Behind the barricades
Crim researchers got an up-close-and-personal look at Olympic security
By Anne Russell
|UFV students and instructors got a close-up look behind the scenes of the security measures used for the 2010 Olympic Games. Based on their findings, the group has prepared a report entitled The Planning and Execution of Security for the 2010 Winter Games: 38 lessons learned.|
The Vancouver 2010 Olympics were a massive megaproject that involved years of planning, and were generally viewed as an organizational success. From a security point of view, they were successful because not much of significance with regards to security threats happened. One protest on the first weekend and a breach of security where an unstable man got too close to the U.S. vice president comprised the major security challenges.
However, that doesn’t mean that Canada wasn’t ready for any emergency. Years of planning helped ensure that it was. Thousands of police officers from RCMP detachments and municipal forces across the country, along with armed forces personnel, gathered to serve their country as part of a special Integrated Security Unit at this important international event. For much of the time, they found themselves providing a service that was, as many of them described it, both monotonous and essential. Monotonous because not much happened, but essential because they were extremely prepared to jump into action if it did.
Because of the close working relationship between the University of the Fraser Valley’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the RCMP, several UFV students, faculty members, and associated researchers got a special opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes peek at the security infrastructure in place for the 2010 games.
“This was a great chance to do an as-it-unfolds case study of security during a major global event staged in Canada,” notes Dr. Darryl Plecas, holder of the UFV/ RCMP Research Chair. “And the report that resulted from our research will be used as a reference for those planning future large-scale events involving a significant security presence.”
Entitled The Planning and Execution of Security for the 2010 Winter Games: 38 lessons learned, the report that resulted from the UFV research team’s analysis of the security component of the Olympics reviews the planning and execution of many aspects of the operation, including finances, logistics, staffing, intelligence, community relations, public affairs, informatics, and practice exercises.
The research methods used by the team included in-person interviews of key stakeholders, a survey of security personnel, a content analysis of media coverage, statistical analysis of crime and security data, and a clipboard survey of visitors to the Games.
|Jennifer Armstrong (left) and several other students were part of a team that worked with Dr. Darryl Plecas and Dr. Martha Dow, crim professor John Martin (not pictured) and graduate student and researcher Jordan Diplock on the Olympic Security Report.|
“This was a great example of the RCMP cooperating to make things happen in a way that was very supportive of our students,” Plecas notes. “The students were involved from the study design stage, including a methodology planning retreat attended by RCMP representatives, all the way through to final report completion.
“They were able to get an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the security process and protocol for a large event, and to get a real sense of the level of sophistication involved in an operation like this. They were conducting interviews right in the inner sanctums and control rooms, and witnessing how prepared the Integrated Security Unit was for things such as terrorist threats. They quickly got the sense that a lot of things would have to go wrong before something serious impacted the Games. It was a very Canadian approach to security — reserved, friendly, but backed up with a huge machine that was ready to pounce in a minute if the need arose.”
The project itself was adrenalin-fueled in the sense that the students were conducting their research in an ‘as-it-happens’ manner, interviewing Games visitors and participating police officers during the event itself.
“It’s not the kind of research that could wait until the Games were over,” Plecas noted. “We had to talk to people while they were converging on Whistler and Vancouver either as visitors or security forces, while the experience was fresh in their minds.”
Jennifer Armstrong, who graduated this spring, was a fourth-year BA in Criminal Justice student and researcher when she participated in the study.
She was involved in every aspect of the research project. This included planning, research instrument design, interviewing, report writing, and results presentation. Considering the multi-faceted nature of this research, it presented an opportunity to develop a broad range of research skills.
“My tasks and roles were to interview specific officers/employees at the Integrated Security Unit in Richmond,” she recalls. “This included members from gold-, silver- and bronze-level command, the head members of accreditation for the Games, heads of the logistics team, and project managers of the Olympic security. I interviewed over 25 people in 25 different roles.”
She also prepared a Powerpoint presentation for the Office of the Prime Minister that was delivered shortly after the report was completed.
“The behind the scenes look at the 2010 Winter Games security was an incredible experience,” Jennifer says. “I believe that I was witness to true leadership in many instances. I had the rare opportunity to get a ‘behind the scene’ view of the single largest security event in Canadian history. It would be understated to call my experience a privilege.
“What was pulled off by those that were a part of this piece of history was nothing short of the highest level of dedication and performance. This was an incredibly sophisticated operation.”
The media had a slight tendency to narrow the focus of what is reported to the public, according to Jennifer.
“While there was a lot of negative attention focused on the financial aspects of the Games, there was actually a level of constant responsibility, so much so that the numerous audits and financial authorities actually created a hindrance at the planning level. There was a serious accountability factor that was a priority — and at times was also seen as detrimental to the execution of security for the Games.”
UFV alumnus Jordan Diplock now a sessional instructor and researcher at UFV, was also part of the 10-member team.
The Olympic Security report was the product of a lot of hard work, he recalls.
“Our team of 10 researchers and research assistants completed the project on a very short timeline.”
Jordan was involved in editing and improving surveys, conducting more than a dozen interviews, compiling information from interviews, analyzing survey responses, and writing several chapters.
“It was a great experience to get a behind the scenes look at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Games. It was great to see how complex the project really was and how much planning and hard work went into making the Olympics a success. It was also really motivating to work within the ISU headquarters where everyone seemed to be very excited about experiencing the Olympic Games so closely and seeing all of the work they had done start to pay off.
“I gained a lot of great experience interviewing during this research project, and I learned a lot of what it takes to manage such a large project. I think the general public would be surprised to learn just how large the Olympic Security Project was and how many very important decisions go into making the Olympics secure. It would also surprise the general public to see how the ISU organization grew and gained expertise in such a variety of areas related to major event planning.”
The Olympic Security report team consisted of UFV faculty members Darryl Plecas, Martha Dow, and John Martin, UFV crim master’s graduate Jordan Diplock, and undergraduate students Jennifer Armstrong, Tara Haarhoff, Jason Levine, Rebecca Richardson, Kristen Chaisson, and Jeff Houlihan.
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