Many people in the United States had the results of a recent Associated Press poll on Olympic security presented to them something like this: Nearly one-third of Americans believe a terrorist attack is likely during the Games in Salt Lake City.
We prefer to view the poll from the other end. The fact is, about two-thirds of Americans do not believe such an attack is likely, and that is quite significant. Specifically, 32 percent of those polled said a terrorist attack was very unlikely, and another 31 percent believe it is somewhat unlikely.
The distinction is important. Some people may yet be deciding whether to come here next month. A few athletes, themselves, are acting as if they're not sure how safe they will be. The Australian team, for instance, has decided to leave all mail unopened during the Games. The Japanese team is bringing a supply of antibiotics designed specifically to counter an anthrax attack.
And yet, there is little need to worry. Salt Lake area hospitals are well-equipped to deal with any such outbreak. To be prepared is wise, but Olympic organizers already have taken care of as much of that as possible.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft spent several days here recently, going over all details of security planning for the Games. He left after pronouncing the area as safe as it possibly could be. Others have said, quite credibly, that the Wasatch Front will be the safest place in the world during February — as tightly secured as the White House. Short of turning the state into a maximum-security prison, it would be hard to imagine how tens of thousands of visitors, protestors and athletes could mingle in a safer way.
To this, we must add a note of caution. No one can guarantee total safety. A determined miscreant could find a way to wreak some havoc before being corralled. But that is a risk every inhabitant of planet earth assumes each day. Few of those inhabitants, however, are surrounded daily by the kind of security that will surround this state beginning Feb. 8.
Olympic organizers have removed the biggest weapon a terrorist can wield — the element of surprise. Everyone will be on guard. Even Utah residents who won't participate in any way in Olympic events will likely be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Americans, it seems, understand this. The 31 percent who said they believe a terrorist attack is likely represent only half of the percentage who have said in recent polls that such an attack is likely anywhere in the United States.
Somehow, all of this got a little muddled in the way the poll was presented to the public. The news is really quite good. No one should decide to stay away out of fear for their safety.