The Blog

Security at the Olympics

In a few weeks the world's attention will turn to Salt Lake City and the winter Olympics. The plan for security changed on September 12.

11:01 PM, Dec 30, 2001 • By NICOLE TOPHAM
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SALT LAKE CITY is calmly preparing to host the Olympic games this February. In the aftermath of September 11, Mitt Romney, chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, refused even to consider canceling the games. On September 12 he told the Salt Lake Tribune, "As a testament to the courage of the human spirit, and as a world symbol of peace, the Olympics is needed even more today than the day before. I'm confident we'll proceed with our games."

Utah governor Mike Leavitt agreed. "We will go forward as planned. We will do all we humanly can to make sure the Games are safe." Indeed, the general attitude in Salt Lake is one of concern, but not panic. Security planning for the games began long before September 11. Ben Lemmon, chief of police at the University of Utah and a member of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, says planning started six years ago, in July 1995, when Salt Lake City was announced as the site for the 2002 games. Ironically, on the morning of September 11, Romney was in Washington, D.C., to meet with Utah representative Jim Hansen and other House members in an attempt to secure $12.7 million needed to complete its security budget.

In 1998, President Clinton's presidential directive 62 placed the Olympics under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service. Consequently, the agency has been heavily involved in planning the Salt Lake games from the beginning, a change from the process leading to the games in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.

Because of September 11, money is no longer an issue for the Olympic planners. Congress has already increased the federal government's contribution to the security budget from $200 million to $310 million. Another $70 million will come from the Salt Lake Olympic Committee and state funds.

Of the total, a little over $20 million will go to the U.S. Department of Defense for an increased presence of military personnel during the games. Another $4.4 million is being used by the Utah Public Safety Command to buy more metal detectors and fencing. Each person entering an event will have his belongings searched. Certain types of vehicles will be kept some distance from places where athletes or spectators gather, and vehicles will probably be screened and searched. No-fly zones three miles in diameter will be enforced over all Olympic venues from February 4 to February 24, and Salt Lake County sheriff Aaron Kennard says the air security plan provides for F-16s to intercept any plane ignoring the no-fly zones.

Officials and terrorism experts have expressed concern about a potential attack on Utah's stock of chemical munitions, which makes up 44 percent of the nation's total reserves. But Governor Leavitt insists that state authorities have taken steps to prevent this. Without going into details, officials working to secure the Olympics indicate that their safety plan will protect the water supply, ventilation systems, hazardous material sites, and other vulnerable areas. At the Olympic village, located on the University of Utah campus, the focus is on teaching staff and those allowed on campus during the games how to react to chemical spills and other out-of-the-ordinary events. As an additional precaution, health officials are working to obtain greater quantities of Cipro to add to the medical stores already established.

With funding and emergency plans in place, Salt Lake City insists it is ready for action--but so did Atlanta. Officials hasten to assure Olympic athletes and spectators that everything possible is being done to forestall tragedy. But until the games are over, the world will be holding its breath.

Nicole Topham is an intern at The Weekly Standard and a student at Brigham Young University.