Despite Last-Minute Brawl, Olympic Security Plan a Success
by Rich Vosepka, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Olympic security planners can finally relax. At $310 million, the most expensive effort in history to protect a sporting event worked nearly to perfection.
Other than a false anthrax reading at the airport and a drunken street clash in the wee hours of the games' final day, the athletes or the 1.6 million spectators at the 2002 Winter Games were kept safe.
Organizers said the unprecedented security effort was the reason.
"It may well have prevented potential threats or kept this from being a crime target," Salt Lake Olympic chief Mitt Romney said.
Metal detectors were everywhere at the 17-day event. National Guardsmen patrolled venues, police from around the country were on the streets, and F-16s and Blackhawk helicopters kept the airspace protected. Biological- and chemical-weapons specialists were on alert, and cameras looked everywhere.
There were 607 reports of suspicious packages during the games, and bomb squads investigated every one of them. They all turned out to be nothing - a forgotten backpack or grocery bag, a car battery by the side of the road.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a bomb left in an abandoned knapsack killed a woman and injured more than 100 people. At the 1972 Munich Games, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian terrorists.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the security budget for Salt Lake City was increased by $40 million.
The resulting effort involved 60 agencies and departments and employed more than 15,000 workers. Plainclothes officers mingled with the crowds inside venues to keep the games from having a militaristic look.
As the days went on, police had so little to do during the games that some volunteers went home early.
David Tubbs, executive director of the Olympic security command, presided over a sparsely attended news conference a week into the games and drummed his fingers on the podium.
"I'm not sure what to say," he told the mostly silent journalists with a shrug.
Did Olympic planners spend too much on security?
"You're going to be criticized whichever way you go on that issue," Tubbs said as the games ended. If something had gone wrong, he said, the amount spent would not have been enough.
Police spent a good chunk of time training for the prospect of riotous demonstrations. Officers saw videos of the damage caused by anarchists in Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa, Italy.
It was not until Saturday night that police saw action, when revelers who had been turned away from a beer garden tangled with officers. Police used foam-tipped bullets to disperse the crowd and made 20 arrests. No injuries were reported
There was one big scare. Gov. Mike Leavitt got the call while watching figure skating: Air sensors at the airport had smelled anthrax. But it was a false alarm. The detector had been cranked to its maximum sensitivity and returned an incorrect reading.
"For two hours, I thought we were in the middle of a big-time problem," Leavitt said.