Security tight around the temple during the games

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Carol John, a lifelong resident of Salt Lake City, knows people who opted for vacation time over working in the city during the upcoming 17 days of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

"They'd been hearing (government officials) urging them to change their work schedules, or to work at home or telecommunicate in an effort to cut down on the traffic,'' John said. "Some of them just decided to leave town.''

John, a communications worker for Qwest, understands the sentiment.

She also believes they're missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

John is one of thousands of Utah volunteer workers who decided to be part of the solution rather than avoid the problem.

Working the day shift in the Main Media Center, the hub of press and broadcast activity in the days leading up to Friday's Opening Ceremonies, John sees her new duty as a chance to show her hometown's best face to the international community assembled here for the quadrennial celebration of youth and sports.

"I just get a glowing feeling being around all this,'' she explained. "I was on the streets late the other night with people all around. I couldn't have felt more safe. Then when I get home, I can't stop talking about it.

"My husband wishes now that he'd volunteered.''

At the same time, though, Salt Lake City and the surrounding region is holding its collective breath these days.

The threat of terrorism on this international stage is an ever-present one, and people here are growing used to seeing concrete barriers around their most accessible buildings, many of which are cloaked with multi-story coverings depicting snowboarders, skaters, skiers and goaltenders. National Guardsmen with M-16s join local policemen in manning traffic barricades are most downtown intersections in the Olympic corridor.

Visitors are still welcome, of course. But the white tent around the gated entrances to the Mormon Temple, the Vatican of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, tells a visitor he'll be subjected to the same kind of security screening common to American airports in the post-Sept. 11 era.

Similar tents -- heated, in deference to the Utah winter weather -- exist at the entrances to most Olympic venues in the city and in the Wasatch Mountains to the east.

"It's tight, but polite,'' Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports, said in what may be the best description of the security here.

"We Americans are not really used to seeing this level of security in our own country,'' Ebersol added. "I find it strange to go off to the men's room and find myself book ended on either side by army men with M-16 at their side. At one time, I don't know how I would have thought of that. But right now it's somewhat comforting.

"It's a whole new way of coming to a major sports event in the United States.''

The potential for traffic gridlock has yet to materialize, residents here say. But that could change when tens of thousands descend on downtown for the medal ceremonies and late-night concerts -- everyone from Bare Naked Ladies to Dave Matthews -- or ascend into the mountains for skiing and sliding events.

Then again, maybe none of those problems will materialize because of the work done in advance.

Maybe the hundreds of buses brought in from several surrounding states will get visitors to their destinations in the mountains around Park City with little delay. Maybe people will heed the advance warnings, change their lifestyles slightly for three weeks and render the dire forecasts moot.

John, for one, already made those adjustments. She now rides the light rail daily into downtown -- "I don't want to be part of the problem,'' she explained -- and has found the experience satisfying enough that she may become a regular rail commuter.

"Maybe they're preparing people for something worse than it's going to be,'' she said hopefully. "The way I looked at it, I'm not going to get upset by any problems that come up. If they happen, they happen. But right now, I'm just going to get as involved as I can and enjoy the experience while I can.''

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