When the world descends on Vancouver in six months for the 2010 Winter Olympics, another kind of convergence will quietly be taking place. A cross-Canada security force will gather to keep those crowds under control, and disaster at bay.
"It's the largest security operation, ever, in Canadian history," said Staff Sergeant Mike Côté of the RCMP unit in charge of security for the Games. The co-ordination of a $900-million security plan is a gigantic nationwide human-resources effort, pulling personnel from coast to coast to keep things safe.
About 5,200 RCMP officers will be joined by 1,800 municipal, regional and provincial police officers from across the country. Thousands of military personnel and private security guards will also be involved. Some of them will need specific skills.
"You've got to manage security by land, sea and air," said Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto professor who specializes in security issues. "It's not easy to make sure you've got a security blanket thrown over all three."
Organizers are now sifting through what could be the largest pile of résumés in the country. Officers who ski could be recruited to patrol the slopes in Whistler. Dog handlers will help control the security perimeter around Olympic venues. Those with bomb-squad experience could be in Vancouver, dressed in Michelin- man-like padded suits in case any suspicious packages pop up.
"The process in selecting them from across the country is well under way," Staff Sgt. Côté said.
Meanwhile, Canadian police forces are also sifting through their ranks to decide who will be sent to the Games.
"Some police departments have adopted an interview process to select officers, others have used this opportunity to reward officers for a job well done," he said. The Olympics is also an educational tool, exposing officers to scenarios that may help them when they return to their own departments.
"I'd venture to say that come game time, every single police force in Canada will be represented here," Staff Sgt. Côté said.
The security program is much larger than it was for the Calgary or Montreal Games. Concerns about terrorism have risen, Prof. Wark said, and the Games have gotten bigger.
"The Olympics, as commercial enterprises and tourist attractions, grow every time they're mounted," he said. "Expectations are that the security envelope will grow exponentially as well."
That's keeping Derek Gagné busy. He manages the work force of Contemporary Security Canada, which will hire private security guards for the Games. Their recruitment centre opened in downtown Vancouver at the end of last month. Over the next three months, Mr. Gagné and his team of recruiters will conduct group interviews and perform a staggering number of background checks to fill 5,000 vacancies. The 59-person company will expand to 200 recruiters and supervisors just to accommodate the hiring effort.
Successful applicants will do what Staff Sgt. Côté calls "mag and bag" duties, manning metal detectors and checking purses and bags. Those who are not already certified as security guards will go through a 44-hour course and write an exam to comply with provincial standards.
"The job market is tight in Vancouver," Mr. Gagné said. "So it's a good opportunity to get paid work and also contribute to the Games."
Also contributing are Canadian Forces personnel, helping to secure the waters in the area, using helicopters to transport people when police choppers are too small for the job, and staying in touch with NORAD to manage the aerospace relationship between Canada and the United States.
"You can also expect to see police officers and military personnel working side by side," said Major Dan Thomas of the joint task force involved in the Games. They are conducting exercises to be sure police and Canadian Forces are ready for any scenario.
The Games will be a drain on forces in the rest of the country - with each having to make plans to deal with the absence of officers. For example, as many as 600 RCMP members could be sent from Alberta alone, which would delay provincial courts in the absence of police witnesses.
The sheer size of the security unit presents a major challenge.
"The concern is always that if you have too many players, to make sure that effort is co-ordinated," said Prof. Wark, adding that the federal government did some hiring of its own, appointing former CSIS director Ward Elcock as the Olympic security co-ordinator.
"It's double insurance," Prof. Wark said. "To make sure everybody knows the RCMP is in charge, and there's somebody keeping a close eye on them with the clout to make their lives difficult if they're not following the script."
With the Games taking place so close to the border, there won't be room for mistakes. "The Canadians probably feel that the Americans are going to be breathing down their necks," Prof. Wark said. The results could change how international players view this country's ability to deal with national security as well.
"People will be watching."
SECURITY PRICE TAG
Security for the Games will be expansive - and expensive. Here's how the price tag breaks down.
The Mounties' Integrated Security Unit gets the most funding because the RCMP will be leading the security plan for the Games.
The Department of National Defence will send troops to support the RCMP's efforts.
The spy agency will be responsible for staying on top of intelligence about threats to national security and to the Games.
Air traffic: $25-million
Transport Canada and NAV Canada will provide navigational support for aircraft coming along the Sea-to-Sky corridor - any of the airspace between Vancouver and Whistler - during the Games.
Other traffic: $8.8-million
Railways and road transportation systems will also be inspected courtesy of Transport Canada.
Public health: $900,000
Canada's Public Health Agency will keep tabs on health concerns as people gather from all over the world, making sure medical equipment and supplies are organized and emergency training is in place.
Industry Canada will ensure broadband coverage is widespread and interference-free so security agencies' radios and cellphones don't fail them at a crucial moment.
and screening: $1-million
A special accreditation card will act as a temporary visa for the country and will also give security access for the venues. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will handle the screening and issuing of the cards.
Public Safety Canada will co-ordinate with authorities to oversee first responders and other security measures, and ensure they're in line with the rest of the security plan.
The federal employee benefit plan will cover the RCMP's costs outside usual work hours.
Rainy day fund: $137-million
If unexpected security needs come up, the federal government has money set aside to cover the cost.
2010 Olympic security budget.
BY THE NUMBERS
5,200 RCMP officers.
4,500 Canadian Forces personnel.
1,800 Police officers from municipal, regional and provincial units across Canada.
5,000 Private security personnel.
60 Days the Integrated Security Unit will be operating, including setup time at the beginning of January, the 17 days of the Games, and the Paralympic Games, which end in March.
People will be needed to fly both helicopters and planes. They'll work with the military to do general air patrols of Olympic areas. It's especially vital in Whistler, where the terrain can be inhospitable.
Skiers will do mountain patrols to ensure the slopes are secure. Police and RCMP who are ski instructors or have extensive experience will most likely be tapped for this position.
Nuclear experts will be first responders when a nuclear threat is identified or a chemical emergency arises. Many forces have specialized officers who are certified to take care of a threat.
Many RCMP and police forces have underwater recovery teams that will be a great source of experienced divers. Those at the Olympics will be looking for underwater explosives.
Snowmobiles will be key for patrolling and transporting people through Whistler's mountainous terrain. Officers could be pulled from Northern detachments for this skill.
Dogs can quickly sniff out explosives, which is useful because of the number of false threats Olympic venues receive. Dogs and their handlers are already becoming familiar with venues.