Salt Lake City, Utah Sept. 12, 2001 (AP)–Mitt Romney believed the $200 million plan to protect the Winter Games was a good one. That was before terrorists struck America from the air, forcing Olympic officials to take another look at the safety of athletes and others in Salt Lake City.
While vowing the games will go on as scheduled, the head of the 2002 Olympics said Tuesday that security plans will be completely re-evaluated in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“I look for the federal government to revisit the public safety plans,” Romney told The Associated Press. “We will be fully engaged in that process and will make it our highest priority.”
Romney was in Washington, D.C., meeting with federal officials about security at the games when the terrorists struck. He was to go to New York City on Wednesday for an Olympic torchbearer announcement, but it was postponed.
Instead, Romney and others will begin the process of finding ways to stem a suddenly increased threat of Olympic terrorism, just five months before the Feb. 8-24 games.
Security for the Winter Olympics was always one of the biggest concerns of organizers. Now, it might become the overriding factor in the final months of planning.
“The conduct of public safety in this country can never be the same,” Romney said. “I thought the program was a complete and holistic plan, which did not have gaping holes or obvious weaknesses. I think that characterization has to be completely re-evaluated.”
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said organizers will do “all we humanly can to make sure the games are safe.”
“This is a sobering reminder that there are evil people in the world who will do outrageous things,” he said.
Romney was not specific in what areas security might be reworked, but it would likely involve requests for more federal involvement and money. He said, though, he didn’t want Salt Lake City turned into an armed camp.
“I don’t think we’re going to look like Israel, with Uzis in the airport,” he said.
U.S. Olympic Committee president Sandra Baldwin said the games couldn’t help but be affected by the renewed threat of terrorism.
“The world is not as safe a place as we’d like it to be,” Baldwin said. “I think it would be naive of any of us to think the way we perceive our safety in the world hasn’t changed.”
Security, of course, has been a big issue at all Olympics since 11 Israeli athletes were killed in Munich in 1972. At the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, a bomb killed a woman in Centennial Park and injured more than 100 others.
That happened despite an intensive security effort that cost tens of millions of dollars and involved many federal, state and local agencies.
“You hire the best experts, spend incredible amounts of time and money and you hope you’ve covered all contingencies,” said Billy Payne, who headed the Atlanta Games. “Unfortunately, as we found out ourselves in Atlanta, even one individual intent on creating havoc can sometimes slip through the net.”
Security experts in Salt Lake City for a conference said attacks such as the ones in New York and Washington are hard to anticipate and nearly impossible to prevent.
“If you’ve got a bomb parked outside a building, you can defuse it,” said Roger Davies, a speaker who works for a British security consulting company. “If you’ve got a 767 headed your way, there’s not much you can do.”
In Salt Lake City, efforts have focused on training 60 different law enforcement agencies to work together.
Half the state’s 3,500 officers will be dedicated to Olympic security. The FBI and Secret Service are expected to send 3,000 agents. There also will be 1,000 fire and emergency medical personnel.
Officials already have prepared for the possibility of an air attack at the games. Airspace above Olympic venues will be temporary no-fly zones, patrolled by U.S. Customs Service Blackhawk helicopterrs.
Still, athletes say they know they can never be guaranteed safety on sport’s biggest world stage.
“The Olympics are definitely a target that would bring the world’s attention,” skier Jonna Mendes said. “Athletes are out there doing good things and representing their countries in great ways, but it’s pretty scary to consider the possibilities.”
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press