Monday, August 21, 2000

Cincinnatian heads Olympic security detail

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Don't call Gene Ferrara a bodyguard. He said it suggests a knuckle-dragging hulk who doesn't know what fork to use. Instead, he prefers “executive protection specialist.”

        To him, that's a person whose manners and dress complement the client's and who uses brains to avoid trouble rather than combat skills to escape it.

        Executive protection is his trade when he's off-duty as University of Cincinnati police chief.

        Next month, Chief Ferrara will be at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, running the command post for NBC security.

        He'll oversee a handful of American executive protection specialists and about 100 uniformed Aussie private guards. Their job is to make sure thousands of NBC employees, stars and wealthy guests go where they wish without fuss or undue attention from fans or foes.

        “Our job is to keep them safe — don't let them get into trouble,” Chief Ferrara said.

        Australians will handle anti-terrorism duties. He'll concentrate on more mundane hazards facing the rich and famous, from abduction to purse snatching.

        Risk assessment is the key, he said, the appraisal of potential threats and vulnerabilities.

        Network and movie stars are are high risk because they seek attention and advertise their movements. “There's always some guy who wonders, "What if I could kick Sylvester Stallone's butt?'” the chief said.

        It's Chief Ferrara's responsibility to to make sure his staff never lets anyone close enough to try.

        Security also means finding an NBC college-age American gofer who didn't show up to work. Chief Ferrara found her in Barcelona hospital; she had lost her key and fell trying to climb into her apartment.

        Then there was an NBC guest's wife who lost her U.S. passport on a Saturday and Chief Ferrara arranged for her to pick up a replacement on Sunday at the consulate in Barcelona. By then, he also had rescheduled the couple's 7 a.m. flight so their 8:30 a.m. stop to pick up the vital travel document didn't ruin their vacation.

        Lesser chores can require the knowledge and skills of a hotel concierge and that's where Chief Ferrara's experience at the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics pays off.

        He will carry a pocket full of NBC Olympic pins “to grease the rails” in Sydney. Collectible lapel pins are the hottest trophies after medals. “They're better than money.”

        The chief, 57, spent five years as tactical coordinator for the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team during more than 16 years in the Cincinnati Police Division and through the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he began working in the field of executive protection.

        Street savvy and experience earned him the command post berth at Sydney, working for Peter Porello, whose International Business Resources has the NBC security contract. In 2002, the chief will work the Winter Olympics for Mr. Porello and NBC in Salt Lake City.

        A parochial payoff came when Michael Snowden, a friend and retired Cincinnati police chief, agreed to head the committee drafting security plans for the local bid for the 2012 summer Olympics.

        He called in Chief Ferrara as his expert.


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