After Olympics contractors leave behind IT legacy

The 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens went off without a hitch. Venues were finished in the nick of time, IT infrastructure was laid out and security was up to the task. Although the game's unprecedented cost -- from $8.5 billion to $12 billion, by various estimates -- caused much handwringing, the advanced systems deployed for the Olympics will serve Greece for years to come.

Greece "had an objective, probably more so than any other country that's hosted an Olympics, and that was to leave an extensive legacy," said David Tubbs, senior vice president and general manager of justice and security solutions at Science Applications International Corp. "Almost all of our system stays."

SAIC of San Diego was the lead contractor for the command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) system that the Greek government used to monitor the games. It comprised 29 subsystems, Tubbs said, several of which remain operational today, including a massive digital radio system.

SI International Inc. of Reston, Va., played a smaller but still important role in securing the games, installing radiation detectors and related software at locations throughout Greece. Those systems, deployed under a $3 million contract from the Energy Department as part of its Second Line of Defense program, will continue to keep illegal shipments of nuclear materials out of the country, company officials said.

"It's totally operated by the Greeks," said Larry Darbonne, project manager at SI International. "We may provide additional systems there in the future."


It's easy for SAIC and SI International officials to look back now and admire their work, but like all the Athens Olympics preparations, integrating security systems was an enormous challenge.

"What the Greek officials thought they needed was more than I'd seen in any previous Olympics," Tubbs said.

That's a significant observation, as Tubbs knows what he's talking about. He was head of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where SAIC also handled security integration. He was also an FBI observer at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and one of the senior FBI officials for security at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where SAIC was a subcontractor.

But those sites already had extensive infrastructure in place. And except for Salt Lake City, they were operating in the pre-Sept. 11 era when security concerns weren't as great.

When the Greek government issued a request for information in September 2002, it was 1,500 pages long, Tubbs said.

"Our response was around 15,000 pages," he said.

SAIC ended up winning a contract for about $287 million from the Ministry of Public Order, which is the Greek law enforcement agency, and work began in May 2003 -- or at least some of it began.

One of the greatest challenges Tubbs and his team of 200 faced was how to implement systems at facilities that hadn't been completed. For instance, Tubbs said, it's hard to know where to locate video surveillance cameras around a venue under construction.

"Normally we'd have a lot more time to do this project, but the venues were completed on a different time schedule," Tubbs said.

As a result, SAIC couldn't take any chances on new technology. The company used many of the same systems it deployed for the 2002 winter games and leaned heavily on off-the-shelf products for command and control, and decision support systems.

"We tried to use products we knew worked. You don't experiment with the Olympics," Tubbs said.

Perhaps the most significant off-the-shelf system SAIC deployed was a terrestrial trunk radio system to connect law enforcement workers throughout the country. The system, known as Tetra, is a digital radio standard in Europe that allows large groups of mobile users to share fewer radio frequencies, because the trunking equipment allocates available channels.

Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., and Nokia Corp. of Finland supplied the 30,000 radio terminals and 100 base stations required to build the radio network, which will remain as a primary communication system for Greek law enforcement. SAIC will provide ongoing service and maintenance for up to 10 years.

In addition, 300 of 1,800 surveillance cameras that SAIC installed for the games will become a permanent part of Greek security, monitoring high-traffic public areas.

The security infrastructure that SAIC helped deploy for nine Greek ports, including motion sensors, also will stay behind.

Tubbs said during the games, sensors alerted authorities to journalists jumping a fence, and cameras caught people trying to bribe their way into venues. In both cases, the integrated system, which fed into a central command center at police headquarters, helped authorities react quickly.

A ubiquitous blimp, which won't continue to fly over Athens, helped authorities identify better ways of managing and redirecting crowds.

Coming off two straight Olympics as prime contractor, SAIC will continue to apply what it has learned to complex law enforcement IT and port security contracts, Tubbs said.


To prepare for the Olympics, organizers approached the International Atomic Energy Agency, which steered them toward the U.S. Energy Department, for help in detecting nuclear and other radiological materials.

As part of its Second Line of Defense program, the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration helps other countries set up the systems required to detect and deter illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.

In November 2003, the Energy Department awarded SI International a contract to integrate radiation sensors and develop software that would allow inspectors to assess and handle alerts.

Darbonne couldn't say how many systems there were or where they were located, "because then people might try to defeat them."

But he said the company was responsible for deploying handheld and fixed detection portals supplied by a pair of vendors and writing software that could pull together radiation and video data on a single screen to help security personnel determine whether or not there was a threat.

SI International also worked with experts from the Pacific Northwest and the Los Alamos national laboratories. Pacific Northwest was responsible for training Greek inspectors on using the systems, both at its Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response in Richland, Wash., and in Greece.

"An alarm doesn't necessarily mean a health or safety issue," said Dick Pappas, a senior research scientist at Pacific Northwest who worked on the training. "Radiation alarms can come from innocent sources."

Dan Cooley, senior vice president for network and telecommunication solutions at SI International, said it was the first time the company had been involved in integrating radiation detection systems, although it had worked with the technology in other capacities, such as validating the accuracy of the equipment.

Cooley said the company plans to parlay its expertise into more business when the Energy Department moves forward with similar deployments.

"We do expect to grow this at other locations," he said.

Staff Writer Brad Grimes can be reached at

Reader Comments

Fri, Dec 2, 2016 Kenneth Fellows

The company B9X that did all of the design and development for the security system and not SI International Inc.

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