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NORAD to referee the skies over Vancouver's Winter Games

LANCE BENZEL Updated: January 22, 2010 at 12:00 am

NORAD will keep watch over the skies of Vancouver during the Winter Olympics next month, and is ready to launch a joint response with Canadian authorities in case of a terrorist attack.

Top officials with the North American Aerospace Defense Command said today they began crafting the agency’s role in the Games as early as 2007.

It’s routine for NORAD to monitor prominent public events in North America, such as United Nations summits, national political conventions and even the Superbowl, the officials said.

Unlike those events, however, Vancouver’s Winter Olympics will require 2 ½ weeks of vigilance. Crafting a cohesive approach with Canada’s domestic authorities has involved “countless” training scenarios over the past 2 ½ years, and the planning has included the Canadian prime minister, said Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval of the Canadian Forces, NORAD’s deputy commander.

The Olympics, Duval said, “could be seen as an opportunity to hit.”

“The mission itself doesn’t change. It’s just the amplitude of it,” he said.

Duval, who spoke at a special media tour of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command’s integrated command center at Peterson Air Force Base, said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is primarily responsible for security at the Games.

NORAD has been tapped to monitor the skies and play a supporting role alongside Canada Command, the Canadian equivalent of NorthCom.

“NORAD will do its normal airspace warning and aerospace control mission over the games using Canadian NORAD-region assets, (such as) Canadian CF-18s,” Duval said. “We’ll be supported by other NORAD assets like air-to-air refueling and airborne early-warning aircraft.”

The U.S. military will be at the ready in case of a worst-case scenario, Duval said.

“All of this has been exercised countless times, in the air, on the land and over the water,” he said.

Duval said preparing for the Games has refined and improved the working relationship between NORAD, NorthCom and Canada Command. “In many ways, the 2010 Winter Games have allowed the three commands to come closer, in terms of understanding, cooperating and collaborating.”

The Winter Olympics will kick off Feb. 12. The Games draw to a close Feb. 28.

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