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Thursday, May 23, 2002
Heightened security at Indy

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Superdome resembled an armed fortress for the Super Bowl. Salt Lake City was transformed into a virtual militarized zone for the Olympics.

Come Sunday, the Indianapolis 500 will look like, well, the Indianapolis 500.

Security officials believe they can ensure safety for the estimated 400,000 fans who attend ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' without making the track look like a military compound.

''The most important security measures are invisible,'' said Peter Beering, the city of Indianapolis' terrorism preparedness coordinator. ''It's the stuff you can't see, the stuff I can't talk about. But it's there, and there's lots of it.''

Fans will be able to see the hundreds of uniformed police who will be in the crowd Sunday. Hundreds more plainclothes officers will supplement the force. High-tech surveillance equipment will be used.

All organizers of big sporting events have taken security measures to new heights after Sept. 11. Indy did too, but organizers say they were merely improving a security plan that was already one of the best.

''We've thought about all the issues for a lot of years -- Armageddon and weather, and everything in between,'' Beering said.

Of course, no venue is impenetrable, and that point is easy to see at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The track spans 558 acres.

How many fans is 400,000? It's the combined attendance of the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Final Four -- multiplied by two. It makes for the biggest single-day sporting event in the world.

Two who plan to come to the race Sunday, Chris Cardona and Justin Mize, were at the track Thursday for ''Carburetion Day'' -- the final pre-race practice. They brought along their beer, which was in an approved cooler, and encountered no problems.

''I thought this would be a little more intense, but it wasn't,'' Cardona said. ''It's been on our mind. But we came here to have a good time, and watch some cars go around. You can't live your life scared.''

They expect tighter security Sunday, ''but you can't control everything at a place like this,'' Mize said. ''If something is going to happen, it's going to happen.''

Fans will be allowed to bring in coolers up to 14 inches wide and 14 inches high, and a small backpack. All personal items will be subject to search.

''We give broad deference to people manning the gates,'' Beering said. ''They have a pretty good sense of what kind of things and what circumstances to look at. And there's value to the element of randomness.''

At the Super Bowl and Olympics, fans had to walk through metal detectors manned by security and military personnel checking bags.

During Super Bowl week, New Orleans had an eerie feel, with soldiers in camouflage trolling the French Quarter and military trucks prowling around the Superdome.

Salt Lake City was an even bigger production. Olympic organizers spent $310 million to secure the Olympics, and they went off without a problem.

Both were deemed National Security Special Events, a status that brought the Secret Service in to coordinate security efforts among local, state and military offices.

''Not every major sporting event can get that status,'' track spokesman Fred Nation said.

And, Nation said, not having the status shouldn't make any difference in logistics. Track security officials are in touch with the FBI every day and any credible threats are relayed to a security team being headed by Jeff Dine, who chairs the group that coordinates safety at the track.

Beering says the reason the track plan works is because these agencies have been working together for decades.

''It's not a situation where the reps meet for first time on race day,'' he said.

There will be no ban on small aircraft or blimps flying over the track, Beering said, but that's mostly because security officials are so familiar with the pilots in the area that they would immediately know if something was amiss.

The track has had an extensive security plan in place since the 1960s, and it was the model many other large sporting events used to plan their own security efforts, Nation said.

The track got a great dress rehearsal on Sept. 30 when it played host to the United States Grand Prix Formula One race. About 200,000 fans attended.

''Everything there went very smoothly,'' Nation said.