Olympics in Utah to get security overhaul

Money from Congress to aid effort to guard against terrorism

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

October 04, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Organizers of the 2002 Winter Olympics say congressional leaders have promised a quick infusion of millions of dollars to defray the cost of additional anti-terrorism measures in Salt Lake City.

The pledge was made yesterday morning at a meeting that included House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the heads of the FBI, Secret Service and other federal agencies.

"We had a firm commitment from all parties at our meeting today that they will put all essential resources behind the Utah Olympic Games," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Congressional support, he said, "ensures the public that we will have more than enough security personnel on the ground, in the air and on the roads to protect the athletes and the fans and all the dignitaries."

The money will be used to tighten air security over venues, add troops and federal law enforcement officers and buy more metal detectors to screen spectators entering events.

No one has put a dollar figure on the additional funding for the 2002 Games, which have already spent more for security than any Olympics held on U.S. soil.

During discussions this week, the amount reached almost $40 million, according to a source involved in the process.

"We were told, `Let us know what you need and we will find a way,' " said Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "Money will be provided as needed."

To date, the federal government has contributed $200 million for security measures, primarily to pay for the salaries, training and housing of federal law enforcement officers.

Utah and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee have set aside an additional $70 million.

"There will be no shaving of costs," insisted Rep. Christopher B. Cannon, a Utah Republican.

Yesterday's announcement served another purpose as well - to reinforce the message that the Olympics will begin as scheduled Feb 8.

The International Olympic Committee last month gave its president, Jacques Rogge, emergency authority to cancel the Games if he feels security is compromised.

But Rogge "is absolutely fully committed to the Games," said Romney. "There's not even a whisper of concern on his part."

A poll conducted for the Deseret News in Utah on Sept. 26 showed that 59 percent of Utahns believed it was somewhat likely or very likely that there would be a terrorist attack on the Olympics. But 72 percent of those polled said they were confident that authorities could foil an attack.

Nearly 5,000 law enforcement officers from 60 local, state and federal agencies have been assigned to patrol Salt Lake City and surrounding communities.

A fence will be set up around a 17-block "secure area" in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City 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.

Romney said "a pretty significant change" would be made in the air security plan, which had included Blackhawk helicopters and jets enforcing no-fly zones over each venue and the Olympic Village on the campus of the University of Utah.

But, he said, spectators who were told to expect delays at security checkpoints will not face further inconveniences.

"Originally, we told people to plan to get to a venue two hours before an event. It's not going to be longer than two hours," Romney said. "What you will see is we will have more personnel at the checkpoints so that we can search people very thoroughly."

Organizers of the Games say they are heartened by the support they've received since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has sold 1.32 million tickets, with 14 people asking for refunds since then.

And he said support from countries sending teams has remained strong.

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