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Olympic security, a numbers game

9:00 AM, Aug 2, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The London Olympics have logged a series of security blunders: not enough guards, an imposter in the opening ceremonies, missing keys, and a security guard accused of spitting on a soldier. The security drama continued this week when British media reported military sources said the private security guards were poorly trained and frequently didn't show up at all.

G4S is the world's third largest private employer and a huge name in worldwide security. They couldn't find enough workers. Just weeks before the Olympics, 4,700 military troops were called in to fill the gap.

Charles Simmons, former Marietta Police Chief and Marine runs Norred, a local security company. His company provided security during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for many downtown businesses, including the CNN Center. He housed his security guards at a hotel outside the city so they weren't tempted to celebrate instead of sleep. 

Centennial Olympic Park brings back one memory more than most.

"I got called that the bomb went off in the park," he said. "We immediately shut down CNN towers, which came from the head of security for CNN."

Norred had enough extra men to beef up security after the bomb; they worked 12 hour shifts instead of eight. He also had extra applicants ready to hire.

"There was always a plan," he said. "You have to have a plan, and a backup plan. And another backup plan if your backup plan doesn't work."

That plan is all a game of numbers. Norred is often hired to cover protests, plant closings, and events. He said you have to hire at least twice the number you'll need. Some won't stick around until opening day, some won't work out, and some won't pass background checks. Then, you have to keep those workers committed and connected before they even get paid.

"Even with that, you're going to lose a third to a half of the people you hire," Simmons said. "So, you constantly over-hire."

NBC News reports a G4S internal memo dated in June said it would have been an advantage to have people trained months in advance, but it wasn't cost effective.

Simmons says it's the cost of doing business. And now, the cost to G4S is huge. After appearing before parliament to explain the fiasco, the company lost $1 billion in market value.

Despite the ongoing security issues, Olympic organizers say the military and local police have stepped up, and there is no real security risk to athletes or fans.

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