At 7:30 pm (EST) this evening, the 21st Olympic Winter Games will start with the official Opening Ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Olympic Cauldron will be lit and each delegation will enter in alphabetical order (except for Greece, which always enters first and Canada who, as host, enters last).
For the opening ceremony, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will lead the American delegation, which will include Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, and gold medalists Mike Eruzione, Peggy Fleming, and Vonetta Flowers.
For the next 16 days, athletes from around the globe will compete in 15 sports. Several weeks later, Vancouver will host the best of the best in five sports during the Paralympic Games.
While much attention has been paid to the preparations – both in Canada and among athletes – leading up to the games, many forget that the games also come with a significant amount of security preparations and diligence. Currently, there are no credible threats against the Vancouver Games, according to U.S. and Canadian officials.
That said, organizers are very aware of the symbolism of the games – as well as the historic need for strong security. The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany were scarred by the kidnapping and murder of some Israeli Olympic team members by the militant group Black September. The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta saw the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park by Eric Rudolph, which killed one person and injured 111.
For the games starting tonight, Canada has put together its biggest domestic security operation in its nation’s history – a $900 million endeavor that covers more than 3,860 square miles, requires screening of 1.6 million ticket holders, and provides protection for 5,500 athletes and officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In addition, DHS estimates that nearly 300,000 people might cross the border to attend events or participate in the Olympic happenings. Given this number, Customs and Border Protection issued a release on Tuesday reminding travelers to have approved travel documents to speed up their trip across the border.
The proximity to the U.S. border means that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local officials in Washington state also must be prepared. Much attention has been focused on Bellingham, Washington, which is home to the $4 million Olympics Coordination Center, where law enforcement, security, health and military experts from more than 40 agencies are stationed at the center to watch for potential threats and ensure that travelers can move across the border effectively and safely. Customs and Border Protection helicopters will stream live video from their patrols into the Center.
Other security measures include:
- NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is providing air and marine surveillance in both the U.S. and Canada. NORAD is enforcing a 30-mile airspace restriction around Vancouver. Canadian CF-18 Hornets will be on call to intercept any aircraft that might wander into the restricted airspace. In addition, all private aircraft traveling from the U.S. to Vancouver will be sent through 16 U.S. gateway airports for customs checks.
- Last week, Secretary Napolitano issued a joint release with the Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews announcing a Shiprider pilot program designed to bolster cross-border security operations between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the U.S. Coast Guard to allow for cross-training, shared resources, and personnel.
- DHS will have more than 200 additional personnel along the Northern border.
- Military divers have set up security zones along the waterside surrounding the Olympics.
- Cruise ships are housing a number of the security personnel assigned to the games.
These are but a few of the public efforts we know that the U.S. and Canadian governments (as well as other nations around the world) are taking to prepare for the games. Tellingly, Secretary Napolitano will be heading the U.S. delegation attending the closing ceremonies. While those performing “security” details for the Olympics will not leave the games with medals or honors, they certainly are owed accolades for all they have done leading up to the games and will do during the games leading up to those closing ceremonies.