If ever an Olympic Games operated under a single byword, it was the 2002Olympic Winter Games. And that word was "security." With the ominous memoryof September 11, 2001, still fresh in their minds, organizers of the Salt LakeCity Games faced the challenge of amassing an unprecedented amount ofintelligence about every worker and volunteer who would be granted access to theOlympic venues.
In all, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) needed to perform thoroughbackground checks on more than 70,000 individuals. These investigations wouldneed to include accurate and timely information to ensure the safety of theathletes and spectators.
PeopleWise provided a key component in this intelligence effort: identityverification. "This is where PeopleWise really shined," said Kim M. Kerr,Project Manager of Security Support for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "Theycame to the table with an excellent process that really cleared up ourquestions. They were able to handle a huge amount of people and came in andworked around our schedule. We provided them with pretty much raw data and theyturned it around very quickly in a very readable format.
"When we look at the general safety of the Games from an accreditationstandpoint, it made the difference."
California- and Utah-based PeopleWise, the veteran company that providesfast, easy, and legally compliant background checks for employers nationwide,used its unique Internet-based identity verification tool, InstaCheck®, toexamine pertinent data about every Olympic worker and volunteer. By the time theGames opened, approximately 70,000 people had been screened, and 95 percent ofthem were accredited. And, throughout the two-week Games, security was nevercompromised.
"This was the biggest security event the world has ever seen," saidPeopleWise President Gary Cornick. "And our ability to handle a high volume ofchecks in a very short period of time was really critical in SLOC’s decisionto select us."
InstaCheck was ideally positioned to prevent the kind of identification fraudthat contributed to the tragedies of September 11, when several of theterrorists involved in the airline hijackings used identification that wasfraudulently obtained. At the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, identityverification was critical -- ensuring that someone was not entering any Olympicvenue or other secure area using someone else’s identity.
InstaCheck is, essentially, an unusually fast, accurate, and thorough matchgame. It is a process of assembling all the basic identifying information aperson would include on a job or volunteer application -- name, address, phone,Social Security number, and other basic elements -- and then using PeopleWise’stechnology to "validate that those pieces of information exist and are realand are not falsified or fabricated," said Brad Moss, PeopleWise ChiefOperating Officer. "Then we make sure that even though the person hasprovided, say, a legitimate Social Security number, does it actually belong tothat person or has anyone else used that Social Security number? Or does thatperson actually live at that address, or does that phone number actually belongto that address. Any single element out of place could throw up a red flag."
It really cross-matches all the different components and determines whetheror not a person is who he says he is.
And it does it in a matter of seconds.
This tremendous speed -- only one or two seconds for any given person -- ispossible, said Cornick, because of the time and effort put forth by PeopleWiseand sister company RiskWise® to develop data sources and create the technologynecessary to perform the job. "On a large scale like the Olympics, where wewere getting tens of thousands of files, we verified the identities of theindividuals in a few days rather than weeks or months," said Cornick. "Thatwas everybody who was applying for accreditation, which is basically a securitypass to the Games -- any staff member, organizing committee member, volunteer,worker from a sponsor, or other type of vendor such as catering companies and/ortransportation companies. Anyone at all who provides services to the Games."
While background checks as an Olympic Games policy is nothing new, handlingsuch a volume of checks at such a speed -- and, most importantly, gettingspot-on accurate results every time -- is. Background checks were used in LosAngeles for the 1984 Olympic Summer Games, and also for subsequent Games inAtlanta and Sydney, but "in Atlanta and Sydney they were overwhelmed," saidKerr. "They were looking back after the individuals were already accredited.And if they found problems they would have to go back and revoke theaccreditation."
Also, conventional criminal background checks were not enough. The September11 terrorists, for example, had obtained false identifications and were usingthose to obtain employment and drivers licenses, to go to flight school, and tobuy plane tickets. Had anyone done a standard criminal background check on themwithout first performing an identity verification, it is likely that theirrecords would have appeared to be unblemished.
"If you don’t have a criminal record and I steal your ID and I’m usingit, and they check your name against a criminal history file, it’s going tolook just fine," said Cornick. "Identity verification is the componentPeopleWise brought to the Olympic Games."
The threat of terror was naturally a prime consideration in the decision toperform thorough cross-referenced background checks at the Games, said Moss.However, he emphasized, the system was designed not only to exclude potentialcriminals, but others who could be compromised by obtaining access to the Gameswith bogus identification.
Concerns about groups that might be vulnerable to exploitation grew after anincident in December 2001 at Salt Lake City International Airport during which69 people were arrested in a police sweep on charges of providing falseinformation to employers. Another 200 were fired from their jobs for providingphony information on job applications. Many of those arrested or fired hadaccess to highly secure areas, and in some cases they had failed to disclosecriminal backgrounds. Most of the workers were charged on Social Security orimmigration violations.
Many of those arrested or fired were illegal immigrants and not violentcriminals. However, Moss pointed out, people in such circumstances are in dangerof being exploited for possible criminal ends. Their illegal status also putsthem at risk of being blackmailed. InstaCheck, he said, would easily havedetected the kind of identity fraud that caused such upheaval at the Salt LakeInternational Airport.
If InstaCheck detected a discrepancy in documentation, PeopleWise followed anexception process, which was critical to the follow-up phase of the project. Thesystem determined what piece of information was "red-flagged" and the reasonfor the exception, then PeopleWise’s professional research group stepped in toverify the information using the full resources of its parent company,LexisNexis™. In such cases during the Games, the information was then reportedto SLOC, which made the final decision as to whether to issue credentials.
Most of the people who were denied accreditation to the Games were potentialcontract workers, said Kerr. Among them, the failure rate was about 10 percent.Many of those had applied to be van and bus drivers. Only about one percent ofthe volunteer applicants failed their screenings.
Kerr said that until PeopleWise performed background checks for the 2002Olympic Winter Games "there was a hole in the security planning that I’dalways felt uncomfortable about in the area of identity verification. But whenPeopleWise came on board with their initiative, it let me sleep a lot better atnight knowing we were doing checks on people who actually existed.
"PeopleWise’s professionalism and response were just excellent," hesaid. "They brought the numbers of people to the task that were required toget the job done and they did it in the proper time line -- no excuses. Theyjust went to the task and showed a tremendous amount of support for the Olympicsand contributed greatly to the success of the Games. It really shows that they’rea dynamic company."