Security at Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY – Anybody in Utah’s capital city these days, on the eve of the Winter Olympics which begin here later this week, would find it hard to ignore the city’s heavy military presence. Just days ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony which kicks off the first major international sporting event since the September 11 terrorism attacks in the US, soldiers have been deployed across the city with fingers firmly fixed to their triggers. As part of the intense security effort, helicopters are constantly surveying the scene from the skies. Comparing the security effort in Salt Lake City with that of Sydney’s at its summer Olympics two years ago, the big difference is the military’s involvement here, which has been assigned the majority of responsibilities. The US Forces are being backed by 7,000 police officers and 5,000 FBI agents – at least officially. The entire effort swells to much greater numbers should one also take into consideration the 15,000 volunteers, many of which have received training for terrorist attacks. For obvious reasons, the volunteers themselves were heavily interrogated before landing their jobs. Visitors flying into Salt Lake City quickly realize what’s in store. During questioning at the airport’s passport control, all eyes, human and technical, seem zoomed onto the traveler. Once through, further questioning seems inevitable anywhere in the city. Security at the international press section seems even more intense. No doubt, once competition begins queues will be endless. Soldiers aided by dogs trained to detect explosive devices will be thoroughly deployed at competition sites, which means everywhere – including toilets. If you choose to be driven there, it will probably be an even more complicated procedure. We counted no less than 11 check points along the way. The first lasted about five minutes. Soldiers scrutinize cars from engine to the interior. The driver, too, a volunteer, does not escape being checked. Nine or so briefer checks follow as you approach the parking facilities. It is still early to predict whether the 19th Winter Olympics will be a success or not, but it is already definite that they will go down in history books as the most heavily guarded sporting event to date.