Olympic training an exercise in security

July 23, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FUN DAY at the newspaper office. A pair of British Royal Marine Commandos stopped by to prepare us for Athens.

Paul and Paul work for a London-based company called Centurion Risk Assessment Services. They were hired by Mother Tribune to deliver security training for all us Olympic sportswriters.

To start with, Paul and Paul handed out a few teaching aids. You know, the usual. Gas masks. Gauze bandages. Tourniquets. A few interesting statistics about how CPR increases your chance of survival to a whopping 14 percent.

"It's a moral choice," Tall Paul said about whether to perform CPR on strangers.

Paul and Paul also handed out a brochure containing Centurion's raison d'etre: "Journalists sometimes end up giving up more than their hearts and souls to their jobs."

The cover page assured us: "Knowledge Dispels Fear."

Note to self: Did Paul and Paul really mean "Insecurity Training?"

Also: Does this "Knowledge Dispels Fear" slogan replace that tired, old Olympic slogan: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger)?

Early on in the session, I felt like telling Paul and Paul that had I wanted a job requiring expertise in exit wounds, internal bleeding and the other fine points of triage, I would have gone to med school.

But who am I to make waves? I have the greatest job in the world, especially now that I have talked my editor into letting me take a boat ride to the most remote Greek island in search of the "real" Greece, where no armed NATO forces will be stationed or Olympic pins sold!

Besides, Paul and Paul promised to condense years of intense medical, military and emergency response training into six simple hours, complete with a demonstration on how to roll over an unconscious body without letting the victim suffocate on a limp tongue!

Note to self: Are Paul and Paul really from the Evelyn Wood School of Survival Training?

"Right, then. We are not here to scare you, but it's better to be prepared in the event something does happen, like having to be evacuated, or, in the case of a chemical or biological attack, you'd have to be contained," the taller Paul said.

Note to self: Carry enough rations to hydrate and nourish self for three days. Extra double-A batteries a good idea, too, especially in case abductors allow us to listen to our CD players.

Also: Do not worry that the plastic hood with cheapo air filters being supplied by employer protects you from pesky germs or anthrax spores for a mere 30 minutes.

"You might wind up being contained for not just two hours, but three days. Best stay indoors," Tall Paul advised, which is tough advice if you're supposed to stand outside in the 99-degree Athens sun watching Michael Phelps' quest for history.

Indoors, schmindoors.

"And if you are contaminated, the best thing to do is hop into the shower, with your clothes on, and scrub with soap," he said.

With his classy, polite London accent, Tall Paul had the uncanny ability to make a terrorist attack sound like high tea.

"Intelligence tells us that Athens would not be a target for a group like al-Qaida, that it's more likely they would bypass Athens' $1.5 billion security measures and that other targets would assume elevated risks. Like the Eiffel Tower," Tall Paul said.

Note to self: Very happy not going to France!

"Right, OK," said Short Paul, otherwise known as "Taft," who took over the Power Point presentation from Tall Paul.

"We have four Pauls in our company. This makes it easier," said Short Paul/Taft.

Taft was handsome, alert, edgy, from Wales. His keen eyes darted around the room, an obvious holdover tendency from his days in "the field." You could tell Taft was far more experienced in intelligence-gathering and street action than Tall Paul.

Note to self: Why can't Short Paul/Taft be my personal bodyguard in Athens?

"Right. Then. You've got to keep your wits about you. If you go out in a group for a few bevies [i.e. shots of ouzo] the rest of you can get blurry and not see anything in front of you, but one in your group should be designated to keep alert," Short Paul/Taft said.

Short Paul/Taft was compassionate to the designated looker.

"It's not like that person can't have a bevie or two, but one of you needs to be alert. Sit close to the door. When you arrive, walk straight away to the loo and check for escape routes. Look in the kitchen. Right. There's a door out the back. Good. Keep your mind going. Vary your routes. Don't make things easy for them. Think like they do."

The more vividly and the more elaborately Short Paul/Taft outlined the potential threat and advised our response, the surer I was that there was no reason to wait until Athens to start freaking out.

Why not start right now, in case some of "them" had infiltrated 501 N. Calvert St.?

Note to self: Phew, good to see colleagues also nervously surveying the room, too.

"Right. OK. What would be the greatest risk you might encounter in Athens?" Short Paul/Taft asked.

Silence.

He insisted on an answer. "Well? Anybody?"

Finally, someone said abduction or being taken hostage. Another guy said nuclear annihilation.

"Lower level than that," Taft said. "Any guesses?"

We all sat in quiet silence, happy to think Short Paul/Taft wasn't predicting worst-case scenarios.

"Just make sure if there is a bomb, you don't rush to use your cell phone. The first bomb might be just a warm-up for a second bomb. Your cell phone could detonate it," he said.

"Also, if there is a bomb blast, don't automatically think, `Oh, right. I'm a reporter. Got to get there.' Use your minds. At the end of the day, it's just a story," said Short Paul/Taft.

Note to self: Take out more life insurance.

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