What Mitt Romney's response to Sept. 11 attacks can tell us about his approach to crisis management

Published: Thursday, July 26 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

In his book "Turnaround," where he recounts his time as head of the Salt Lake Olympics, Romney said the smoke that entered their vehicle "smelled like nothing I had ever smelled before. Like war."

Calls to family took place en route to Gillespie's home, and once there, calls to the SLOC team in Utah, whom he advised to go home and be with their families for the rest of the day. Romney then took calls from Olympic officials and news media from around the world, who expressed condolences, outrage and pressed him for assurances that the Games would go on and be secure.

A request came from Salt Lake Organizing Committee spokeswoman Caroline Shaw, who was in New York making preparations for an upcoming press conference that was postponed on the traditional Olympic Torch relay, to make a statement because the media were clamoring for comment.

But Romney initially didn't think it appropriate to express concern about the Olympics when the attack was so fresh in people's minds.

"Being in D.C. gave me and Mitt a slightly different sense" of what was happening than those who were calling from more far flung places, Gillespie said. "All day we were hearing reports that kept coming that the local area was under attack. Alerts on where to call to report missing people. … He saw all day the very real aftermath it was having on people as they tried to determine who is missing, dead or injured and putting families back together."

But Romney would later recount in his book that Los Angeles Times' Alan Abrahamson, in trying to convince him to speak out, predicted he would change his mind and realize the Olympic ideals of international cooperation was a message people needed to hear. By the end of the day, Romney would issue a statement saying the Olympics are needed more than ever and calling on the federal government to help ensure the games would be safe and secure.

The statement reflected what Romney and Gillespie had discussed throughout the day in between calls — how they would move forward once it was decided the Olympics would go forward. Romney has always stressed he never assumed the event would be canceled. But Gillespie noted that he also knew it was not his call.

"It was not a decision that is made solely by the head of the organizing committee, or a governor or a mayor. It's a decision that's made together by a country," she said.

So, the pair strategised how they would approach federal authorities and congressional leaders at the appropriate time to make that decision and then put into place any changes to the security plan to ensure the Games would be safe and secure. With Romney grounded in D.C. since no planes were flying, he and Gillespie decided to approach politicians who also were trapped in town about moving forward.

The next day, Romney and Gillespie met with Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and who had been involved in the Olympics security planning from the beginning, to go through their plans.

The nation's Capitol was in lockdown mode, further driving home the point that security was a top priority for the Games.

"The Capitol was heavily secured and we couldn't drive anywhere near it," Gillespie recalled. "They set up a new perimeter. I had to drop Mitt off a few blocks away and he walked to Sen. Hatch's office while I parked the car."

They talked about the impact on Utah and the need for an assessment as soon as possible on the support the U.S. government would give the Games. The also discussed how to assure athletes and the rest of the world that they would be safe coming to Salt Lake City.

They decided Hatch would reach out to House and Senate leadership as well as the federal agencies involved to set up a "security summit" two weeks from that meeting with Hatch.

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