An Olympic Security Effort

May 2, 2006
Executive protection at the 2006 Winter Olympics

Now that the Olympics are over, the athletes are home and sports enthusiasts who braved the crowds and long lines have left Turino. Those behind the scenes, namely security professionals, are breathing a sigh of relief and catching up on their rest, as the games went on with as they should with lots of revelry and not a single tragedy: Except of course dashed expectations from one renegade skier.

As the games in Turino become a memory, the planning for the next winter Olympics and its security protocol is already being planned for. It is no surprise, as Turino itself was a massive undertaking involving thousands of police deployed to patrol potential targets around the Olympic site. This included some 300 police on ski equipment patrolling the ski courses after closing hours and the Italian government's option of suspending the European open-borders treaty to control borders during the games.

In addition to the athletes, some 21 heads of state, six royal families and 15 heads of government were confirmed to participate. More than a half-dozen countries, including the U.S., Britain and Israel, helped Italy prepare for this massive security effort. While Italian security forces were mostly responsible for the safety of the Olympic Games, foreign agents protecting VIP visitors were allowed to carry firearms.

Global Security Associates, a New York-based security firm specializing in providing protection for small and large events, spent months preparing for its role of providing personal protection to its clients who attended the games. Our priority for any company attending a high-profile event such as the Olympics, where the threat to their security is a possibility, is to evaluate all potential risks by evaluating and assessing the event through critical review. This includes the review of all possible scenarios and security procedures to meet each situation.

In order to prepare for the games, our security professionals spent six to eight months gathering intelligence and working with local Italian enforcement agencies, the U.S. military and the U.S. consulate. The goal was to coordinate the logistics of our personnel in and around the country. GSA was contracted to protect executives from corporations sponsoring the games from any unwanted attention for any reason. By the time we got to the games we had spent a tremendous amount of time planning and studying the area in the event something went wrong and we had to get our clients out of there.

Executive protection at the Olympic Games was necessary because companies are heavily promoting themselves to the world audience. Just the mere presence of these executives representing high profile companies at the Olympics is enticing for groups that don't agree with their policies and may want to choose to make a statement, of any kind. This is what our security effort is all about.

Challenges in planning for an event this size included the anticipation of the crowd size, which turned out to be smaller and more peaceful than anticipated. The protests that did take place were nonviolent and held far from the venues, but advance planning needed to accommodate any scenario. On the ground, GSA supported its agents in the field with satellite and internet communications and updates that were being supplied via the cooperating security agencies. In the U.S. we were closely monitoring and relaying information to our field assets so there wasn't a moment they were not able to be in contact with us through full support of our command center here.

As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are just over two-years away, more than 30 experts from China and the U.S. have already held discussions at a symposium entitled, "Olympic Security: Preparedness and Response," where Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee addressed the meeting by saying, "the event has so far entered a new stage with all works proceeding." While the total cost of the security effort for the Torino games is still being calculated, the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics cost the U.S. $310 million and Beijing officials are promising the 2008 Games will be safely assured through high technology being specifically designed for the Games.

About the author: William McGuire is president and CEO of Global Security Associates, LLC. McGuire has over 15 years experience in the commercial aviation security industry and is the former vice president of Virgin Security Services of Virgin Atlantic Airlines. He is also a member of the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS), National Cargo Security Council (NCSC) and the International Association for Counter-Terrorism & Security Professionals (IACSP). As an executive protection specialist, McGuire has implemented the security details for noted events and people from all areas of the world.