Security for 2002 has new scrutiny

Olympic officials renew focus on safety for Salt Lake City Games

September 13, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

The organizers of next year's Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City had a worst-case scenario in mind as they built a $200 million blueprint for security.

On Tuesday, their worst-case got worse.

Olympic officials yesterday expressed confidence that the Games will not be canceled next February because of the attacks in New York and Washington, but acknowledged they will have to put more muscle in their plan to meet the threat of terrorism.

"I do believe the Games should not have a militaristic look. But now, the look of the Games is less important than making sure they are entirely safe," said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee

Romney is in Washington this week to lobby Congress for the remainder of the money promised to pay for federal law enforcement assistance, and to review the security plan with the U.S. Secret Service.

He said his belief in the security plan developed over the past five years was shaken by the attacks, especially when the evacuation route he used from Capitol Hill Tuesday morning took him right past the flaming Pentagon.

"I am confident we will proceed, but we will be revisiting the public safety plan," he said in an interview yesterday. "We are well-positioned to make adjustments."

Romney had been scheduled to be at a pre-Olympic news conference yesterday morning with Yankees manager Joe Torre and baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays at Battery Park, just blocks from the World Trade Center in New York City. They were going to announce the names of the Olympic torchbearers. Instead, Romney said, all Olympic-related festivities through Sunday have been canceled.

Yesterday, security was increased at three U.S. Olympic training facilities. The United States Olympic Committee has suspended public tours of training camps in Colorado Springs, Colo., Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid and has instructed teams not to travel.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said in a telephone interview yesterday that exercises by law enforcement agencies "have been going on for almost three years, but now they've intensified."

"We've played out endless scenarios. This adds a new scenario," he said. "We will do everything possible to mitigate the opportunities for bad things to happen."

The fate of the Games will be decided by the International Olympic Committee, but one official, skier Jean-Claude Killy, told the (Utah) Deseret News, "The Games must go on. I don't think the Games should be affected. It's an event for the youth of the world."

Killy, a 1968 gold medalist and deputy chairman of the IOC coordinating committee, noted that the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, continued despite the start of the Persian Gulf War. And terrorism dimmed, but did not extinguish the Olympic flame in Munich in 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinians, and in 1996, when a bomb exploded and killed one person in Atlanta's Centennial Park.

Despite the USOC's increased security and promise to protect the athletes, a spokesman for the U.S. Luge Association says the terrorism threat "certainly weighs on their minds."

"But it's not just the American athletes," Jon Lundin said. "The European athletes will also have to come to grips with the mental pain that terrorism causes."

Even before Tuesday's attacks, ensuring the safety of 3,500 athletes and coaches, 50,000 spectators and 26,000 volunteers was expected to be a massive job. Add to that the possibility that officers will have to deal with protests along the lines of those staged in Seattle and Washington, D.C., during meetings of the World Trade Organization.

Nearly 5,000 law enforcement officers from 60 local, state and federal agencies have been assigned to the Games. A fence will be erected around a 17-block "secure area" in the downtown that includes the plaza for the medals ceremony, the Salt Palace convention center and the Delta Center, site of the figure skating and speed skating events.

This summer, the 24-member Utah Special Emergency Response Team practiced live-ammunition drills under the supervision of a counterintelligence expert and two specialists from the Israeli army. To simulate hostage situations, officers learned to shoot balloons held inches from the heads of instructors.

"Anti-terrorism training has been a big part of our planning all along," Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said.

The Utah Olympic Public Safety Command has established restricted fly zones that extend from 1 1/2 to 3 miles from each venue. The no-fly rule takes effect Feb. 4, four days before the Games, and continues until after the closing ceremonies on Feb. 24. The no-fly zone protecting the 70-acre Olympic Village that will house the athletes and officials will remain in effect until Feb. 26.

Blackhawk helicopters and jets flown by the Secret Service will enforce the zones.

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