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Special event safety and security: protecting the world alpine Ski Championships.

Many consider the alpine village of Vail, Colorado, as one of the world's premier ski resorts. Located in a scenic valley at an elevation of 8,150 feet, the nearby summit of Vail Mountain climbs to nearly 11,000 feet. Because of such natural amenities, Vail has become a popular location for many winter sport competitions.

During January and February 1999, Vail hosted the World Alpine Ski Championships (WASC), a winter sporting event second in scope only to the Winter Olympic games. Five hundred competitors from the national ski teams of more than 60 countries participated. The opening ceremonies on the evening of January 30 culminated a 3-year security planning process that involved the participation of numerous federal, state, and local agencies. In addition, the 1999 WASC was one of the first events that the U.S. attorney general, under the Department of Defense provisions for support to civilian sporting events, certified.

Authorities predicated security planning for the 1999 WASC on the invitation of 90 national ski teams, many from countries involved in ongoing internal and international political or civil turmoil. Officials anticipated attendance by 2,000 members of the international media and a worldwide television audience of more than 500 million people. Additionally, numerous dignitaries, heads of state, and international leaders of industry had expressed interest in attending. Security concerns became heightened by an October 19, 1998, arson attack on Vail Mountain. The Earth Liberation Front, a group known for its involvement in acts of "ecoterrorism," claimed responsibility for the attack, which caused in excess of $12 million in damage. No matter what the event, well-developed plans for maintaining security and for responding to a critical incident, should one arise, remain crucial for a successful outcome.


Soon after the 1999 championships were awarded to Vail, authorities established an organizing committee that appointed the Vail police chief as security chairman in December 1995. The chief created a security committee in early 1996 and assembled a multiagency task force, which included more than 30 federal, state, and local law enforcement, fire, health emergency management, military, and private security agencies. Because of the large geographic area involved and the overlapping jurisdictions, the committee appointed the western commander of the Colorado State Patrol and the Eagle County sheriff as joint vice chairmen. Due to the international scope of the event, the FBI also became involved.

The initial organizational structure of the security committee consisted of a chairman, 2 joint vice chairmen, and 12 working groups: venue security, criminal justice, communications, command post, traffic/parking, special operations, fire/emergency services, training, community relations, intelligence, logistics/housing, and volunteers. After approximately 6 months of planning, it became apparent that this structure overlapped and often resulted in duplicative efforts by the working groups. The chairman and vice chairmen of the security committee met with representatives of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management who recommended improving the organizational structure by implementing the incident command system (ICS).

While the committee agreed on the use of ICS--which incorporates the functions of operations, planning, logistics, and finance-- the standard ICS structure did not fit the committee's specific needs. Therefore, it developed a unified command structure, uniquely tailored for the needs of the WASC, and reorganized the working groups to fit the new structure. The goal was to efficiently plan and execute safety and security operations by using an ICS structure to coordinate the resources of numerous federal, state, and local response agencies. Due to the geographic setting of Vail Valley and the widely dispersed venue sites, the security committee defined its operational jurisdiction as being from the top of the Vail Pass to the Eagle County Airport, a distance of nearly 60 miles. Then, the committee implemented a unified command, consisting of high-ranking personnel from the Vail Police Department, the Eagle County Sheriffs Office, the Colorado State Patrol, and the FBI.

Under the direction of the security committee's chairman, the unified command cooperatively made all major decisions, both during the planning process and the actual management of the event. To maintain an efficient command structure during specific events, the unified command designated one of its members as an incident commander, based upon primary law enforcement jurisdiction. On occasion, several different events at separate locations occurred simultaneously. Therefore, the unified command assigned venue supervisors, who reported to the incident commander at the command post, to oversee individual events.


Hosting a major winter sporting event was not new to Vail officials. In Fact, Vail is the only city in the world to host the World Alpine Ski Championships a second time, the first having been in 1989. Based on this previous experience, the security committee knew that providing for the safety and security of an event of this scope and duration would overwhelm locally available resources. During the 1989 championships, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), in response to direct requests from the organizing committee and local law enforcement officials, had provided logistical and emergency response support. By 1996, the National Defense Authorization Act required that similar support and assistance only could be attained for essential safety and security functions following a certification process requiring the concurrence of the U.s. attorney general.

The certification process, established by Title 10 U.S. Code, Section 2564 (a), requires that officials responsible for providing law enforcement and safety services to civilian sporting events submit written requests for specific categories of DOD support to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In compliance with DOJ procedures, the security committee chairman submitted a written request to the FBI Denver office in February 1998. The categories deemed necessary for support and not available locally included communications, explosive ordnance disposal, transportation/air support, physical security, operations center, linguistics, temporary facilities, and training. During the precertification process, the security committee chairman and the FBI worked closely with DOD representatives to ensure that the categories were supportable and the requested resources were not otherwise available. In several of the categories, joint responsibility was proposed between FBI and DOD resources.

The FBI Denver office forwarded the finalized request, with a letter of concurrence, to the Special Events Management Unit (SEMU) at FBI headquarters. SEMC coordinated the approval process with senior officials of DOD and DOJ. The attorney general approved the request in October 1998.


The size, complexity, and number of personnel involved in security for the WASC created the need for a state-of-the-art command post. The unified command determined that the Vail Police Department was the optima] site due to its central location and close proximity to the majority of the events. Based on the certification of the WASC, DOD designed and equipped a command post with modular furniture, telephone communications, computer and radio networks, remote video equipment, and large-format video displays. The unified command developed a layout of command post personnel positioning and designed an exercise to evaluate the structure.

Shortly after the start of the command post exercise, it became obvious that the number and physical location of participants created an atmosphere of chaos. The unified command suspended the exercise and revised the number of personnel and their physical locations to facilitate communication among key personnel and to reduce background noise. The new structure proved a success, both for the remainder of the exercise and during the WASC.


To evaluate the overall safety and security plan, authorities held a large-scale practice exercise in Vail on September 17, 1998. Participation included federal, state, and local agencies, as well as representatives from the military, private security, and volunteers. Presented as a "no-fault" event by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the exercise was designed to evaluate issues, such as interagency notification and coordination, command and control, and communications. Participants learned a great deal and, most important, developed liaisons. Because of the tabletop exercise, the unified command implemented changes that strengthened the incident command structure.


On January 30, 1999, after 3 years of preparation, planning, and training, the opening ceremonies for the WASC began. From the start, a constant flow of issues needed to be addressed, ranging from missing children to unattended or suspicious packages. The extensive planning and practice exercises paid off as the established security apparatus handled these incidents effectively and efficiently. However, the command post remained very busy responding to a wide variety of safety and security issues, including unattended packages, a mercury scare, weather and traffic problems, and private and volunteer security concerns.

Unattended Packages

As part of the security plan for the WASC, prestaged teams from the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and DOD Explosive Ordnance Disposal stayed busy responding to numerous reports of unattended or suspicious boxes, bags, and backpacks. Prior to the opening ceremonies, the security committee conducted a number of classes on handling such matters with all of the emergency responders, private security personnel, and volunteers who quickly notified the command post of anything unusual during the WASC.

Mercury Scare

During the first few days of the WASO, numerous mercury switches began disappearing out of local condominiums. Shortly thereafter, a Vail official remarked that he had heard a rumor that the water supply had been contaminated with mercury. Authorities conducted a threat evaluation and determined that the amount of missing mercury, if concentrated in a local water supply tank, could pose a health risk. The command post quickly arranged for all of the local water supplies to be sampled and analyzed. The resulting tests proved negative. Although officials anticipated press inquiries regarding the rumor, the matter faded without further media attention.

Weather and Traffic

The geographic nature of Vail Valley allows for some of the best skiing in the world. It also creates limited road access and dramatic changes in weather. During the WASC, as many as 50,000 spectators were on hand at any given time, and several heavy snows, combined with already limited parking, kept the command post busy. The inclusion of public works in the command post, however, made it possible to rapidly assess problem areas and take steps to redirect traffic flow. Helicopter support from the FBI and DOD allowed law enforcement personnel to view problem areas from the air, while prepositioned electronic traffic signs quickly were programmed to provide routing information. This combined effort helped to keep such issues at a manageable level.

Private and Volunteer Security

Despite months of planning, preparation, and training, the volunteer and private security functions quickly became overwhelmed. This was due, in part, to the large number of spectators and competitors who seemed to ignore their directions. The planning section in the command post organized a schedule of uniformed officers drawn from the Colorado State Patrol and surrounding municipal police forces to provide a more visible presence at key security points. While the local editorial pages reported some grumbling about the increased police presence, the security problems abated. In fact, many visitors requested photographs with the Colorado State Patrol troopers.


Through extensive planning, strong leadership, and exceptional interagency cooperation, the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, Colorado, took place in a secure, yet enjoyable, venue. The relationships built during this event continue to produce benefits for the community. Many of those involved in the planning and execution of the safety and security plan also participated in the planning for the 2001 World Mountain Bike Championships in Vail and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With the events of September 11, 2001, the need for such cooperative efforts becomes of even greater importance. All public safety agencies should realize that they must make concerted efforts to provide safe and secure environments for all types of special events, now more than ever. The American public, as well as individuals from other countries, recognize the dangers of attending such events, but also know that to avoid them plays into the hands of those who wish to destroy a free society. The public safety community must unite to ensure that they can protect all law-abiding individuals who attend special events, regardless of the content or purpose, and to prove to those wishing to cause panic and alarm that their attempts will fail. Chief Morrison formerly led the Vail, Colorado, Police Department and currently heads the Grand Junction, Colorado, Police Department.

Special Agent Airey serves in the Denver, Colorado, FBI office.
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Article Details
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Author:Airey, Joseph
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Previous Article:The Bulletin notes.
Next Article:National Crime Victimization Survey. (Crime Data).

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