x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

F1 planners prepare for all eventualities

Police will rely on sophisticated computer software to manage 48,000 visitors expected to descend on Yas Island for the motor race.

A Formula One car speeds around around the Yas Marina circuit, in Abu Dhabi.
A Formula One car speeds around around the Yas Marina circuit, in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // When 48,000 people descend on Yas Island on November 1 for the Formula One Grand Prix, ensuring their safety and security will involve unprecedented measures, from predicting traffic flow to helping aeroplanes land.

From the moment drivers cross from the mainland on one of the bridges, their arrival will be recorded by underground sensors. The data will be fed into computers in a control centre. They will then make millions of near-instantaneous calculations, predicting each vehicle's effect on traffic, parking and the crowd inside. Then, attendants directed by radio from the control centre will wave drivers into one of the island's 19,600 parking spaces.

For those fans lucky enough to arrive in a private aircraft, the island has its own air-traffic control centre, too. "The biggest security challenge would be to manage the crowds and traffic attending the event, and the people coming in and out of the island," said Major Gen Obaid al Ketbi, the deputy general commander of the Abu Dhabi Police and the head of the higher security committee for the Yas Marina Circuit.

Authorities have been preparing for the challenge by simulating hundreds of scenarios using the technology, which was designed specially for Yas Island. By the time spectators arrive, it will be able to predict the effects of even a five-second traffic delay. "For example," said Gen al Ketbi, "if there is a delay in a certain process on the road, or in the main field area, or there is a problem in the inspection area that is delaying the inspection process, the software will show the impact on heavy traffic inside the island and outside.

"So it shows you how to control the crowd, what the hot spots are, so we can prepare in advance how to manage such situations." The security committee visited F1 races in Germany, Bahrain, Italy, Singapore and Japan to collect ideas about crowd and traffic management. One of the most important lessons: an entertained spectator is usually an orderly one. "What we learnt from our visits on how to control the crowds, is to engage them in events and activities on the island after the race, so they don't all leave at the same time," he said.

In any case, he noted, fans will have paid hefty sums to get into the three-day event, making it unlikely that many would be there to make trouble. "Formula One is one of the events that you can have under control because the audience only attend by invitation or they have to buy tickets. "We do not expect any security problems, because those coming are there for fun and not to make trouble. This is not a football match, where the audience will pay Dh10 or enter for free."

But as in any big event, there was one major piece of advice Gen al Ketbi had for those planning to attend: "We encourage people to arrive early. It is better to avoid the rush." But more serious measures will be in place to prevent security breaches in the air, on the ground or in the water. Nine private UAE-based security companies have been hired, and an international company may be called in as well.

Security guards, police and civil defence services will be working side by side. All have received training for evacuating the complex, as well as in basic crowd control. The number of police officers available on the island has not yet been specified. "Security and police will be all over the place," he added. "We will be at the right place at the right time." Surveillance cameras, metal detectors and helicopters will be used to check ticketholders and keep an eye on crowds.

In addition to the air-traffic tower, the military will control and patrol the airspace overhead. "There is also constant co-ordination with Abu Dhabi Airport on what planes will be passing on top of the island." Tourism police will offer guidance and help solve any problems visitors may have. There will be two field hospitals with 100 beds available, plus an emergency-services facility in each area of the racing complex.

"We have also co-ordinated with the nearby local hospitals." Planning for all contingencies is difficult, if not impossible, officials said. In some countries, for instance, spectators have thrown objects on the track. Some details are still being decided on, including the number of routes into and out of the racing complex. Overall, however, he said everyone was confident of a safe and successful race weekend.

"There is no room for not succeeding in this event," Gen al Ketbi said. "We have every reason to run it successfully, we have the support and clear vision of the leaders on our side, and as we succeeded in managing big events before, such as Idex, this will be a continuation of our success."