Security is being stepped up around the winter Olympics with 10 days to go before the opening ceremony in Vancouver.

The air space over Vancouver and Whistler Mountain has been largely closed while a 16,500-strong force is gearing up for the biggest security operation in Canada’s history.

Some 900 surveillance cameras have been erected around the Olympic venues as part of the land, sea and air operation to secure the February 12-28 Games.

About 5,200 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, 4,500 members of the Canadian Forces, 1,800 regional police officers, and 5,000 private security officials will be deployed.

The measures are costing around 900 million Canadian dollars (850 US dollars) - five times their initial estimate - but security experts warn that an event like the Games is impossible to secure totally.

“You can do the best you can, you can take extraordinary measures to do as much as you can to protect the public and protect the event. But there is no way you can completely secure an event like that,” said security consultant Ray Mey who was involved in planning security for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002.

“The challenge is to find a balance between a celebration of sport and protection of the public,” he said.

Among the security measures, the skies over the Olympic venues will also be closed to all traffic except scheduled flights and security force aircraft.

Marine patrol vessels will provide waterside security in Vancouver, while soldiers on skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles and Swedish-designed snowmobile vehicles will be deployed around Whistler.

Spectators are being told to expect airport-like controls at venues and are being advised to travel light and arrive early.

Ticket buyers should arrive up to four hours early for the opening and closing ceremonies, three hours early for the mountain events and two hours early for events in Vancouver.

Only anyone with a bag smaller than 15 cm x 15 cm x 30 cm or no bag at all will be directed to an express lane.

“The less things you bring with you the quicker you’ll be able to go through those screening devices,” said Mike Cote of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

At the same time officials have “no specific threat against the 2010 Olympics.” Cote added: “Our strategy has been to plan towards a medium level of security so it can be ramped up at a moment’s notice.”

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