How to select 25,000 volunteers ...
13 February 2008
by Ian Bailey

Vancouver, Canada: Security officials promised a cutting-edge effort to weed out criminals, terrorists and troublemakers and select the 25,000 volunteers they need for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games to be held in Vancouver, Canada.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit - a team that includes the RCMP, Vancouver police and Canadian Forces - said plans are in place to use a cutting-edge, one-stop software system to pore over people's records.

"We're confident in our ability to complete the accreditation of 100,000 personnel. The integrated security unit is committed to ensuring a safe and secure 2010 Winter Games," said RCMP Corporal Gursharn Bernier of the security unit.

She would not provide details, suggesting such information may be released in coming weeks. "It's primarily a software interface," she said. "It combines a number of security databases into one, which allows us to do the security check in a confidential manner."

Cpl. Bernier noted that privacy concerns are being respected. Only police personnel will have access to the data, and anyone reviewing the material will leave an electronic track. All data are to be destroyed within two years of the end of the Olympics, she said.

By yesterday afternoon, 4,000 people had filled out the detailed applications for roles during the Games. The applicants came from 24 countries and every province and territory in Canada.

That tide left John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, confident of not only getting 25,000 recruits, but of getting up to four times that number in applications.

"We will make it. The challenge is not going to be 25,000, but managing the over-interest we have," he said. "Our view is we're going to see extraordinary numbers."

Organizers are looking for people with special skills, such as nurses and skating monitors, but also for so-called general volunteers to work to escort spectators to venues, for drivers and many, many others. Second-language skills will also be helpful.

Volunteers will receive exclusively made uniforms, and fed while on duty, but will not be subsidized for travel to Vancouver or for their accommodation. They need to be available for 13 shifts during the Games. If they participate in the Paralympic Winter Games that follow, they must commit to eight shifts.

Mr. Furlong said he assumes some volunteers from the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary will offer to help out, and would welcome their experience, especially those who have specific technical skills.

Donna Wilson, VANOC's executive vice-president of work force and sustainability, said many of those volunteers would have worked in winter sports that are going to be held in Vancouver and Whistler. While volunteers with Olympic experience will be helpful at the 2010 Games, they might not have "a leg up" in the competition for volunteer spots, Ms. Wilson said.

Calgary's Olympic organizing committee began as a volunteer organization and some volunteers held important organizational responsibilities, said Deanna Binder, an educational consultant to the International Olympic Committee who also was on the Calgary committee.

She believes volunteerism led Calgarians to develop "a sense of ownership" of the Games. "And that translated into very enthusiastic and very, very broad community participation [and] a very wonderful, enthusiastic all-Calgary feeling," she added.

But officials in Vancouver yesterday said they are eager for all willing comers to fill out online applications - sparking a process of telephone interviews this spring and face-to-face interviews this fall.

Ms. Wilson said she expects 30,000 people will be brought in for training because some recruits will drop out along the way to 2010. "People's lives change. There may be some attrition. We have to keep planning for that," she said.

News yesterday that volunteers must be a minimum 19 years of age by this September prompted some criticism yesterday. As Ms. Wilson spoke to reporters at the main campus of the University of British Columbia yesterday, music student Peter Senften scolded her for the policy. He said 18-year-olds can fight in Afghanistan and vote in elections, so it seems unfair they cannot volunteer.

"That just seems really backward to me," he said, noting he has friends who are 18 who can't get into the volunteer pool.

Organizers defended the move as necessary to streamline the vetting process because those below 19 would need parental approval to allow security checks, delaying the recruitment process. "The decision we took, which is similar to past organizations, is the age of consent, which is 19," Mr. Furlong said. "That's the age we set and the one we're sticking with."

Organizers said other volunteer opportunities will be available for younger candidates.

In Squamish, the town positioned halfway between the two host locations, the 2010 volunteer bandwagon came to a halt early yesterday afternoon when the region's famous rain made it virtually impossible to approach potential volunteers on the street. But once the Workopolis staff charged with handing out applications and free hats found shelter outside the local Save-On Foods, things improved and about 500 forms were taken by amused shoppers.

With reports from Cathryn Atkinson and Jessica Smith

© Global and Mail

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