Ridge Praises Olympic Security

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Salt Lake City, UT, Jan. 10, 2002 (AP by Tim Dahlberg)--Even before Tom Ridge stepped onto a helicopter Thursday for a tour of Olympic sites, he was convinced everything possible had been done to make next month's Winter Olympics safe.

Nothing the nation's domestic security chief saw on his morning flyover of ski slopes and ice arenas made him change his mind.

After a visit designed to bolster the nation's confidence about security protection for the Olympics, Ridge declared the $300 million plan to protect the games as complete as humanly and technologically possible.

``I believe one of the safest places on the globe from the beginning to the end of February will be Salt Lake City,'' Ridge said.

He cautioned, though, that even the work of some 60 different federal, state and local agencies didn't ensure that nothing would happen during the games, which begin Feb. 8.

``There's no guarantee it is a fail-safe system,'' Ridge said.

Ridge was flanked by Utah's governor, Sen. Orrin Hatch and two congressmen as he gave a glowing report about the capabilities of the security system that will protect the games.

He said there have been no specific terrorist threats directed against the Salt Lake Olympics, but defended the millions being spent as necessary in an era where terrorists try to seek the most visible of targets.

``There's no specific information about the Olympics being a target, but the fact is it's an international stage where the world will be watching,'' Ridge said.

Even before he took his tour of Olympic venues, Ridge had appeared on a morning television talk show to say the Winter Olympics would probably be the safest sporting event ever.

His trip came as the White House released a summary of security measures that will be taken during the 17-day run of the games in Salt Lake City and the mountains outside of it.

Many of the measures had already been reported, such as metal detectors screening all visitors and the closure of the Salt Lake airport during the opening and closing ceremonies.

There will be some 15,000 people involved in security operations during the games, including 10,000 national guardsmen, state and local police and federal officers.

Other security plans detailed in the White House statement included:

*Salt Lake International Airport will be one of the first airports with the capability to screen all baggage for explosives. In addition, there will be a 45-mile restricted airspace around the city.

*Biometric scanners will be used to identify officials and athletes to allow them in areas while others are kept out.

*Vehicles will be prohibited from coming within 300 feet of venues and other selected buildings.

Ridge said the security plan--which was bolstered after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--should serve as a model for future Olympics or major events.

He praised the cooperation of all the agencies involved, under the direction of the Secret Service, which has the federal mandate to protect the games.

``This is probably the best planned, best coordinated and best organized plan the world has ever seen,'' he said.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt agreed.

``It was an excellent plan prior to Sept. 11,'' Leavitt said. ``What he saw today was an even better plan.''

Ridge, with Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Mitt Romney standing next to him, said Americans are showing they are comfortable with Olympic security by the number of tickets they are buying.

Some 88 percent of Olympic tickets have been sold, and daily sales have doubled since the first of the year.

``I think it sends a real strong message to the rest of the world,'' Ridge said. ``Terrorism will not prevail. Fear will not prevail. America will prevail and America will host the Olympics.''