News » Whistler

Security issues well in hand for Olympics



Vancouver and Whistler emergency response teams will all be linked to the same communications system in time for the 2010 Olympics, said the director of public safety for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Bid Corporation.

The communications network will go through the Emergency Communications Centre, or ECOM, in East Vancouver, which is set to extend from the Sunshine Coast to Boston Bar, said Murray Day, who has been a police officer in Vancouver for the past 32 years.

ECOM will enable different agencies to co-ordinate at a central location and allow all police, fire and ambulance in the area to actually talk to each other.

Day sees this as a key factor in security for the Games in Vancouver after observing the communications network in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games.

"One of the things that failed them immensely down there was their communications network," Day said to a handful of people at the May 29 Olympic InfoZone meeting.

"I don't think they ever figured out who was in charge or who would take control. The IOC thought that was a real problem."

ECOM will be the communications centre for the entire Games, allowing operational command, transportation command and Games organizational command from one area.

"I think that's a big plus for this bid."

ECOM was created in 1994 after the Stanley Cup riots, when the Vancouver Canucks lost in the final game.

At that time the police radio system failed as it competed with ambulance, fire and other police units.

Officers were left to communicate through hand signals. That's just not an option for the Olympic Games, said Day.

While he doesn't believe there will be another eruption in the city as in 1994, or indeed any kind of massive security issue, officers still need to be on their guard.

They need to be prepared for any event from a crowd control problem, to protestors getting carried away in demonstrations, to a freak natural disaster.

"I don't think anyone suspects (something to happen) but we have an obligation to prepare," he said.

To help prepare, the committee is gathering emergency plans from a mixture of sources, from Whistler-Blackcomb and Cypress Bowl to the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the City of Vancouver,

"We were quite surprised that everybody has a comprehensive plan to deal with any disaster," he said.

For example, should something happen along the Sea to Sky Highway there is already an evacuation plan in place to cope with it.

Day is also chair of the Health Services, Safety and Security Working Group, which is responsible for the security portion of the bid book.

That committee has been divided into four subgroups: security, medical, emergency management and volunteer.

Day is confident the group can put together a technically sound medical and security package for the bid.

In addition to the 8,000 police officers, 20,000 firefighters (a good portion are volunteers), and 2,700 ambulance personnel in B.C. from which to draw help, the Games will also run on the backs of volunteers.

St. John's Ambulance has volunteered all their services. The Red Cross, Search and Rescue and Ski Patrol have all come forward with offers of assistance also, said Day.

This volunteer portion is key to a successful Games and Day hopes to recruit many volunteers from Whistler locals, who will be out in the community welcoming guests.

Police, on the other hand, should not be an obvious presence.

In Salt Lake City, there was up to 15,000 security resources on hand.

"When I was told (there were 15,000 security) I thought that I would bump into them on every corner," he said. "(But) I didn't really find it intrusive at all."

The security was be obvious at the venues, an IOC requirement, where ticket holders and accredited people went through metal detectors and had their bags searched – the "mag and bag" process.

The same will happen in Whistler and Vancouver.

"I would be lying to you if I said there was going to be no effect."

Day said the police should not be in your face, rather they are there for the public safety.

As in previous Olympic InfoZone meetings, some of the attendants raised concerns about Highway 99 and how security along the road would impact their lives.

Day said it was too early to address those concerns as the highway might look completely different when the time comes to make security preparations.