During the second term of our Geopolitics and Security MSc programme here at Royal Holloway, our students embark on a week-long Mapping Securitie(s) Workshop alongside our friends from Université de Cergy-Pontoise in Paris. Students, from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, are presented with a central scenario of which they have to work together in planning to secure a proposed mega-event. From securing a mock NATO summit in the Copper Box in Queen Elizabeth Park, to the certain intricacies and unknown threats presented in securing the London Marathon or Pride parade in central London, students are often pushed to their limits in what is a challenging, yet incredibly enjoyable week.
In what is now our 5th year of running this exercise, this year, students were given the unenviable task of securing the ‘working visit’ of the 45 U.S President, Donald Trump. Current MSc student Holly Khatri shares her experiences from the week.
Weary-eyed and tired, having witnessed the world before 11.00am, the students of Royal Holloway’s Geopolitics and Security team, made their way to Senate House to begin what promised to be an exciting and fulfilling week of a security mapping exercise, undertaken alongside French cartography students from the Université de Cergy-Pontoise in Paris. Following some informative introductory talks from Ian Floyd, formerly of the Metropolitan Police, and Holloway’s own Steve Hersee and Peter Adey, we began our security adventure!
Our task, a mean feat for even the most experienced of security experts, was to ‘Secure the Donald’, to prepare the foundations of a working visit, for one of the most powerful, divisive, and contentious political figures in the world. Our role was an in-enviable one, and involved the selection of venues, the planning of routes, and the securitisation of the sites and spaces incorporated into the project. All risks, probable and possible, had to be recognised and prepared for, potential threats mitigated, and a range of security methods considered. Divided into four groups, two of those looked at specific venues we had marked as potential locations for the event, including Downing Street, the US Embassy, and the Corinthia Hotel, whilst the others walked the routes between them. The session started with a discussion on the best way of organising ourselves, with a number of infused individuals offering their ideas and suggestions on how to proceed. After some initial disagreements, the decision was made to go into the field and analyse the potential venues, noting security risks and challenges within and around them.
Over the course of the week, the hardest challenge we faced was organising ourselves. With only having a few days to complete our task, it was essential to create clear aims to ensure success, alongside mission statements and sub-groups so we could co-operate effectively during the week. Ben Brewer acknowledged that “it was a challenging week but [he was] very proud of what the team managed to achieve.”
The briefing talks had provided an idea of some of the topics we needed to consider, but formulating an organisational structure that would be productive and efficient with regards to the project, was complicated. The first day we struggled to take meaningful data from the field, which resulted in the Tuesday morning becoming crucial to us setting up the rest of the week. Eventually, we established a leadership group, balanced between both sets of students, which then split the remainder into groups focusing on routes, venues, threats, and context for the visit.
“What did we get out of this week? A fellowship that may never be broken. A presentation that we could be proud of. Skills that could set us up for the adventures to come.”
Another challenge was communication among the whole group. Getting 27 students, from varying academic disciplines, to coordinate, especially as we approached the final days, to produce a presentation that would feel unified and consistent, was extremely difficult. Despite the French students excellent English, the language barrier could sometimes cause issues. This was particularly true when trying to communicate and discuss complex security issues, but was something we got better at working through as the week went on.
Group rearrangements occurred over the course of the week, which resulted in groups merging into each other. On Wednesday, the group split, as one team went back out into the field to collect data, whilst the remainder worked in the university, in-putting data already collected. It became important to ensure that the findings of the field team were incorporated into the project and the leadership group were crucial in making sure that communication was clear and concise.
Friday morning came, the unwelcome visitor at the end of the week, signalling the finale of the event and the culmination of all of our hard work. The panel took their seats, imitating Cabinet officers awaiting their security briefing; the presentation commenced. The presentation started with a small introduction and an analysis on the purposes of the security plan. All the aspects of the working visit were analysed thoroughly; from the securitisation of routes, the formal dinner at Winfield House hosting controversial figures, to the methodology and the limitations of the project.
This was presented and illustrated using several different mapping techniques, with 10 students leading the presentation, which included some extremely illustrative maps concerning Trump’s visit. Ultimately, this presentation was the best way to recap a very profitable and fruitful week, and every student was extremely proud of the work we had accomplished.
All of us came out of a long, productive, and stressful week, with the excitement of the lunch/pint to come. As Ryan Woods stated: “I greatly enjoyed the mapping event as it aided me in utilising skills I have learnt throughout my UG and MSc course, as well as improving my diplomatic and presentation skills”.
What did we get out of this week? A fellowship that may never be broken. A presentation that we could be proud of. Skills that could set us up for the adventures to come. Ultimately, our journey resulted in a legacy to be passed down the generations, and we, the students of Royal Holloway, gallantly pass this torch of security studies to next year’s students, and imbue unto them, all that we have learnt.
Holly is an MSc Geopolitics and Security student, currently studying at Royal Holloway University of London, after completing her undergraduate degree in History. Her interests include popular geopolitics, modern history, and more specifically identity politics and the changing landscapes of warfare. During the mapping week, Holly was one of the team leaders in charge of communication and organisation. You can find Holly on Twitter: Follow @hollykhatri1