When it comes to saving lives, there's no bronze and no silver, only gold. You either do it or you don't. That's why the U.S. is spending more than $300 million to turn this year's Winter Olympics into a terror-free zone: the world is watching, and we have only one chance to get it right. With 70,000 visitors a day mingling with 2,500 athletes from 80 countries in Salt Lake City, Utah, where concealed weapons are allowed even in day-care centers, security will be no easy task. These Olympics will definitely not be all fun and games.
This raises an interesting question: How do you secure a sporting event without taking the fun out of it? Answer: checkpoints. Control the borders, the theory goes, and you control everything. That's why visitors on the way into the 20 Olympic venues will be scanned with metal detectors, and why all vehicles will be held back 300 ft. Hundreds of surveillance cameras that can scrutinize an ID badge from 1,000 ft. away will watch entrances, exits, highways and parking lots, and spectators are warned not to bring bags larger than 10 in. by 12 in. Utah is in the midst of a heated debate over gun laws: on Jan. 1, the state ordered colleges, hospitals, parks and other venues to allow concealed weapons as long as the bearers have licenses for them. Utah's vocal gun lobby, backed by Republican state representative John Swallow, is pushing for the right to bring guns into Olympic events, if only to store them in lockboxes. So far, the organizers have stood firm against that.
Olympic officials hope to turn the city itself into a secure environment. Anyone entering the seven-block pedestrian zone known as Olympic Square will be searched. Sensors will monitor the local food, air and water supplies for chemical and biological toxins. And the FAA has created a no-fly zone called the "Olympic Ring" for commercial and private planes that encompasses a 45-mile radius from Salt Lake International Airport. Even so, insists Salt Lake Olympic Committee president Mitt Romney, "once you're inside the secure perimeter, it will feel and look just like prior Games."
The shadow of Sept. 11 looms large over the Olympics, but this security strategy is based on bitter lessons learned years earlier at the Games in Atlanta, where a pipe bomb exploded in a public square, killing a bystander and injuring more than 100 people. President Clinton responded with a directive placing the Secret Service in charge of security for all major public gatherings, including the Olympics; the directive also tasked the FBI with crisis management--anything from hostage rescues on down--and the Federal Emergency Management Agency with coordinating disaster response. Salt Lake City is the first test of Clinton's plan.