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Security gets new scrutiny

Local businesses re-evaluating plans in wake of attacks

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Salt Lake attorney William G. Gibbs has been for many years the legal counsel for the Utah Air Travel Commission, the citizen group responsible for improving scheduled air service for Utahns.

Thus, Gibbs was aware of the irony Tuesday morning as he and his wife spent more than three hours at Salt Lake City International Airport waiting to learn whether their flight to St. Louis was going to take off.

It didn't, of course. The Federal Aviation Administration canceled all U.S. flights following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

"I've never seen anything like it. There were huge numbers of missionaries (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and their families in Terminal One. We were body-to-body as the flights kept coming in but none going out," he said.

But Gibbs will be back at the airport Thursday morning when he hopes to get on a plane and resume his aborted trip. Many Utahns have expressed the view that they will never get on an airplane again, vowing to drive wherever they have to go in the future. Gibbs is not one of them.

"People may choose to drive a long distance once, but that will be the last time," he said, noting that when people learn firsthand just how long it takes to get anywhere in this country by car, bus or train, they'll return to the airlines.

Although the tragedy in New York did not impact most Utahns personally, the thing on everyone's mind was the 2002 Winter Games, now only five months away, and the implications for further terrorist acts that they will represent come February.

Gibbs believes it would be a mistake to cancel the Games because that would mean the bad guys had won. "That's what they want, for us to start canceling things. That's the purpose of terrorist acts, to make us collapse."

Richard M. Wirick, spokesman for the Downtown Merchants Association, agreed that the Games should go on but said he believes more emphasis should be put on media coverage of the various events and less on live attendance.

"They should cut down on attendance at such things as the medals ceremonies," in the northwest downtown area, Wirick said. "They should have the participants there but not 11,000 people standing around watching," which would make the ceremonies a more inviting target.

Wirick said he's not concerned about any threats to downtown businesses during the Games, but he would like to see the airport closed to everyone but ticketed passengers, eliminating the throngs that gather to meet incoming friends and relatives and bid farewell to those who are leaving.

"If they did this, they would only have to check about 10 percent of the people they do now, and terrorists could not get lost in the crowd," Wirick said. "There's no reason that the airport has to be filled with people who are not going anyplace."

The attacks on New York and Washington brought home the reality of terrorism in this country, and many business owners and managers have moved security during the Games to the forefront.

Deseret News publisher Jim Wall said the newspaper's managers had anticipated for some time that they would have to adopt an Olympics security plan with the paper's parent company, Deseret Management Corp., and now it's clear that changes will be made.

"We've met with security consultants, and we're in ongoing discussions with them on potential risks," Wall said. "We're prepared to make changes if they seem reasonable, and we have no reason to think they wouldn't be. This latest development may cause our security consultants to re-evaluate their own assessment, and we'll be looking for guidance."

Similarly, most businesses will be re-evaluating their security preparations in light of Tuesday's attack.

Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association, said the state's banks have been making plans for some time on how to handle security during the Games.

"This incident will result in a renewed focus on the contingencies that we have made to determine if they are, indeed, adequate," Headlee said. "But it's premature to know what additional precautions we might take. Everyone is going to re-evaluate the steps they are going to take for the Olympics."

E-mail: max@desnews.com