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Photo by PamelaSaunders​​

Vancouver Shoots for Gold

OLYMPIC GAMES are among the highest profile events a city can have. They attract not only high numbers of attendees and intense media coverage, but they can also be a target for terrorism. With less than a year until next February’s Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, security preparations for the event are already well underway.

The Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU) is responsible for securing the games. It is led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and made up of members from the Vancouver Police Department, West Vancouver Police Department, and Canadian Forces.

One of the most important aspects of implementing any security plan is training. The ISU has been running training exercises with provincial and municipal officials from law enforcement, emergency services, and the military.

Those exercises are part of what is known as the 2010 Integrated Exercise Program. The three largest of these exercises are named bronze, silver, and gold. The bronze exercise was completed in November 2008. It was a tabletop exercise that examined incidents affecting transportation, health, and weather-related situations that might occur during the events. The silver and gold exercises will be held this year. All of the exercises will address a variety of potential incidents such as transportation and weather related situations. The goal is to have all participants from local, state, and federal law enforcement practice together to ensure maximum coordination in a real event.

“The delivery of a safe and secure games depends on the effective contribution of many organizations and agencies, and more importantly, on their ability to work together to ensure a coordinated response,” says Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, chief operating officer of the ISU. “Exercises provide the opportunity for this capability to be achieved and are important tools in understanding and preparing for real emergencies.”

Security equipment, especially at access points, will supplement personnel. One tool the ISU is planning on using to protect the upcoming games is metal detectors. ISU has enlisted Garland, Texas-based Garrett Metal Detectors to supply the games with handheld and walk-through detectors.

Garrett has a long history of securing the Olympics. It provided detectors at the first Olympic games to widely use them, the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984. The company most recently secured the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August 2008, where it provided about 3,000 detectors in all.

Company spokesperson Steve Moore says that working at the Vancouver games will present some unique challenges, due in part to how spread out the event is. “You’ve got Richmond, the city that you fly into, that’s going to host some of the venues. You’ve got Vancouver proper that’s going to host some of those. And then a pretty good ways up the road into the mountains, literally, you’ve got Whistler.”

There are ski jumps near Whistler, and the athlete’s village is spread between three different areas. “It’s a pretty good distance. So we’re going to have support teams and things in place in three different areas, and people will be mobile to go between them as needed,” he says.

Winter events present the added challenge of spectators walking through with heavy coats and clothing, notes Moore. A decision has to be made each time on whether it’s necessary to have people take off their coats and heavy clothing items.

The Olympics are different from other sporting events, because multiple Olympic events are occurring at the same time. Attendees enter and exit different venues continually. “And, of course, it’s a worldwide event, so you’ve got all cultures, all nationalities, and you’ve got to be prepared for language issues, translation, whatever else may come with it,” says Moore.

The ISU is also looking at ways to supplement metal detectors, which cannot detect non-metal explosives or chemical weapons. According to The Vancouver Sun, one tool the ISU may be turning to is the SAFESITE Multi-threat Wireless Detection System from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-headquartered MSA (Mine Safety Appliances Company), which detects such threats as chemical weapons, combustible gas, and Gamma radiation. Although MSA is not permitted to confirm that they are providing SAFESITE detectors to the Vancouver Olympics, they can confirm that they are working with security, first responders, critical infrastructure, and the government in Canada. SAFESITE has been used at events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl.

There are more than 30 types of sensors that can be plugged into the SAFESITE device, of which six can be installed at any one time. The device is transportable and connects to a wireless network that reports back to a command center. There can be up to 64 sensors hooked into the wireless command network.

SAFESITE is a “point” detector, so the gas or contaminated air has to float into the area the SAFESITE is monitoring for it to be detected. Once the sensor indicates, for example, a threat of hydrogen cyanide, security can “then apply weather metrics to it and sort of begin to build a ‘how do you defeat the threat’ sort of thing,” says MSA spokesperson Norm Davis. MSA is adding a plume modeling aspect to that software this year, which would provide a model of the movement of the gas.

One challenge for both metal detection and the MSA detection equipment is working in the cold. Gases are less volatile in the winter, so the threat is different, and threat detection must be adjusted to deal with weather and temperature issues.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency assessment paper raised the concern that SAFESITE sensors do not have much protection from the elements based on their location on the detector. Responding to that concern, Davis says, “Almost any instrument you deploy is subject to the ambient conditions,” but he adds that the personnel at MSA “test all of our equipment in environmental changes to experience the specification that they’re likely to be deployed in.”

Another way that ISU will secure the games is through the use of canine detection teams, trained by the RCMP, says ISU spokesperson Bert Paquet. “In addition to its ongoing program of increasing dog resources, the RCMP began cross-training more of its existing dogs to detect scents associated with explosives.”

In addition to the normal five-and-a half month training, dogs trained in explosives detection take weekly courses and have already been training at the Olympic venues during construction to become familiar with the sites. They will be searching vehicles and venues at the Olympics, as well as investigating any threats.