Canadian private security firms can't meet demand for 2010 games

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - There's no way the private security industry can meet the demands from either Olympic organizers or the Royal Candaian Mounted Police for help during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, industry professionals say.

Both Vancouver's Olympic Organizing committee and the Integrated Security Unit in charge of policing the Games are seeking private security firms, as well as existing institutions that want to beef up their own security.

It means the already-stressed industry simply can't keep up.

''There are very competent people who are part of the (Olympic) planning process,'' said Leo Knight, senior vice-president of Paladin Security, a Vancouver-based private security firm.

''But they aren't listening to the industry and they aren't in touch with reality.''

Knight and others say unless there are drastic changes to legislation which would allow workers from outside Canada to be brought in to help during the Games, there won't be enough security guards to back-stop policing in 2010 based on what the Integrated Security Unit and Olympic organizers say they are looking for.

The unit - made up of RCMP, the Vancouver Police, the West Vancouver police, National Defence and Canada's spy agency - took the unusual step of issuing an ''industry input notice'' last month, in advance of putting out the formal contract tender for security personnel which will be issued in a few weeks.

In the notice, they asked the industry to weigh in on the feasibility of one company being able to provide as much as 900,000 hours of manpower, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the three months around the Games.

That works out to about 5,000 security guards to fill the unit's needs alone.

There are only 8,600 licensed guards in B.C., according to the provincial government.

The notice doesn't specify that the guards must be from B.C., but industry officials pointed out that housing and transportation requirements would make it extremely difficult for agencies to bring workers in from elsewhere.

Provincial licensing requirements that security guards be Canadian residents also preclude them from going south of the border or overseas - like companies in Alberta can - to recruit additional workers.

''Not one company will be able to supply because these people already have jobs, they're already protecting the library, the mall or whatever it might be,'' said Tim Grose, vice-president of business development for Total Security Management Services Inc., a Toronto-based firm.

''Just to secure that many people in an area where it is very, very hard to even get some back-up resources currently is almost impossible.''

A spokeswoman for the unit said unit officials are confident there are enough security personnel to help, but wanted to make sure before issuing the contract tender.

''We know (the firms) do exist but we want to know what they can provide us,'' said Cpl. Gusharn Bernier.

''We want to know what kind of services they are willing to provide and where.''

Olympic organizers in Vancouver didn't specify the number of hours or guards it is hoping to hire to help with its security needs, such as securing venues.

A former FBI agent who now focuses on helping to provide private security for Olympic Games to corporations and Olympic committees, said for the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, there were more than 10,000 security personnel employed over all.

That's not including the private security guards hired on Olympic-related business like protecting media equipment or guarding high-profile corporate executives.

Ray Mey, a consultant with Garda Security, said using private security at the Olympics is in part a legacy of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where two people died and over 100 others were injured at a park used for medal ceremonies.

That, followed by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, meant organizers now need to take a much more holistic view of security for the Olympics.

''The event has taken on much more of a difficult situation because of the weapons of mass destruction threat,'' he said.

''Not just dealing with the venues per se, but dealing with all of the soft targets we have to deal with.

''There are other celebration sites outside of the venues - hotels where people are staying, restaurants - and therein lies the challenge because as you start to expand all of these potential threats outside the venue sites then you have more of a need for the private security elements because law enforcement can't deal with every single thing.''

Bernier said using private security for screening purposes was also a cost-effective measure.

A base salary for guards is around $12 an hour, so if the security unit stuck to its estimated number of hours, the cost of using private security would be about $10.8 million.

That figure doesn't take into account higher salaries for managers, or specialized personnel like drug-dog handlers or video analysis who may also be called up to provide assistance.

''It makes more economical sense to be able to utilize the industry and to use the private sector to perform this work which allows then the ISU to maximize our police resources to ensure we continue to meet all our responsibilities in all of the communities across the country,'' Bernier said.

But when new legislation takes effect later this year in B.C., the cost will skyrocket, said Robert Jonatschick, owner of Black Tower Security Services, a Vancouver-based company.

Right now, guards are licensed through the companies that employ them, but the new law will allow people to be individually licensed, essentially creating free agents who can shop their services around to the highest bidder.

''It's going to be a big mess and it's going to be a scramble and people are going to say 'Ok, well, if you want the manpower we can supply it, it's going to cost you a lot of money,' '' said Jonatschick.

''People will work eight hours to cover their present site and do another eight hours at 100 dollars an hour to cover the Olympic site.''

Knight said everyone's cost for security is going to rise as a result of the Games.

His company protects critical infrastructure projects like hospitals and hydro plants.

To remain competitive with Olympic venues, he knows he'll simply have to pay his guards more.

''So now the public monies are going to have to pay grossly inflated wages because VANOC didn't plan properly,'' he said.

''And the government is allowing that to occur with this licensing change, so how foolish is that?''

Many companies say that for now, they won't sign contracts with Olympic organizers or police, saying they don't want to promise what they can't offer at a cost they can't afford.

Vancouver Olympic organizers were unavailable to comment.