Thursday, May 23, 2002
Heightened security at Indy
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
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
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
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.