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Safety planners urge faster Guard response

They fear a delay caused by need for Leavitt's signature

EMMITSBURG, Md. — If a large-scale disaster occurred during the 2002 Winter Games, it would take the governor's signature before the National Guard could respond.

Uncomfortable with the delay in relief that could create, some Olympic public safety planners are pushing to streamline the process it takes to call out the Guard.

The issue came up for discussion during a weeklong training session here at the Emergency Management Institute, involving representatives of many Utah agencies that will be involved in safety during the Games. The meetings concluded Friday.

"The system we've got works, but it's not geared for immediate response," said Col. George Becker, Utah's Military support officer for the National Guard.

State Olympic Officer Lane Beattie said he's working with Gov. Mike Leavitt to speed up the response time. Other states, such as California, don't require the governor's signature to deploy the Guard.

"I don't think we need to circumvent the process," Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said. "What we need to do is streamline the process."

Beattie said Leavitt could issue a letter giving authority to deploy the Guard to someone more familiar with the immediate security needs in the state, like the commissioner of public safety. That would mean fewer hoops to jump through.

But before that can happen, the state needs to come up with extra money to pay for the costs of deploying the Guard. Utah must pay the initial costs but would eventually be reimbursed by the federal government, Beattie said.

Beattie said it's possible the state might borrow some money from its $100 million rainy day fund.

"There's a system by which it could be called upon," Beattie said.

With the money in place and the flexibility to call on the Guard given to someone lower on the totem pole, it's likely those forces could essentially be deployed in a few short hours.

Dinse, who worked in L.A. during the 2000 Democratic Convention, said the National Guard was a valuable resource during the demonstrations that erupted during the event.

"When you have a pre-planned event you can do that," Dinse said.

Dinse also worked the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where the National Guard played a minor role in providing security.

Among Olympic security brass, Dinse is one of the more outspoken proponents of having a rapid response unit in place.

He would like a 50-person mobile field force as part of the roughly 4,000 police officers who'll provide security for the Games. The mobile field force would be able to respond quickly to any serious incidents, such as riots similar to those that broke out in Seattle during the World Trade Organization Summit last year.

Olympic public safety planners are still working out where that force will come from.

"From Salt Lake City's standpoint I feel that's absolutely essential," Dinse said. "I'm inflexible on the issue of mobile field forces."

While a mobile field force would respond rapidly to unexpected events around the Olympic theater, the Guard would only be called out in worst-case scenarios.

"That would only be as a last resort," said Utah Olympic Public Safety Coordinator David Tubbs, "We want them there in case they are needed."

Dinse agrees it would take a major disaster to call out the Guard. Even after a tornado whipped through Salt Lake City in August 1999, the Guard stayed put, Becker said.

During this past week's training exercise, in which Olympic planners faced an overwhelming number of simulated natural disasters and criminal incidents, the National Guard was never called upon.

"Unless I have a very specific issue that I know I want the Guard, generally what I will ask for is resources," Dinse said.


E-mail: djensen@desnews.com