Law enforcement officers attend a safety summit in Ogden

May 18 2010 - 6:30pm

OGDEN -- Utahns don't have to look to 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 to know terrorist acts pose a great threat to the Beehive State.

Rather, law enforcement need only to look at explosives incidents closer to home to serve as a serious reminder to be prepared for future threats, a bomb technician certified by the FBI told a group of officials Tuesday.

Sgt. Carl Merino of the Salt Lake City Police Department referenced video and images from the Hofmann Bombings, in which two people were killed by exploding packages in 1985, and an incident this year in Cedar City in which officers found 546 explosive devices that had been stashed on a rural property, as reminders that Utah needs more officers trained to know how to handle situations involving possible explosives.

"People think 'it's Utah and nothing ever happens here,' " Merino said.

But within the period of about a month in 1999, Salt Lake City officials had to handle "a shooting at the LDS Genealogy Library, a bomb scare at the Triad Center and a tornado, all within about a block of each other," Merino said.

In another high-profile case, the University of Utah School of Business received a package with a bomb inside in 1981, but it did not detonate. It was later found to be one of the first of many explosive packages that Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, sent out.

Merino spoke to about 40 officials from all over the state in one of the opening sessions of the Utah Public Safety Summit at the Eccles Conference Center.

The three-day event has more than 400 attendees from specializations in public works, military, health, transportation, fire and police, emergency management and others. It's the third annual summit.

Merino is co-chair for the Utah Statewide Bomb Squad Task Force and the Utah Chapter of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. He urged safety officials and law enforcement, especially in more rural areas of the state, to bring the task force to them. He wants to train officers to be able to recognize and report possible explosives to one of the eight bomb squads in the state. The squad out of the Davis County Sheriff's Office serves Davis, Weber and Morgan counties. The Utah State University squad serves the counties in the far north, including Box Elder. The Davis squad currently has three FBI-certified technicians.

The summit continues today and Thursday. Sessions include earthquake preparedness, canal safety, H1N1, hazardous materials, child abduction, and search and rescue.

Many incidents in rural areas involve law enforcement finding and disposing of old dynamite, Merino said.

"They don't know and they end up handling it," he said. "But it's very dangerous and it could go off. We want them to know there are people available to respond and handle it."

Gov. Gary Herbert will offer remarks to end the conference on Thursday.

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