Monitoring the Hajj from inside Mecca’s 911 security control center

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As pilgrims on the final day of Hajj began moving toward the Jamaraat Bridge, where they throw seven pebbles at a pillar for the “stoning of the devil” ritual, the clouds began to rumble. In a matter of moments, the skies opened and rain began pouring onto Mecca and the Islamic Holy sites, soaking the pilgrims below.

The response was instant. A few kilometers away, a busy room filled with tens of security personnel from various sectors of Saudi Arabia’s Hajj operation kicked into action, taking in hundreds of calls a minute and helping pilgrims with their needs as roads and tents began to flood.

The security room features a wall covered with live real-time streams from 5,000 cameras scattered across the vast Islamic Holy sites of Mecca in full definition, and staff have the capacity of accessing a further 10,000 cameras if needed. Some special cameras can even zoom in up to four kilometers in distance, ensuring nothing gets by the control room.

“We make use of these cameras to ensure a safe and secure Hajj experience for all the guests of God, the pilgrims,” Lt. Col. Anwar Fazaa told Al Arabiya English.

The control and call center also hosts a specially trained unit of a team of all-Saudi females, who speak a combined seven languages including French and German.

For Ghadeer al-Sahafi, who has been working at the center for the past year, the experience has been a practical way of putting her English Literature degree to use.

“I studied English Literature and I consider myself lucky to have landed this job on two fronts. First, because I get to use my degree in a practical way, and second, I get to serve the pilgrims during the Hajj,” al-Sahafi said.

The fact that women play a major role in the operations is not lost on her.

“We can do it all. That’s simply the best thing I can say. We are proving every day that we can do it,” she added.

Tuesday marks the final day of Hajj and Eid al-Adha. Pilgrims will now perform the “stoning the devil” ritual one more time at the Jamaraat Bridge in Mecca. They will then head back to the Grand Mosque for a final time to circle the Kaaba, known as the “farewell” tawaf.


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