Olympic Mag and Bag

Establishing an Olympic Security System was in the Bag (and MUnknownag)

By Dave Doroghy

While it may sound more like the name of a comedy duo for a ‘70s sitcom, Mag and Bag is actually a term that refers to something a little more security driven than an actor’s career. Mag and Bag refers to the procedure people go through at airports or other secure locations. First, they’re screened for metal objects by a handheld or walk-through MAGnet and then they have their BAGs checked for weapons, bombs and other bad things that don’t belong at an Olympic Games (or anywhere outside of a war zone). For most people living in the 21st Century, the experience of going through the Mag and Bag procedure is pretty familiar. But once I started working for VANOC and considering our needs and potential Olympic suppliers, the Mag and Bag procedure took on a whole new importance in my life. One thing was clear: to safely stage the 2010 Olympic Winter Games we needed a lot of those black magnet wands and walk-though, arch-shaped screening stands and we didn’t want to have to buy them.

In the spring of 2005, when I reviewed our initial security requirements and tried to get a very rough handle on the number of magnetic detection devices we would need, the final number was staggering. I figured we would have so many magnets in one place at the same time that we would throw off the directional compass readings of countless lost Boy Scouts who came to the 2010 Olympics and had to find Magnetic North to get their bearings.

Altogether we needed more than 1,000 metal detection products. It was a sad reflection on the state of our world that in order to safely stage an event that is meant to represent peace, goodwill and the time-honoured values of sportsmanship and fair play, we had to devote an overwhelming amount of resources in equipment and effort to warding off violent attacks.

It’s strange how you don’t pay attention to so many little things in life until you have a reason to notice them. For instance, pretty well every airport that I have ever visited uses a particular brand of hand-held screening wand: a Garrett Metal Detector. Garrett is the brand name and manufacturer of the wands and walk-through detectors. When most security workers are methodically waving that familiar two-foot black wand all over travellers’ bodies, people who are paying attention will notice the huge yellow letters on the wand, boldly shouting out the company’s name: GARRETT. They happen to be the number-one manufacturer of security and hobby metal detectors in the world. In our crazy, post 9/11 world, business must be good.

The company’s story starts, however, in a quieter, more secure time in 1963. Company founder Charles Garrett, who was a metal-detecting enthusiast, built a hand-held metal-detecting device as a hobby project to help him find rings, coins and other metal objects hidden on or under the ground. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of spending time combing through vast areas of sand on beaches, fields, or playgrounds hoping to unearth something of value. To me, it just looks like work, like vacuuming, perhaps. But to Charles Garrett it was a passion and he just kept on perfecting and improving his hand-held metal-detecting gadgets to the point where he became a leader in the field (no pun intended). He actually invented a whole new way of detecting metal which, through the use of independently-operated search-coils, greatly improved treasure hunting efficiency.

In the mid 1960’s word got out to scavengers and treasure hunters around the world that Garrett’s devices were more effective and sensitive than other similar products. People started snapping them up. Such were the humble beginnings of Garrett Metal Detectors Ltd. which originated in the garage behind Garrett’s house in Garland, Texas. Charles Garrett’s new metal detectors eliminated oscillator drift and were so revolutionary at the time that he immediately knocked a bunch of his competitors out of business. Garrett’s tinkering, leading to a vastly improved metal detector and the redevelopment of the metal-detection industry, is one of the great American success stories. Garrett went on to write books on treasure hunting and to form the International Treasure Hunting Society. In 1978, when the price of gold soared, the hobby of looking for wedding rings and gold watches lost in sand really took off. So did sales of Garrett’s metal detectors. By the mid-1980s, with more than 1,800 distributors worldwide, Garrett Metal Detectors became one of the largest metal detector manufacturers in the world. And to think that it all started in this guy’s garage.

So where do the Olympics come in? At around the same time that Charles was hanging out in his garage and tinkering with coils and magnets, a savage attack on some innocent young Olympians attending the Summer Olympics took place. The horrible tragedy of the 1972 Munich Games created an intense movement for increased security at the Olympics. In 1983 Garrett, who was by now the leading authority in the industry, was invited to develop a walk-through metal detector for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Pretty well every past Olympic Games since then has used Garrett Metal detectors to ensure the safety of athletes and guests. In 2004, the folks at Garrett even went so far as to write VANOC a letter expressing their interest in supporting us. Their letter arrived shortly after we won the right to stage the games and we weren’t yet in a position to respond properly to their offer. After I started working for VANOC and was given a copy of the letter, I considered it to be a “hot lead” and I was anxious to get to work on closing the deal.

In the summer of 2005, when I placed a phone call to Garrett’s headquarters in Texas and spoke to the company’s Vice-President of Sales Jim Dobrie, I knew that he wasn’t sitting in some little garage in Garland anymore. Garrett had grown to become a big company with 700 employees. After we discussed how we might possibly structure a deal for the supply of his product for the 2010 Winter Games, he drawled in his southern accent, “Y’all know we don’t do any advertising or marketing per se, other than our Olympic sponsorships, and we also supply the Whitehouse too, but that isn’t a sponsorship deal. So between sponsoring the Olympic Games and supplying the White House we’ve got a pretty good credibility rating within the industry”.

After I hung up the phone I paused and thought about the power behind the Olympic rings. The industry credibility Garrett gained through supplying its products to the games had more impact than a company simply running ads in trade publications praising their own products. An endorsement from the highly respected Olympic movement has incredible value. It is hard to put a price on it. But at VANOC we did, and if Garrett Metal Detectors would give us its metal detectors at no charge, we figured we would be saving our organizing committee millions of dollars in expenses. In exchange, we would grant them the right to call themselves an Official Supplier of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. This would mark the 11th time Garrett had supplied its products to an Olympic Games: A pretty good track record for some guy who started out waving a wand in the sand while searching for spare change.

My job as the Director of Sponsorship sales was a bit of a treasure hunt in itself. The hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship revenue that we needed to raise to stage the games was out there somewhere, we just needed to find it. As far as establishing agreements that brought that money in goes, this was one of the easier deals to get signed. Garrett wanted to supply us with a product that we clearly needed, in return for getting “bragging rights” to publicize their involvement. Through a sponsorship deal we were creating a real win-win situation, the kind of scenario we tried to establish with all of our agreements. The problem, as with so many of our deals, was in determining exact quantities: How many wands and walk-through units did we really need? My initial estimates were too rough and had little credence. My department was anxious to close the deal but first we had to do some more work on the operational logistics side of the security plan.

Funnily enough, Mag and Bag became a contentious issue in our early days of mapping out our plans. After my initial conversations with Garrett, as I researched our needs in this category some people said we didn’t need the thousand-plus units that we ended up acquiring. During a debrief session in Vancouver in June, 2005 one of the high-ranking officials from the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin even stated publicly that the Mag and Bag in Italy was a waste of time. He recommended that Vancouver eliminate or significantly reduce the time-consuming and expensive screening procedure. The RCMP, a group called VISU (Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit) and our internal VANOC security department were all part of the overall planning for the games security and each organization brought its own expertise and advice to the table. Hundreds of people were involved in the security planning. But with so many people with differing opinions involved in the discussions, it became clear that we were nowhere near knowing our final metal detector requirements for the Games. And the numbers and requirements seemed to change on a regular basis.

Meanwhile I kept in touch with the folks in Garland, Texas phoning them every few months and sending them material updating them on our games. In sales we have an expression for what I was doing to keep this lead alive: We call it, “putting a warm blanket over them”. It took a year and a half for us to get to the point where it was worthwhile for me to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the executives from Garrett Metal Detectors. After all, if we couldn’t identify how many of their metal detecting units we needed, the discussions with them wouldn’t get very far. During that waiting period, every time I went to board a plane –and I flew frequently– when the security guard flashed a Garrett wand in front of my face I was reminded of the fact that we hadn’t yet closed the deal with a company that was essentially ready to step up to the table with a good offer. I didn’t want to lose this one.

Finally in January of 2007 we had our security ducks in a row and the VANOC and related agency staff in all of our various security divisions were able to provide a first draft of our plans to my department. It would change several more times before we signed our final deal with Garrett, but at least we had a starting point.

I invited two of Garrett’s sales and marketing executives I had met by phone up to Vancouver: Jim Dobrie, their Vice-President of Sales, who I had first spoken with a year and a half earlier, and Henry Terrez. Both were long-time Garrett employees who were experienced in dealing with local Olympic organizing committees. During an all-day session in our VANOC offices, we walked them through the Tier III Official Sponsor rights-and-benefits presentation, arranged for them to meet with our security people and shared our specific Mag and Bag plans with them. This was one of those meetings where the client understood the scope of what had to be done better than we did. Not only did we want to use their machines, but we wanted their input on our plans. The experience they had gained from providing the Mag-and-Bag services to 10 previous Olympic Games was hugely valuable to us. So we all did lots of listening as they spoke. They told us that Winter Games present special challenges as some of their sensitive units need to be flown to mountain tops and must be specially calibrated to work in severe conditions. They had some new technology that they were excited about using and assured us the equipment that they would be supplying us with in Vancouver would be the latest state-of-the-art gear.

As part of our agenda that day I thought it would be a good idea to take them out for lunch. Henry and Jim had traveled all the way up from Texas to be with us and since so many deals are based on relationships, I wanted to get to know them a bit better. As part of the small talk over lunch I naturally asked them, “How’s business?” Addressing Jim I said, “I imagine that after 9/11 you have seen a big increase in sales of equipment to airports around the world.” He said that business had never been better but noted that the airport business has not been their biggest area of growth. “A relatively new market for us is schools,” he said. “And most recently we’re seeing new business with elementary and middle schools that require our metal detectors.” I thought that was a sad comment on where the world is headed. Imagine kids being screened by someone with a metal detector before being allowed entry into their schools.

We concluded our deal with Garrett in February of 2008. Because it had sponsored so many Olympic Games in the past they understood how organizing committees work, where they could add value to the equation and where they could draw value for themselves. They even offered a turn-key solution to a complex challenge we faced. Because they supplied all of our metal detectors and the technicians to ensure they ran properly, and were responsible for the set-up and take-down of all of them, we didn’t have to worry about the equipment and could focus on recruiting and training the thousands of people we needed to hold the wands and stand next to the arches.

Just before the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver kicked off, I got to meet the company’s matriarch, Eleanor Garrett, Charles’ wife. She was the sweetest little old lady you could imagine. A grey-haired, tiny southern belle in her 80’s with a thick Texas accent, she was thrilled to be involved in the company’s 11th set of games. When I told her that I had met Jim Dobrie and put the deal together with him she said, “Oh yes of course, Jim, he’s a real darling, I sign his pay cheque every two weeks.” After my encounter with her I could picture her as a young lady in the early 1960’s preparing dinner for her husband as he toiled away on his inventions in their garage. What an interesting ride she has had.

In the end, we structured this deal so that VANOC didn’t keep the metal detectors after the games; Garrett took them all back and redeployed them to prisons, airports and yes, schools around the world. But long after I heard it, the comment Jim made about schools being a big part of their current sales really stuck with me. One day as I stood waiting to pass through one of Garrett’s metal detectors to get into an Olympic hockey game, I thought about the power of the Olympics and the way they just might help to hurt Garrett’s bottom line. I thought that maybe some misguided, juvenile delinquent out there was considering wielding a knife to school. Maybe, after watching the stories about some of the amazing athletes who made it to the Olympics, he would find a role model or something positive in a Vancouver 2010 Olympian and then decide to take a different path in life. The Olympic Games have the power to inspire and change people’s lives. And if they reached out to inspire enough kids, maybe the need for school-based security systems would decline. That thought was interrupted by an annoying beeping sound: I had forgotten to take my keys out of my pocket.

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