula—all confused and terrified by the prospect of high-spirited athletics all of the sudden igniting world warfare.

    Retaining It Actual

    These eventualities aren’t exaggerated visions conjured up merely to carry the eye of the safety and intelligence consultants gathered on this area. “These are all believable. They’ll occur,” Grinder says. “We’re right here to guard US residents. Our job as a bunch is to assemble as a lot data as we will throughout such crises. We’re the primary piece of the puzzle that connects the dots in an emergency.”

    So whereas athletes practiced on the snow and ice, representatives from a bunch of US businesses—the DSS, FBI, TSA, DHS, the Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company, US Forces Korea, and different authorities and army teams with related experience—convened for their very own Olympic follow session. In an setting as advanced as this, rigorous menace simulations trump mere radio checks and chain-of-command flowchart refreshers. Every situation Grinder spins up requires a distinct set of near-instant reactions from dozens of individuals, all working in live performance.

    Contained in the command heart, personnel sit in two rows, all dealing with giant screens on the wall displaying information feeds and information streams whereas their very own desktops present entry to their respective businesses’ particular person networks or different shared methods. The knowledge up entrance consists of the whereabouts of the sector liaison officers assigned to every venue, together with the “floating” brokers outdoors the precise venues. On the partitions dangle maps of the venue clusters, each within the mountains and on the coast, the airport at Incheon, and different areas of curiosity.

    With Grinder calling the motion, the explosion train acquires an aura of urgency that belies its standing as a simulation: What brought about the explosion and what number of are injured or lifeless? What data can we cross on to the State Division? How do you get US residents in another country and the way lengthy will it take? What airports are operational? What data and directions can we talk to Individuals on the bottom?

    Diplomatic Safety Service agent Karyn Gray, the lead agent for the Mountain Cluster venues in Pyeongchang. Every of the 2 clusters—the Coastal Cluster being the second—has 20 brokers looking for Group USA athletes and personnel.

    Eric Adams for WIRED

    The ambiance was targeted however energetic, bordering on enthusiastic. Individuals had been anxious to do their jobs, to contribute—nevertheless deep within the background—to a easy, secure Olympics. Moreover, the angst that may very well be generated by the area’s battle had been largely assuaged by Embassy and security-team leaders professing a number of occasions their excessive confidence within the South Korean authorities’s safety plans for the Video games. However despite the fact that the eventualities offered through the train had been exceedingly unlikely, it was nonetheless essential that the collaborating businesses knew what to do ought to one thing go terribly flawed. Consequently, this group was decided to be prepared for the worst go-wrongs conceivable.


    An hour into the hockey rink explosion situation—per the fictional timeline, however only a few minutes within the simulation—Grinder provides an replace: It’s chaos on the area. Triage websites have been arrange. Emergency automobiles are nonetheless taking victims to the hospital. The reason for the explosion stays unknown. Embassy employees haven’t positioned colleagues who had been on the entrance on the time of the blast. At this stage, extra accessible subject brokers would have convened for help.

    DSS Workplace of Protecting Intelligence Investigations representatives can be pulling information from social media posts by witnesses, and Embassy employees can be speaking to the involved residents calling about individuals who might need been on the occasion and will thus be victims. The Embassy will attain out and formally supply help to the Blue Home, South Korea’s White Home equal.

    Greater than something, the train helps set up these hyperlinks between the businesses and defines what contributions every would make to a creating disaster. The Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company faucets into satellites and different sources to trace potential threats. The State Division’s operational medical bureau (OPMED) would assist transferring injured sufferers to Japan or the USA. The State Division’s disaster administration officer helps handle evacuations or different large-scale responses requiring reinforcements. The US Forces Korea consultant coordinates intelligence businesses working within the nation. The FBI works on cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and weapons of mass destruction intelligence and response. The DSS performs quarterback, serving to coordinate all of the above and including its personal investigative expertise, together with its brokers within the subject.

    Halfway via the train, it’s time to consider exterior communication, to provide out verified and vetted intel. Joint Operations Middle contributors are requested to chorus from passing data even to their very own businesses, since that may take them off-mission. They need to as a substitute direct queries via the correct channels on the embassy. Media queries go to the general public affairs workplace, which can be in control of speaking data to the general public. (The Embassy’s Consular Part gave small playing cards with emergency contact data to US residents in resorts and airports in South Korea.) There, the Embassy public affairs officer reminds contributors of the federal government’s “no double commonplace coverage”—personal residents should obtain the identical data given to official authorities entities, if the potential hazard impacts them.

    The ultimate replace for the situation comes within the subsequent morning, timeline-time, with the revelation pure gasoline leak brought about the explosion. It “killed” 16 individuals, together with two Individuals. That train drew to a detailed, however the subsequent one would ratchet up the depth nonetheless additional.

    Escalating Battle

    For the second situation of the day, Grinder once more wasted no time: A collection of cyberattacks have minimize energy throughout the nation, shutting down airports, shutting down ATM entry, and presenting well being and security perils for everybody stranded within the chilly.

    The primary steps embody verifying which subject brokers would possibly nonetheless have communications functionality, and connecting with the Korean Nationwide Police Company to gauge the extent of the blackout. Others would decide the extent of disruption to native and world flight operations.

    Safety operations for the Olympic Video games are led by the host nation, on this case South Korea. Its efforts embody a robust police presence, rigorous venue safety, and surveillance, together with by way of a whole lot of cameras like these.

    Eric Adams for WIRED

    However simply because the group will get a deal with on these elements, the stakes go up. The cyberattacks are adopted by large-scale troop actions close to the border. Washington approves an embassy request to evacuate US civilians from the peninsula. “We’re not beneath fireplace, however we’re coping with a cyber scenario and the shortcoming to help life in chilly climate,” says Craig Reistad, the DSS’s Olympic Safety Coordinator. “So we’ll have a look at accountability first to make sure our persons are unharmed, then consolidate our personnel, then contemplate whether or not we have to transfer individuals out of the realm.”

    The crew goes over directions for residents to shelter in place and await directions about meeting and departure areas. They talk about how they will talk with individuals if the cyberattack disables social media. Closure is extra nebulous than the mock explosion, however the management makes it clear that Embassy personnel and the JOC would keep on job till their jobs had been full. With that, the simulation concludes.

    After all, it was simply an train—however Grinder’s closing remarks weren’t. He wraps up the day’s work with an essential homework task. “Seize lunch or espresso,” he says. “Speak along with your colleagues, together with these on the opposite shifts. It’s very troublesome to construct belief and understanding while you’re beneath stress, so let’s diffuse a few of that by constructing these relationships. We’re counting on you to work as a crew.”

    And so the Olympic deal with unity reaches past the athletics, to the key aspect of Group USA, the crew that received’t loosen up till the flame goes out on Sunday evening.

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