Joint Task Force games: an “Olympian” effort

By: F. Paul Crober, Colonel (ret), former Chief of Staff, Joint Task Force Games

Picture1Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, greets soldiers in Whistler area on their return from patrol.


By the time you read this, the 2010 Olympics/Paralympics in Vancouver/Whistler will have been over for about a year. By now, you will also know that, despite various criticisms, it is clear that the Games were conducted extraordinarily well — that Canada bested all others in “Olympic Gold” — that serious and useful legacies have been left to the Canada/British Columbia in terms of sport and other facilities, in addition to proving again that Canadians/British Columbians can be welcoming hosts for this type of event.

What may not be clear was that the security and public safety aspects of these Games were also extraordinary — extraordinary because the approach followed as much as possible the dictum –“The Olympics/Paralympics are about Sport not Security” – one that was intentionally and substantially different than some previous Olympics conducted post-911. It was an approach that took full account of apparent threats to participants/public, ensured that appropriate intelligence was employed to determine such threats and used legal processes to reduce, prior to the Games these threats as much as possible.

In this article, I will give a perspective of the security/public safety aspects from the perch of being, initially, the lead Canadian Forces planner in the Pacific Region and eventually Chief of Staff of what is known as Joint Task Force Games (JTFG). I will obviously refer liberally to those partners that had main responsibilities in the development of the plans. Any errors of omission or commission are mine alone.

Planning For Success

Planning for the security of these Games commenced well before the bid and was refined in very precise detail for all levels of government/agencies involved over the years prior to 2010. All will recall the controversy over the exact security costs originally estimated by the RCMP; however, more to the point was the fact that politicians at all levels (re-)learned – that sponsoring a major world event of this calibre requires planning for exigencies that most Canadians do not normally consider or comprehend. These include everything from deliberate serious disruptions to the Games to an actual terror attack, the latter of which could have been originated from anywhere on the planet. Holding Winter (versus Summer) Games was a factor in our favour.  So too, was the geographical location – far removed from the Mediterranean, where the last Winter Games (Torino) experienced an enormous security blanket, given the proximity to terror cells and earlier terror incidents in Italy. Regardless, any plans had to take the most serious as well as the more routine/likely disruptions into consideration.

As you are probably aware, the RCMP, as lead agency, organized the security force through the Integrated Security Unit (ISU), originally a small planning entity that grew into hundreds of police, military, public safety, intelligence and other disciplines responsible for tightly refined planning for the whole area, for each venue and for coordination with the “police of jurisdiction” (POJ) who worked their normal shifts on the boundaries of each venues – the so-called “Urban Domain.” Each of the many competition and non-competition venues required initial security plans prior to the bid, all of which were greatly refined by Games time. Each venue was controlled by either a commissioned officer or not less than Staff Sergeant, employing RCMP (many from outside BC) but also many police from provincial/municipal forces nation-wide. The chart below shows the ISU organization for the actual operation, using some of the methodologies from UK experience (Bronze, Silver, Gold level commands), but also implementing many new, effective, efficient procedures – both in the (Gold) HQ and the Silver and Bronze lower level HQs, throughout the “Olympic Domain.”


Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.35.02 PMThe “TCC” (Gold) was in the ISU building in Richmond. The Whistler (Silver) Area Command was hosted by the CF in Whistler. The Vancouver (Silver) was co-located in the ISU. Bronze venues were throughout the “Olympic Domain.”


Within the CF, serious planning commenced when the RCMP, through Public Safety Canada, requested assistance under those federal laws that require/allow the CF to work with police in a security setting. Individual CF members were given peace-officer status, with the intention that most patrols (land, sea, air) would be accompanied by police. This was relatively intuitive in a situation where, with no violence having been perpetrated, the CF was required to take on tasks that were outside of the normal range of policing — such as the Army’s intensive, wide-ranging patrolling in two major Alpine areas — Cypress Mountain and Whistler Athletes’ Village.  As well, some tasks were structured as reinforcement to existing/expanded police duties, such as Naval patrolling of the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound, English Bay, Burrard Inlet and False Creek. In addition, the Air Force was involved in various types of air surveillance, employing many different platforms (fixed and rotary wing) directly related to Army or Navy authorized tasks. The Air Force also accomplished surveillance and transportation tasks based on direct police assignments from the ISU, throughout the entire Joint Operational Area (JOA) – the boundary of which is in yellow below.


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The “JOA” – including all of the Lower mainland and the Gulf Islands

All of these CF surveillance and protection tasks were performed under the direction of Joint Task Force Games (JTFG), the Canadian Forces formation-level entity responsible for all/most tasks in support of the Games within the region. Other JTFG tasks included major ceremonial and some logistic support to VANOC. Speaking of logistics, JTFG was itself supported throughout the length and breadth of the JOA by the Joint Task Force Support Element, a formation under JTFG command that had several different units and contractors ensuring all members of JTFG were fed, accommodated, transported, fuelled, etc – where/when necessary.

Finally there were Special Forces positioned within the JOA to accomplish that which one hoped would never come to pass – response to some sort of critical event, likely terrorist-initiated. These highly trained/motivated troops are always available for these types of events and place themselves where they expect to be most needed — always remaining under direct national command.

Counting the in-theatre forces, including all of JTFG, the Special Operations Forces, other nationally-controlled quick response units — as well as hundreds of contributing CF members just outside the JOA in Esquimalt, Nanoose and Comox – the grand total was well over 5000 soldiers, sailors, airmen/women involved in support of the Games.

The Operation

For the record, here is the mission assigned to JTFG:  JTFG will support the RCMP in safeguarding the V2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games from disruptive activity or attack by planning and conducting integrated security operations within the designated Joint Area of Operations.  Further, JTFG shall plan and conduct assigned ceremonial tasks in support of Heritage Canada and VANOC

From that mission and in constant liaison with the RCMP and other agencies, were derived the following tasks assigned to the CF, accepted many months prior, with some adjustments occurring as the Games drew nigh:

  • General: Operational planning, training plan design & operational research, liaison, use of CF facilities, logistics support
  • Special Operations: Counter terrorism, support to CBRNE operations
  • Intelligence Operations: Intelligence Support, geomatics, hydrographic services
  • Technical Operations: Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)


  • Specific Component Tasks

Picture1 Maritime Operations (MCC): Surveillance, interdiction support

Picture1Land Operations (LCC): Surveillance, mobility support for joint patrols, mobile force protection, and emergency medical support

Picture1Air Operations (ACC): Surveillance, air defence, air support

The RCMP set up its ISU, as described above, in a well-protected two story building in Richmond and JTFG HQ (the regional entity in charge of most CF contributions to the Games) joined them there – to ensure close continued planning and operational effectiveness. In effect, the location of JTFG HQ with the ISU for the Games was simply a logical continuance of the tight coordination in Games planning evidenced by the work of several CF officers (land, sea, air, telecommunications, and engineering) who had been co-located for up to 3 years with the ISU for planning. The chart below, demonstrates an exquisite example of police/military coordination at various levels. Note that JTFG is part of the Theatre Command Centre (TCC), which is the higher command HQ of the entire ISU. Note a few other important aspects of the organization:

  • The Air Component worked with and supported NORAD tasks — which are always controlled nationally – i.e. the requirement for fighter cover over the JOA to prevent “911-style” attacks
  • The Army or Land Component Commander’s Task Forces worked directly with both Vancouver and Whistler Area (“Silver”) Commanders.
  • The Special Operations Forces (SOF) worked directly for the national level (as always) but would do so in response to a police request for assistance (hostage-taking, etc)
  • The All Source Intelligence Centre (ASIC) was simply a small unit of intelligence operators assisting the JTFG Intelligence officer in military intelligence tasks (none of which allowed gathering of intelligence on Canadian citizens in peacetime)
  • The JTFG Reserve was a company-sized entity (about 140 soldiers) intended to be employed to reinforce other elements of JTFG should the need arise
  • The Ceremonial “Guard” is not shown but consisted of several dozen CF members who were engaged in:
  • selected supportive logistics for VANOC
  • welcoming of each nation’s athletes on the latter’s arrival into Vancouver,
  • the Opening Ceremonies of both Games
  • all medals ceremonies,
  • every medalist had a CF “liaison,” who facilitated, once the medal was announced, completion of many critical tasks prior to said medalist receiving medal in front of the world. This honour, to personally assist these “winners,” was given exclusively by VANOC to the CF.

Picture1The slide below gives an indication as to the deployment of Canadian Forces elements throughout the Joint Operational Area. The red dot is the nationally-controlled Operational Reserve, representing capabilities held in theatre by Canada Command HQ for deployment/employment if things “went sideways” or “pear-shaped” as some would term this unwanted eventuality.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.39.29 PM

Public Safety

I have been referring to the security-based tasks assigned to the CF through JTFG and others, such as Special Forces. The sub-title above refers to the whole function of “safety” vice security – meaning consequence management tasks that the province would routinely perform and/or those that might be in the proximity of a Games venue or even be caused by an incident within one or more of those venues.

Our view, not always shared by all partners, was that almost every security incident will also have a safety face and therefore (additional to law enforcement) “consequences” to manage. We also believed the reverse to be true – that any safety “event” (natural or man-made) would have security implications. Within the ISU, therefore and preceded by months of direct liaison with all security partners were placed relevant public safety staff from the province (Emergency Mgmt BC) and the federal government (Public Safety Canada).  This extensive planning and relationship building was accomplished by the Integrated Public Safety entity, an organization led by the province (EMBC) but ensuring membership across several provincial ministries, municipalities and federal departments – including DND. To ensure we were completely plugged in, we hired a former Regular Force officer who had been employed for several years as an emergency manager. This was supplemental to the daily dealings that our main planning and operations staff had with public safety managers at provincial and federal level – culminating during the Games in the establishment of a very robust CF liaison presence at EMBC’s South West PREOC (Provincial Regional EOC).

As for public safety legacy, IPS still exists on the Lower mainland as part of EMBC, with responsibility for some of the more challenging files such as CBRNE, Hazmat, critical infrastructure, etc. Its direct connections with the expertise of DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada) as well as the CF Experimental Centre (CFEC) produced superb feedback in terms or organization and exercise development.  As an excellent legacy, that DRDC connection continues presently with EMBC/IPS.

Some of you will already know that the largest series of security/safety exercises ever attempted in Canada were conducted as part of the Games workups. Starting with literally dozens of organizations at crawling speed in Exercise Bronze, November 2008, moving at walking speed during Exercise Silver in February 2009 and sprinting through Gold in November 2009, these exercises were increasingly challenging and useful, not just in exercising the “plan” but also providing cause to adjust plans.


Picture1Hot wash post Exercise BRONZE, November 2008


I have not, for reasons of space, named the myriad of people and organizations involved in making the Games, the security therein and the CF’s role in all this – a success. I would be remiss, though, if I did not highlight the constant impetus for ensuring a coordinated effort amongst those agencies (from a CF perspective) were Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile and Colonel Dave Barr, JTFG’s Commander and Deputy Commander respectively. In addition, as part of its closing routine, JTFG completed a major project to ensure that all relevant lessons would be captured and (hopefully) acted upon, so that the overarching requirement to have a working template for a national special security event (for Olympics, G8/G20, etc) is followed up within the Government of Canada.

The concept we followed was this: The Canadian Forces brings certain areas of expertise that are not practiced or refined outside military organizations, and that when blended with Policing and Law Enforcement expertise of the RCMP, the police of jurisdiction and public safety skills of “Other Government Departments” — it makes for an optimum fit for large scale domestic security operations.

Having been true to this concept as well as the RCMP’s motto for the Games (“This is about Sport not Security”), the operation unfolded superbly, garnering praise from many quarters for this approach.

It was an honour for me to serve with such fine folks from the CF, the police and the emergency managers in such a signal event – at the end of my 42 year career in uniform.