February 7, 2002

A Safety Concern

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Your 9:05 math/orgo/bio/chemistry/english/ history class sucks, and not because it is at 9:05.

It sucks because you have to get up at 8:05. This requires no further explanation.

Now imagine that you have to get up three hours earlier to arrive on time to said class.

Before you decide to skip, don’t forget that you’re paying good money for that front-row seat.

Waking up four hours before the start of any occasion seems ridiculous, but if you happen to have tickets to any event in the Winter Olympics, organizers are advising that a four-hour head start to your day might not be such a bad idea.

After all, getting past a $310 million security budget on your way to Red-EE-621 (your color-coded, lettered, sixth-story, second row seat with the number one engraved into a metal plate fixed on the back, for those who may be confused by the short-hand written on your 8×11 ticket stub) is no easy feat.

On the way to your elevated accommodation, with a complementary oxygen mask for those who may become short-of-breath at high altitudes, you will pass 5,100 uniformed troops, 7,000 public safety officers, 6,000 privately hired security personnel, an unknown number of psychologists who profile suspicious individuals, and up to 175,000 spectators, according to Newsweek.

If you’re really lucky, you might see a Secret Service sharpshooter

patrolling the treacherous backcountry around the slopes.

If you are not interested in the living, feel free to gaze at the vast

array of technological marvels. You will find 10-foot high fences topped

with razor wire and motion detectors surrounding every venue. Perhaps you will be interested in one of the nine F-16s or 21 Black Hawk helicopters patrolling the 45-mile restricted flight zone over the Games.

Watch out for those manhole covers — their fiber-optic wiring should deter you from taking a short cut through the sewers. Maybe you’ll get your picture taken by one of the 400 cameras that have been installed all over Salt Lake City.

There will also be 1,000 metal detectors to pass through.

As you can see, getting to your destination will not be painless.

Speaking from experience, however, I doubt that one single ticket-holder will mind.

In 1996, I attended numerous events at the Games when they were held in Atlanta. I remember the pipe bomb that went off on the night of July 27, and I wasn’t too surprised that someone got through the entrance wearing a backpack loaded with explosives. I never felt that my belongings were adequately searched or that my privacy was invaded enough when I passed through security during the summer Olympics.

Those Games were at a time when the United States was at an all-time secure high.

This year’s Games are coming at a time when we are at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Even still, the preparations seem a little over the top. Three hundred and ten million dollars is a heck of a lot more than the $6 million that was spent on this year’s Super Bowl, while the 6:1 ratio of security personnel to athletes just appears excessive.

Even an Olympic official admitted that if someone really wants to do

something, they’ll do it.

But these Games cannot be handled in any other way. The money must be spent, the troops must be deployed, and the cameras must be installed.

Obviously, security is a priority for the officials in Salt Lake City, but

how high does it rank for the presidents of MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL


In mid-December last year, I’m sure you saw footage from the Jags-Browns game in which angry fans tossed a flurry of beer bottles, cups, ice, and paper onto the field after a controversial call went against the home team in Cleveland. While that does seem to be an isolated incident, it shows how vulnerable pro athletes really are when playing in front of a jam-packed stadium.

Maybe a 10-foot high fence with razor wire needs to be installed in front of the stands at NFL venues as well.

When I go to a Braves game, I’m practically waved through the bag checkers.

I hold my backpack wide open for security to have a good look inside, but

usually they just glance and move me along. Sometimes they look under the first layer of stuff, but they never reach into the bottom of the bag.

That needs to change.

So while you are watching the daredevils on NBC, just think about how much money and time went into ensuring that the only way the competitors can get hurt is by hitting the ice at 80 mph.

Then, consider if you really feel safe attending a football or baseball

game. You’ll never have to leave four hours early to be in your seat for the singing of the national anthem in the Majors, but I wouldn’t mind leaving two hours prior to game time if that meant that someone would see everything in my backpack.

A little prevention never hurt anyone.

Archived article by Katherine Granish