Olympics preparation in high gear


Disaster response groups and volunteers from across the country are planning to assist in case of any emergencies during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Disaster preparedness and response planning for the games has been coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While FEMA is the lead disaster response agency for the Olympics, thousands of volunteers from the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and American Red Cross will be doing their part when the games begin in February.

Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- which is headquartered in Salt Lake City -- said they are ready to welcome visitors from around the world. "Like other citizens of the area, most Latter-day Saints are excited about the Olympic Games," said Bruce Olsen, director of public affairs for the Mormon Church. "But the Winter Games were awarded to Salt Lake City and the State of Utah, not the church. Our role will be to fully support the community effort."

Brigham Young University has canceled a week of classes and asked faculty to be flexible with assignments in order to allow 4,000 BYU students to volunteer, especially students familiar with other languages.

Salt Lake City expects an influx of some 135,000 visitors per day. Officials from both the state and local level in Utah worked to establish the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, UOPSC, "which will bring together law enforcement, emergency management, emergency medical, fire service, public works and public safety officials," according to a statement from FEMA.

FEMA is using a Federal Response Plan to coordinate 26 federal departments and agencies.

Agencies point to the history of violence at several Olympics -- the murders in Munich in 1972 and the bombing in Atlanta in 1996 -- as reason to prepare for the worst.

Some faith-based disaster response agencies are on alert, although there is no large-scale volunteer effort at this point, said Peter Van Hook, a regional consultant for Church World Service who lives in Utah. Van Hook said he has been apprised of a response protocol and is prepared to respond to any potential disasters or situations.

FEMA will pre-deploy urban search and rescue task forces to the Salt Lake City area during the 2002 Olympic Games. If a disaster event warrants, FEMA will activate those task forces in support of state and local emergency responders' efforts to locate victims in collapsed structures. These task forces are trained and prepared to conduct search and rescue operations after earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, plane crashes, hazardous materials spills and structure collapses. Each task force consists of two 31-member teams, four canines, and a comprehensive equipment cache.

Red Cross chapters in Salt Lake City, Provo, Logan, and Ogden have recruited and trained more than 1,000 new volunteers specifically in preparation for the games, according to spokesperson Michelle Hudgins.

The Red Cross Health and Safety Services will be operating 12 first aid stations at non-venue locations throughout the Salt Lake City area, Hudgins said. Volunteers will help staff the stations. Several teams of trained volunteers will be equipped with automated external defibrillators, which may be used in cases of sudden cardiac arrest.

The Red Cross will be able to shelter and feed as many as 13,000 people. The organization has stocked 13,000 cots and 26,000 blankets in Salt Lake City.

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