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Winter Olympic events demand tighter security

Winter Olympic events and particularly Vancouver’s 2010 Winter and Paralympics are creating greater security challenges as their popularity increases, says a GardaWorld consultant and former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent.


April 30, 2009
By Jean Sorensen

Topics

Ray Mey has provided counter-terrorism designs for past Olympic events.

“At one time, the winter Olympics were smaller events (compared to the
summer games),” says Mey. “The challenge was dealing with the
mountains, the cold, and winter environment.”

But, that’s changing. The winter Olympics are still the smaller events,
but the gap is closin, as winter games become larger, attracting more
people and countries. Summer games have approximately 220 countries
participating but winter games participation has notched up with
Vancouver’s 2010 expecting to draw 80 plus countries and 40 plus
countries to the Paralympics.

Past winter games in Torino (2006) drew 81 countries, Salt Lake City
(2002) 78, Nagano (1998) 72, and Lillehammer (1994) drawing 67. Also,
winter Olympics host sites are no longer smaller cities or remote
locations that “back-drop” to a larger city, says Mey, involved with
Olympics from 1996-2006 and a security advisor to the Chicago Bid
Committee for the 2016 summer games.

Major cities have become focal points for winter games such as Salt
Lake City/ County (population of 1.2 million), while Greater Vancouver
has a population of 2.1 million. Securing larger population areas
“brings whole new challenges that are more akin to those of the summer
games,” he says.

The challenges have essentially doubled up to include both
winter conditions and large populations and areas.

Vancouver isn’t the
first winter Olympic site to have venues that will be spread out across a large geographic area (Whistler, Vancouver,
and Richmond) — Salt Lake and Torino encountered this as well, says
Mey.

“In Salt Lake, you ended up with a huge 900 square mile Olympic
theatre — it’s not just the venues where something can occur, it’s the
whole Olympic theatre.”


As a result, there will be target hardening of
venues, softer targets, and areas of interest along the waterfront that
all need to be considered.

He said: “It is a very difficult event to
make secure. When you start hardening the venue sites, you create other
opportunities that can be hit.” Mey said the Integrated Security Unit
(headed by the RCMP) is sure to look at these considerations and “they
will do a good job to ensure the games are safe.”

The mountain
locations for the winter events, combined with the weather, also
present challenges. They are often an hour or more from other city
venues, and, it’s not viable to rely upon resource and men in the urban
areas to serve those in the rural areas.

“What we have had to do (in
the past) is take a sector approach, where we prepared our resources to
allow us to respond to problems as soon as possible,” he says. Olympic
games come with no trends, specific targets, or, predictable terrorist
actions, says Mey.

“The games itself are the Achilles heel,” he said,
adding that the magnitude of the international event with athletes,
dignitaries, corporate sponsors, and media make it an attractive venue
for dissidents to act upon.

Only two games have been marred by death
and tragic injuries. In Atlanta in 1996, anti-abortionist Eric Rudolph
planted a green back pack filled with three pipe bombs containing nails
under a bleacher in Centennial Olympic Park, a gathering spot for
public concerts outside main Olympic venues.

A guard noticed the sack
and started evacuation of the concert crowd however the bomb exploded
injuring 111, killing one woman struck in the head while a cameraman
died of a heart attack running to record the incident.

At the Munich
games in 1972, a Palestinian group Black September kidnapped nine
Israeli athletes from the Olympic Village, later blowing up the
helicopter the hostages were in during a gun-battle with police at a
nearby airport. As well as the hostages, as police officer died in the
gunfire, along with four of the guerillas.)

A Canadian government
threat assessment report, obtained by the National Post, under the
Freedom of Information Act sets out four main threats — a “lone wolf”
attack (like Rudolph’s), al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda inspired terrorists and
domestic non-Islamic extremist groups. Environmental terrorism has also
been a concern for FBI in North America and remains a concern
internationally, says Mey.

“For any kind of terrorism, it (Olympics) is
an attractive target,” he said.

More technology is being used in crime prevention and apprehension,
but, technology deployed at Olympic sites is usually well documented.

“It (Vancouver) will not use untested technology,” he predicts, adding
that technology in place needs to be user-friendly and supported by
existing local policing operations.