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Salt Lake ready for potential Boston-like shutdown, officials say

Published: Friday, April 19 2013 7:50 p.m. MDT

Runners take off in a blur at the Salt Lake City Marathon.

Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Valley is prepared for a shutdown like Boston and Watertown, Mass. experienced Friday, should the need ever arise, state and local government officials say.

A massive manhunt lasting nearly 24 tense hours led to city-wide lockdowns Friday that brought the bustling Massachusetts cities to a screeching halt as law enforcement combing the area encountered explosives and engaged in multiple shootouts with two dangerous suspects, believed to have carried out bombings Monday at the Boston Marathon.

The hunt ended Friday night with one man dead and another in police custody.

"The thing you're dealing with in Boston is a worst case scenario," said Col. Keith Squires, deputy commissioner of Utah's Department of Public Safety. "(A lockdown in Utah) would take something to that level."

As the nation watched, city, county, state, airport and law enforcement officials in Utah offered assurance that the state is prepared to deal with all types of emergencies — from a natural disaster such as a major earthquake to a fugitive manhunt with significant risk to the population.

The decision to lock down would start within local jurisdictions, with law enforcement agencies like Salt Lake City or Unified Police identifying a threat and calling in the Department of Public Safety and other state and federal officers to support multi-agency efforts to close roads, transit and air travel, Squires said.

Each scenario would be unique, complex and difficult, Squires said, emphasizing there is currently no indication Utah could face such a threat.

Wade Watkins, deputy emergency manager for Salt Lake County, emphasized Friday that "There is a plan and it is in place," referring to the county's Emergency Operations Plan. The plan outlines a comprehensive response to all types of disasters.

Terri Fritz, special operations deputy chief of the Salt Lake Police Department, said his department would work with transportation agencies and could shut down roads, close on- and off-ramps, shut down TRAX service and FrontRunner, and even halt taxi services.

"We don’t anticipate that happening, but we’re absolutely prepared for it," Fritz said.

A lockdown could also include a suspension of airport activity, as it did in Boston.

Salt Lake City International Airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said in such a scenario, the airport would work with the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI to quickly suspend all operations.

"We have the capability should the scenario dictate it," she said.

Ultimately, all such preparedness comes down to relationships, said Joe Dougherty, public information officer for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

"Utah spends a very important amount of time building relationships at all levels of government," he said. "We are involving the whole community when planning for emergencies."

In the case of a major emergency requiring a lockdown like Boston experienced, the response would start at the city level. As soon as a city would need more resources, county, state, and federal officials could be brought in to assist.

Emergencies rarely stay within one jurisdiction or cause just a single type of problem, Watkins said. That's why Salt Lake County takes an "all hazard" approach, or has a plan adaptable to any type of disaster anywhere in the valley.

Salt Lake City is on the same page, said city spokesman Art Raymond.

"It would never be the case that Salt Lake City would be on its own, just in the same way as the city of Boston is not on its own for its shelter in-place," he said. "Law enforcement, other government agencies, the transit authority — all of those folks would be talking."

Raymond said that in order to ensure that the city is emergency-ready, agencies and employees regularly drill for emergency situations of all magnitudes.

"We know exactly what to do to engage in emergency," Raymond said. "We do have very specific mechanisms in place to work with law enforcement agencies, state representatives of (the Department of Homeland Security), and county and state government."

And that training does not stop at the city level.

According to Dougherty, all levels of government in the state of Utah are trained in emergency-readiness through the the National Incident Management System. Federal grant money is tied to this training to ensure that states are disaster-ready.

"The state has full confidence in Salt Lake City to manage anything that happens, but we would be ready to jump in and help with whatever is needed," Dougherty said.

Contributing: Peter Samore

Email: mmellor@deseretnews.com

Twitter: marygmellor

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