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Securing the Olympics
Despite Vigilance, Some are Nervous about Potential Terrorism

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Feb. 7, 2002 -- When the Winter Olympics gets under way in Salt Lake City Friday, officials promise the heaviest security ever for a sporting event.

National guardsman

A national guardsman stands in front of the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited

Air sampler

This device inside the Main Press Center tests for the presence of chemical and biological agents. Photo: Howard Berkes, NPR

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But while some athletes and area residents are comforted by the sight of armed military personnel, others with Sept. 11 in mind are nervous that the games will be the target of another spectacular terror attack.

As NPR's Howard Berkes reports for All Things Considered, the most visible security so far is in downtown Salt Lake City. Soldiers in olive drab uniforms toting M-16 rifles are posted at corners and between parallel rows of eight-foot-high chain link fence. People and vehicles are searched for weapons and explosives before entering key hotels, the media center and Olympic venues.

Special response teams are standing by in case of chemical, biological or nuclear attack. There's a system for tracking symptoms of anthrax and smallpox, and hospitals have been stockpiled with antidotes.

Black Hawk helicopters and F-16s are patrolling restricted air space over the Salt Lake City and the outlying Olympic venues. On the ground, park rangers on foot, snowshoes and skis and Secret Service agents on four-wheelers are patrolling the backcountry.

But Ken Bullock, a member of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee worries about the militaristic surroundings. "It can't help but have... a diminishing effect on the Olympic festival atmosphere... ," he says.

With up to 15,000 soldiers, federal agents, state and local police and private security staff on hand, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld notes, "We literally have more (armed forces) in the area around Salt Lake City for the Olympics than we do in Afghanistan."

Still, some athletes are worried and at least one plans to sit out Friday night's opening ceremonies. Not so U.S. skier Picabo Street, who says she's focusing more on preparing for competition than on security. "Everything is in lockdown and secure," she says. "The more F-16s I see flying around, the more secure I feel... "

Olympics Security Facts

• Up to 15,000 federal, state and local government and private personnel are assigned to security.
• More than $300 million is being spent on security.
• Flights are restricted in a 45-mile radius around Salt Lake City and the 10 Olympic venues.
• Utah National Guard patrolling Salt Lake City International Airport; all baggage being screened for explosives.
• Visitors at all Olympic venues are screened by metal detectors.
• Biometric scanners are used to identify athletes and officials.
• Cameras record visitors' movements.
• Portable X-ray equipment is being used to inspect suspicious mail.
• Vehicles are banned from a 300-foot perimeter around venues and selected buildings.
• Federal agencies in charge of counter-terrorist security: Secret Service, FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Sources: White House, Salt Lake Organizing Committee

Previous NPR Coverage

listen to the audio Ridge lauds security

listen to the audio The legacy of Munich

listen to the audio Sept. 11 casts a shadow

Other Resources

video FBI video on Olympics security preparations

FBI Winter Olympics security Web site

Frequently asked questions about Olympics security

White House information on Olympics security