Can’t put a price on security.



Maybe terrorists blew up a dirty nuclear device in the Port of Vancouver. Or maybe, an entire national Olympic team was held hostage. It’s happened before. Or maybe, a more likely scenario, a group of Vancouver’s ready supply of anti-Olympic protesters or its roving band of anarchistic bicycle activists have blockaded the Lions Gate Bridge, creating traffic chaos. These could be some of the disasters being considered this week in a huge “table top” exercise by agencies responsible for security during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

Limited news of the exercise came this Wednesday from William Elliott, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the man ultimately responsible for ensuring that Vancouver’s Games aren’t synonymous with such disasters as the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Games in 1972.

Elliott, while vague on details, confirmed that he and the RCMP were among 70, count ‘em!, agencies participating in the security exercise. Seventy agencies requires one heck of a big  table top and gives just some hint of the coordinating challenges, and the expense, of securing an Olympic Games. Others certain to be participating: the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Canadian Border Services Agency, the Port of Vancouver, the Armed Forces, the Canadian Coast Guard, many of the 11 non-RCMP municipal police forces in B.C., and very probably some of our American friends.

As for that expense, well, good luck finding that out. The Vancouver Olympic bid book put the estimated security costs at a ludicrous $175 million. A somewhat more likely figure came from federal Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, who conceded it would likely be “less than $1 billion.”  Humm, good luck with that. As for Elliott’s estimate: “I have no comment,” he said after a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon.

He did concede there are many security challenges, including getting enough experienced feet on the ground. The Mounties will graduate some 1,800 new recruits this year, but they will lose 700 officers to retirement. They will be drawing RCMP members from across the province for the Games, and “we’ve had very good take up” from other police forces around the country.

One can’t blame them for volunteering. Not only is this a world-class security challenge, nice slice of Canadian history, and a chance to accumulate epic amounts of overtime, but there’s a chance to bunk in one of two cruise ships that the RCMP has rented to provide accommodation for the duration. The estimated cost of that alone: $37 million-plus.

All aboard!