Special Online ReportTodd Severson is leading the 5,000-strong guard force responsible for screening at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic venues.
By Jennifer Brown
Don’t let his youthful appearance fool you. Todd Severson is an Olympic
veteran. In fact he was working at the Atlanta Games in 1996 when three
terrorist pipe bombs went off in the city’s Centennial Olympic Park.
“I was sitting in the office at 1 o’clock in the morning when that
happened,” says Severson, project director for Contemporary Security,
speaking from his offices at the company’s training centre at Main and
Terminal in downtown Vancouver. From his window he can see the
When asked if he has a favourite winter sport in the Olympics, he
admits he doesn’t actually get to see the events when the Games are on.
“I’ll wait and watch the DVD,” he says with a laugh.
Severson, who, when asked his age, will only say he’s “under 40,” is an
Aussie import employed by Contemporary Security. He serves as project
director managing the 5,000-strong guard force that will assist the
RCMP’s Integrated Security Unit in carrying out screening at the
various Olympic venues in Vancouver and Whistler.
Vancouver will be Severson’s seventh Olympics. He was involved in the
planning and operations of Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Salt Lake 2002,
Athens 2004, Torino 2006 and Beijing 2008. He also worked on the
Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and Rio 2007 Pan American Games, and
was an IOC Advisor on event operations.
All eyes will be on Severson as the security industry watches to see
how he pulls off the creation of a 5,000-strong guard force operation.
Critics have been taking jabs via the mainstream press about how good
the guards will be considering many of them have never done guard work
before. Where could they possibly find 5,000 guards for such short-term
work? How much training could they have really received? Are they going
to be fed, housed, paid and even dressed appropriately?
Better still, how do you pull all this off and handle the stress of a $97-million contract?
“If I gave away all my secrets I wouldn’t have a job,” Severson says, laughing.
In fact the price tag of $97 million was the total contract price but,
as Severson points out, it’s a moving target because the RCMP utilize
the workforce as they see fit for the coverage.
“As you can imagine, a lot of money goes into securing accommodation in
Whistler and buying all these uniforms and boots,” he says.
Severson answers all of the big questions about the Olympic deployment with a calm confidence.
He arrived in Vancouver in April 2009 and since July has hired 5,000
people and staff who have attended a combined 15,000 training sessions.
In the first four days it was open, the uniform distribution centre
handed out 1,000 uniforms.
“The security screening we will be doing is similar to the operations
you would see at most airports but at the entry to all venues for the
games. We don’t necessarily do accreditation control inside the venue
and we don’t do the large material inspections for deliveries, but we
focus on pedestrians walking into the venue and also pedestrians
driving into the venues — so we screen those people,” he says.
Severson says one of the other success factors for the operation is the close cooperation with the RCMP.
“It has been really crucial to this success and it’s a really great
case study of cooperation between private security industry and the
police forces of Canada ”“ through their planning and detailed needs of
the games they were able to come up with budgets that we have all been
staying within and throughout this cooperation has made it a good
relationship in delivering a good workforce for them,” he says.
When Canadian Security spoke to Severson in January, some five weeks
away from the start of the Games, activity was already at a fevered
“I personally live and breathe the games when I’m on the project. A lot
of the staff here are also seeing that as the way to get everything
done in time.
“Right now we’re are going through 500 emails and calls a day in the
call centre. The numbers are staggering, but we’ve started small and
built a pretty big operation to support such a big endeavour,” he says.
Based in Sydney, Australia Severson doesn’t actually spend much time there.
“Sydney had the games in 2000 but the work takes me to other places,”
he says. “I’m really happy to be here with such an amazing Canadian
workforce with a really business-minded group of people — there’s a
great work ethic here.”
Severson says he is happy with the interest that has been shown in
Vancouver to be part of the games and from those willing to join the
security workforce. We have many people you wouldn’t normally see in
security jobs,” he says.
“There are challenges when you face having to hire 5,000 people in a
few short months. It’s a big task, but the plans we put in place that
we used in our first bid proved to be sound and delivered us our
targets in the time frame we needed.”
Of course there were many who wanted to be part of the team who came from law enforcement.
“We have a number of former RCMP officers, fire chiefs and others who
have come to us and either taken more senior roles or have just been
happy to be at the entry points screening bags and making sure the
games are secure. It’s attracted people from all areas and we
definitely have a good mixture of both people who have worked in other
security companies and other industries that are completely different,”
“The majority of the guards came from B.C. Contemporary did a
recruitment and outreach campaign across the country and to aboriginal
groups, focusing on key cities and it helped broaden our workforce so
we have a diverse representation of Canada on our team.
“I think that rather than just focusing on existing security workers we
knew the B.C. market probably wouldn’t be able to support the number of
people required by the RCMP and the integrated security unit. Our focus
was about recruiting in other industry and other markets and then
putting really strong training programs together so they can learn the
measures they need to know to be in the security industry,” says
“Through that process we got a fresh breath of enthusiasm in the market
here and workforce which will make a big difference in the customer
service levels at the entry and show great customer service for the
guests,” he says.
When it came to licensing all those guards in time for the event, he says it went smoothly.
“We have a really good relationship with the Ministry of Public Safety
and we have been working with them on a weekly basis,” he says.
Because B.C. has the Security Workers licence approved by that group,
Severson’s staff collects all the details necessary for the application
and they have an in-house Basic Security Training (BST) school on
premises to train supervisors and utilize some of the Ministry’s online
“Supervisors in Ottawa have gone through an e-learning program the
Ministry has and when they come to Vancouver they sit the final exam to
get their card,” he says.
are two kinds of background checks the security team has gone through.
One is part of the licensing process and the second is through the
VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) accreditation which is a separate
check conducted by the RCMP and done for all accredited workers at the
Severson says the number of hours each guard received varies by position.
Security staff will undergo four levels of training, including:
1. Games Security Screening Orientation;
2. Job Specific Training;
3. Large Scale Simulation; and,
4. Venue Familiarization Training.
developed a multi-tiered training program that starts the guards out in
a general orientation session where they learn about the Games and the
kind of work experience they’re going to have. Then their training is
job-specific from classroom lectures and hands-on simulations and
experiences in the training area and for X-ray operators,” he says.
example, there is a lab where the guards undergo many hours of object
recognition to understand how to detect and identify the items the RCMP
has on a list that we are looking out for.
“Every site is just
as secure as the rest ”“ I think the RCMP may have different assessments
of security but what we have to do is deploy staff that are trained to
the requirement the RCMP require of us.”
says there is “a robust accommodation plan” in place that includes
housing in the Vancouver area for those coming from out of town.
Whistler posed another challenge.
“Like all employers in the
Whistler area we know housing and workers are in short supply. A big
portion of our plan was that we would have to look after our staff in
Whistler and the solution we ended up with was a camp — the Rainbow
Village — because it’s on a piece of land called Rainbow Estates. It’s
housing the workforce and is our central hub of operations shutting the
staff to the venues.
Rainbow Estates is an existing building
site in close proximity to the venues. It is fully-serviced with sewer,
water and hydro. Pre-fabricated, modular units were assembled on site
in November and December 2009. Following the Games, the site will be
restored to its original state and regular construction will continue
for market and Whistler employee housing.
housing site will include: a two-storey complex for a reception, dining
hall, kitchen, medical facilities, recreation area, gymnasium, and
other supporting services; dormitory style structures with multiple
sleeping units and some small structures for laundry and washrooms.
working at the games were paid $10/hr for the initial training period
but the wage for X-ray operators and screeners is $16/hr with a
$2.50/hr job completion bonus if they work all the shifts they were
scheduled. Supervisors receive $20/hr plus the bonus and the managers
earn $30/hr plus the bonus.
“We pay overtime and offer
health-care benefits. I think we also have one of the best uniforms on
the mountain and our staff are thrilled they have boots unlike some of
the VANOC volunteers. The boots the gloves, the hat, the scarf, the
snow pants are all an important part of their role so they stay
comfortable when performing their jobs,” he says.
the biggest challenge all organizers at the Games face are the things
they can’t control like the West Coast weather and the possibility of
postponed events and handling all those people when they have to come
back another day for the event they’ve come to see.
“Because we’ve seen this before we have all those contingency plans in place,” he says.
guess the main lesson is you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize and
know where you’re heading because the more you’re involved the better
quality your work is,” says Severson.
“If you just stay
focused on spreadsheets you lose sight of why you’re doing it. I try to
have activities for my staff to celebrate things like 100 days to go
and get out to see test events and remember why we’re trying to deliver
an Olympic games.”
Olympic Security by the numbers
14,364 training sessions
11,236 applications received for security positions
5,000 security staff required, including a mix of men, women, francophones, First Nations, students, experienced security staff, retired police/ fire/ military
3,000 security staff hired in British Columbia
1,500 security staff hired in Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops, Calgary, Edmonton
1,000 security staff hired in the first month of recruitment
453 record number of applicants received in one day
312 the most candidates hired in one day