clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Olympics security ready to fine-tune plans after week of disaster training

EMMITSBURG, Md. — For several months now, Olympic public safety leaders have touted their ability to host the 2002 Winter Games "today" if necessary.

For the past week here at the Emergency Management Institute, they've had their chance, in a way.

The course, which concluded today, brought together everyone from fire and emergency medical service planners to police and public works personnel for four simulated days of the Olympics.

The result?

It seems Utah might actually pull it off when the real thing rolls around less than a year from now.

The 100-plus planners who made the trip to this small town nestled in the hills 50 miles north of Washington, D.C., have faced a 5.0 earthquake, a hazardous material leak that shut off activity in downtown Salt Lake City, a train station fire in Ogden and a hostage situation on a crowded bus in Park City — all simulated, of course.

Roads were closed, a large tent collapsed at an Olympic venue, 48 athletes were displaced from their rooms at the Olympic Village because of earthquake damage and a helicopter and small jet crashed.

But planners are coming away from the disaster overload training with a feeling that they have the plans in place to address safety issues at the Games next year.

Federal Emergency Management Agency instructors at the institute seem to agree.

"I just think they (the Utah people involved) have taken the good and bad of Atlanta and incorporated it into their planning process a lot quicker," said FEMA instructor Al Fluman, who came up with the barrage of disasters thrown at the planners over the past week.

The unprecedented gathering of this group now concluded, planners will spend the next 11 months fine-tuning their designs.

One of their challenges could be filtering important information down to the front lines and remote areas during the Olympics.

Heber City Police Chief Ed Rhoades was among the participants during this week's conference and said he hopes the gathering of so many people will help his often-overlooked agency.

In the first two days of the exercise, Rhoades said, his phone didn't ring once. His jurisdiction includes no Olympic venue, but 85 percent of all the traffic heading to nearby Soldier Hollow, just five miles outside of Heber City, will become the responsibility of his police force.

"It's as much my problem as the (Olympic) theater problem to make sure that we're not overlooked," Rhoades said.

In large part, that was the whole point of this week's training.

"There are people that were involved with each other this week who wouldn't have even spoken to each other before this," said Stephen Rundquist, training and exercise manager for the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management. "This was opening the door."

Planners hope the door will continue to swing open in the coming months with more cross-agency training exercises.

FEMA instructors will come to Utah in April for a similar training exercise with state agencies. Olympic Security forces will also hold a field training exercise in early April.

"I believe we're absolutely moving in the right direction," Olympic Public Safety Coordinator David Tubbs said. "Every time we do one of these we learn new things."