Most students walking the halls of SPEA weren’t alive when Eric Rudolph bombed the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. They may not have heard the news reports that falsely blamed security guard Richard Jewell for the fatal attack. Nor do they know what happened in the aftermath of the explosion.
But Jim White does.
“When I talk about Atlanta, I can tell (students), ‘Look, this is what happened,’’’ says White, who is a clinical lecturer in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.
“I was there. This is what we did. This is how it went down.”
For the next three weeks, Pyeongchang, South Korea will capture much of the world’s attention as it plays host to the 2018 Winter Olympics. While many focus on the competition, pageantry and emotion that comes with the Olympic Games, others – including White – watch through a different lens.
Among White’s areas of expertise, he specializes in emergency management, public safety and homeland security. His credentials are extensive: two decades with Indiana State Police, nearly twice that in the U.S. Army. He’s worked as the director of emergency management for Indianapolis and the deputy director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
White was also a security planner for several large-scale sporting events including:
- The 1987 Pan American Games
- The 1993 World University Games
- The 1994 World Cup Championships
- The 1995 World Rowing Championships
- The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta
- The 2003 National Governor’s Conference
All of that experience with high-profile international events gives White rare insight into this year’s Olympic Games and the security measures used to keep athletes, dignitaries, and spectators safe.
“The location is the biggest issue,” White says.
While both North and South Korea have formed a joint Olympic team, recent headlines show signs of tension between the two countries remain. Yet White doesn’t think North Korea’s political instability will cause problems in the 2018 Games.
“The country is destitute,” he says. “They would have too much to lose.”
As for outside threats: “There’s always the perception that there’s going to be a terrorist attack, but given the dynamics and the politics, I don’t think there’s going to be an attack there,” he says. “Politically, I don’t see what good it would do for a terrorist group like Isis or Al Qaeda to do something.”
Regardless, security planners have been working on precautions and countermeasures for the 2018 Games for years. White thinks they may rely heavily on drones to keep their eyes on the event. But he cautions there will be a lot of security that won’t be visible.
“You don’t want the security to be oppressive,” he says, “but you also want it to be out there so people see it; so there is a sense of security.”
White used his decades of expertise to help create the go-to standard for sporting event security planning. It’s dubbed The Cookbook because, as White explains, “you cook up your plan. All the recipes, everything’s in there. It tells you what to do.”
The 148-page handbook provides the foundation for what security planners should think about in advance of major events. “That Cookbook has been used at every international sporting event since the 1987 Pan Am games,” White says. “That’s how good the Cookbook is.”
White took the Cookbook’s concepts with him to Atlanta. Security planning began years prior to the 1996 Olympics. “It’s like herding cats,” he recalls. “You’re trying to get all those different police departments and agencies all working together.”
White says it’s a delicate balance of safety and experience, a give-and-take with event planners.
“Special events are not a security event; they’re sporting events,” he adds. “What you try to do is the best you can to adapt what they’re going to do with countermeasures to prevent a terrorist attack.”
That balance was a challenge in 1996. White says there was much discussion with organizers about whether Centennial Park should be a credentialed venue. In the end, it was left open to the public.
“We lost in Atlanta,” he admits.
To offset the organizers’ decision, there was more training and more security. Those additional efforts were put to the test the moment Eric Rudolph’s bomb exploded.
“The hospitals implemented their mass casualty plan, the ambulances all staged, we triaged folks,” he remembers. White credits those measures with saving lives. “We were able to take care of the injured. We were able to secure the scene and the system worked that we put in place.”
White hopes to instill that mentality of preparedness in students at IUPUI. During his 1-credit-hour spring course on sports and terrorism, students learn about risk assessment, identifying potential hazards and threats, and developing plans to overcome those risks.
White talks to students about the terrorist attacks in Munich in 1972 that left 11 Israeli Olympians dead. They discuss the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon and, of course, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Yet White’s lessons go beyond the classroom. He takes students outside, allowing them to test what they’ve learned by assessing situations they see around campus or around the city.
In 2012, White worked on security planning for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. He used it as a learning opportunity for students.
“It was a good laboratory for me because I took my classes over there,” he says. “Most of them think it’s just a bunch of police officers directing traffic, and a man and a magnetometer.”
They soon learn it’s much more. White used the event to showcase how the lessons from Munich, Atlanta and other events have increased the ability to protect and respond to future incidents.
“The nurses in particular, I think it’s important that they realize that: No. 1, you have to have a mass casualty plan,” he says. “No. 2, you have to have a plan in place to recall folks. No. 3, you have to know where the Level One trauma hospitals are.”
While few people will likely have the first-hand experiences Jim White has had, he hopes that passing on his knowledge from real-life situations gives students a new perspective on event security, while teaching them how to assess potential risks, develop ways to manage and respond to threats, and ultimately keep everyone safe, whether it be in their own communities or on an international stage, like the Olympics Games.