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Security best in Olympic history, Ridge says

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Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge sees a model in what Utah has done to secure the 2002 Winter Games.

The unprecedented cooperation between the 60 federal, state and local agencies who are working together to protect the Games could be the best in Olympic history, Ridge told international, national and local reporters Thursday at Salt Lake Organizing Committee headquarters.

After touring Olympic venues and being briefed by several Utah officials, Ridge declared Utah's public safety preparations for the 2002 Winter Games the "best planned, best coordinated, best organized" security plan "the world has ever seen."

"It may not be a bad model for the office of Homeland Security," Ridge said. "There's a model here that I think we can follow in this country."

Led by the U.S. Secret Service, which oversees all national special security events, the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command has integrated numerous local, state and federal agencies into a central command that helps secure the Games. Security plans ensure that police, fire, public works, transportation, hospitals and others all coordinate their efforts and work to share intelligence information.

Such cooperation, which was largely absent from security preparations for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, has made for what officials are calling a "seamless" security network.

That network, which was established long before Sept. 11, also made it possible for Utah to establish its own Homeland Security Task Force just days after the attacks.

Ridge said he's confident the technology and coordination that have gone into Olympic security planning gives him reason to believe Salt Lake City will be the safest place to be from Feb. 8 to Feb. 24.

So far, officials have received no credible threat to the Games.

"It's a global stage and I don't think that terrorists would expect us to do anything but our best," Ridge said.

Following the Atlanta Olympics, the Games were designated a National Special Security Event in August 1999. More than $300 million in federal and state money is being used to protect the Games.

About 15,000 security personnel ? which includes about 5,000 military troops, 5,000 federal, state and local police, and 5,000 security personnel from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee ? will patrol the Olympics.

Now with the Games less than one month away, Ridge and other leaders in Utah say these Olympics will take on a significance not likely seen in any past Olympics.

"I think this sends a message," Ridge said. "Terrorism will not deter us."

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com