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VIP presence throws up security challenge

Date

Christopher Knaus

Security at the Australian War Memorial during the visit of HRH Prince of Wales and HRH Duchess of Cornwall. Click for more photos

Operation Royal Visit

Inside ACT Policing's security operation for the HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's visit to Canberra. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Behind the conspicuous police in uniforms standing guard over the royal couple at the weekend stood a protection force unseen by the throngs of spectators.

As they moved through the city, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall were protected by a police operation born of weeks of painstaking effort and meticulous planning.

Every minute detail, every conceivable contingency, and every movement of the couple throughout their five-hour visit to Canberra was planned for.

<b>Special report</b>

Special report

Police formed a ''multi-layered security template'' around the couple, the most visible aspects being venue security, their close personal protection, and the police attached to royals' motorcade.

But behind the scenes, bomb teams were carrying out rigorous sweeps for potential threats, while specialist riot squad members were on standby just in case there were disturbances.

Elite tactical response officers were also ready to respond at breakneck speed to any threat to the couple.

The significant resourcing and the thoroughness of detail in the police operational plan is standard for ACT Policing's emergency management and planning team, which is responsible for protecting all VIP guests who come to the city.

Yet, despite all their preparation, team leader Sergeant Aaron Steff admits that getting through the duration of a major visit can be intense.

''There's a bit of pressure there,'' Sergeant Steff said. ''The organisation is responsible for the security of a VIP, and in a lot of the cases, the world media is watching.

''You're mindful of that and you want to ensure you've done a good job.''

Sergeant Steff and the visits and events team have been exposed to the full weight of that pressure in recent times.

Late last year they had to grapple with two of the biggest visits the territory will ever be likely to see, with United States President Barack Obama here in November, preceded by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in October.

It doesn't get much bigger than gearing up for the world's most powerful man, and Mr Obama's visit tested the team's capabilities and preparedness more than any.

The team dedicated two months of solid preparation to the visit, working with national and international security to ensure the city was ready.

''As far as VIP tours go, it's the biggest one … for an individual it's extremely large and complex,'' Sergeant Steff said.

''It all depends on the intelligence, but also what resources we're going to draw upon and the logistics involved with the expanded security template that you overlay on a visit like Obama's,'' he said.

Sergeant Steff has been attached to the emergency management and planning team for a total of four years, and has worked on a series of VIP visits.

The key to ensuring a smooth operation, he said, was accounting for any possible variation from the plan, any contingency that could leave the visitors open to a potential threat.

''It's making sure that, at the end of the day, you've developed a plan that will cover most contingencies,'' he said. ''That we can ensure we'll maintain the security and dignity of the VIP, whoever that may be.''

''You can't prepare for everything, but you would hope that you've prepared for most eventualities.''

The vast majority of the team's work may go unnoticed in the excitement of a VIP visit, but that would be of little consequence to its members.

''To be able to deliver the VIP safely back on the plane at the end of the tour, knowing the job has been done right, is very satisfying,'' Sergeant Steff said.

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