Vancouver Winter Olympics Mounts Largest Security Operation held in Canadian History

By Cheng Ming
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, February 8, 2010
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The athletes are not the only groups intensely counting down to the 2010 Winter Olympics to open February 12 in Vancouver, Canada.

The security personnel led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is also finalizing and fine-tuning on security logic, making sure it is comprehensive enough to cover the mega event.

"This is the most important security event in the country's history. It's the one that trumps every other one," RCMP Staff Sergeant Mike Cote told Xinhua. "I have been a police officer for many years. I worked on many G8's and papal visits and such security events, but this one is history-making in that it's the largest security operation ever held in Canada."

Cote admitted that this has been a challenging experience for him. "We have been making preparations for, for me the past eight months. I am really looking forward for the Games to begin." Cote said inside the newly built Vancouver Olympic Centre.

The Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit was established in 2003 soon after Vancouver was selected to host the 2010 games. The federal government of Canada mandated RCMP to oversee planning of the security of the Winter Olympics.

RCMP is a policing body that handles security in all three levels, national, provincial and municipal. It's operational structure is unique in the world.

Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Games (Vanoc) records show that two Canadian and one American private companies have been contracted to work alongside with RCMP to provide security services during the Games. The American company had worked at the Beijing and other previous Olympics.

About 31,000 volunteers have also been recruited in the security operations covering both the Olympics and the paralympics.

More than 80 countries and regions will join the 2010 Olympic Games, and more than 40 countries and regions will join the Paralympic Games. Tourism Vancouver estimated that there will be 10,000 media representatives in town, and number of visitors has been projected at 300,000 during the period of the Games.

The Winter Olympics events will be held in Vancouver as well as its neighbouring cities Richmond and Whistler.

Cote said the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit is able to dispatch sea, land and air personnel when called for.

"The fact that the Olympic footprint we are dealing with certainly has something to do with that," explained Cote. "We have a metropolitan area like Vancouver that we are responsible for. We have the Whistler area which is mountainous and presents its own challenges. We also have Richmond which is close to water."

"Simply the time that we live in dictates the fact that we have to leave no stone unturned when it comes to security," Cote stressed. "We have to do what we have to do to make sure we all enjoy a safe and secure Olympics. All that coupled together makes it the largest security venture in Canada's history."

The cost of the Games' security operation has been criticized by some as too high. The president of BC Civil Liberties Association, Micheal Vonn, is one such outspoken person.

"Mega events like the Olympics have turned into international trade shows for the multibillion dollars security and military industries," Vonn said. She listed some of the technologies to be used over the Winter Olympics. "Closed circuit video cameras, iris scanning, facial scanning, radio frequency identification chips, and satellite imaging."

However Cote disagreed. "The cost of security will remain within the allot budget of 900 million," Cote responded. "I don't think we are over doing security as far as integrated security unit is concerned. I mean it certainly is an area we cannot cut corner. We all know the time we live in is a necessity. I think we took the appropriate measures for what we have to deal with."

Vanoc's vice-president of Communications, Renee Smith-Valade, agreed with Cote. "Security is there to protect people and to make sure the Games are safe. We are planning in such a way that we expect it will be largely invisible," Smith-Valade told Xinhua. "I think we know that everyone coming to the games, athletes, spectators, families, officials, want to know that they can come to the games in a safe environment so the measures are being put in place that will ensure that."

Vonn also charged that the security program could be damaging to citizen rights. "These are security programs and equipment that would be fiercely resisted and highly controversial without the cover of a mega event, but which can usually be introduced without undue resistance on the grounds of challenges of special mega events," Vonn said.

In the first week of February, about a thousand closed circuit cameras were installed by security staff, mainly at venue sites, high-traffic zones and street intersactions where large numbers of pedestrians are expected to pass by during the Games.

Downtown streets well known to visitors, including Georgia, Granville and Robson Streets, are amongst the places included in the surveillance plan. The wide-angle views of these intersactions are monitored from the Olympic Transportation Operations Centre located close to the Vancouver City Hall.

Some Vancourites have raised concerns about privacy being violated by the closed circuit cameras installed in the city.

The director of Emergency Management and Public Safety, Kevin Wallinger, said the cameras are there for a specific purpose. "We are trying to get a situational awareness of crowd movement," he said.

Wallinger explained that when there are large crowds, the city wants to be prepared for situations and accidents like medical emergency or fire. He indicted that the cameras will be taken down after the Paralympic Games which will end on March 21.

Traffic is expected to be congested near event venues during the period of the Games. The director of Olympic Transportation, Dale Bracewell, advised visitors and citizens to plan ahead and try to use public transit as much as possible when traveling near Vancouver downtown and any Olympic venues. "We need everyone to support the transportation plan," urged Bracewell.

Participants of Olympic events are advised of security procedures similar to those getting on an airplane when they enter the event venues. Keith Davidson of the Integrated Security Unit advised participants to "get there early, bring the smallest bag possible and empty pockets of metallic items."

Bud Mercer, spokesperson of the Integrated Security Unit, said at an Olympic briefing last week that the Winter Olympics faced a low-level security threat and there were no known threats at present.

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