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Game plan puts safety at forefront

Most of America has gone back to work in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific terrorist attack, but fans, athletes and organizers at all levels of sport still are struggling with the idea of going back to play.

Major League Baseball has announced it will resume its regular season in seven cities tomorrow night, but a lot of fans figure to be apprehensive about attending a high-profile sporting event less than a week after a wave of terrorism took such a huge human toll in New York, the Washington area and Pennsylvania.

"I can understand that, but I hope they won't be," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "We have taken all necessary steps. I don't have any trepidation about telling fans that the ballparks will be very safe. I just hope that we can be part of some happiness and diversion from this horrific tragedy."

Baseball is just the first major professional sport to reopen for business with a long list of new security precautions - which was made public Friday - but virtually every sporting entity has spent the past four days reviewing and enhancing security procedures to deal with the danger of further terrorist activity.

"If you look at their symbolic value, sporting events are certainly a prime target for terrorism," said Nick Catrantzos, director of operations for Control Risk Group, a McLean, Va., firm that advises companies on security and anti-terrorism issues.

Officials of the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA said they have spoken to the Bush administration about their security concerns. The White House told them it was encouraging a return to normalcy, implying approval for returning to play this weekend but not advising either way, officials said.

The Orioles play next in Toronto on Tuesday night, but return to Oriole Park for a weekend series that begins Friday. The Ravens, who were scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings at PSINet Stadium on Monday night before the NFL postponed the Week 2 schedule, do not play again in Baltimore until Oct. 7.

When NFL play resumes next Sunday, the league could take unprecedented security steps, league and team officials said, including snipers placed inside some of the complexes and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

The Ravens will add 30 police officers to their usual detail of more than 50 at their remaining home games this season, said team owner Art Modell. "I think fans seeing a number of members of law enforcement is very comforting to them at this time," he said.

Kevin Byrne, vice president in charge of public relations for the Ravens, would not divulge further information about security for PSINet Stadium that has been discussed in the past week - citing team policy.

"The No. 1 driving force is, you have a responsibility to people who come to the game," Byrne said. "You have to take whatever precautions are necessary to make sure there are not unhealthy or unsafe circumstances. Rest assured, the safety of the fans is the highest priority."

Orioles officials also have used the extended break between games to review and enhance security.

"I don't know yet what the plan will be, per se," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "It is still under review. I'm sure there will be further discussion before anything is implemented. The schedule allows us that luxury."

While the Orioles and Ravens are working in conjunction with local law enforcement authorities to increase security, some fans still are expressing reservations about returning to their seats at Camden Yards.

"I think everybody is going to be on edge, looking over their shoulder," said Mark Espenshade, 36, a bartender at Pickles Pub, across the street from Oriole Park. "It will definitely be more somber. People will be much more aware of their surroundings [in a stadium]. People will be thinking about more than the game itself, at least for a little bit."

That didn't keep Doug Hooper, a 38-year-old postal worker from Fallston, from going to Oriole Park to purchase tickets on Friday.

"To me, there's going to be more camaraderie," Hooper said. "Most people are sticking together more now because of what's going on. I don't worry about security. Obviously, anything can happen at any time. Sure, I'll be noticing if a plane flies over [the stadium]. We're all thinking about it now. But if I'm going to think about [a disaster] all of the time, I might as well live somewhere else."

The Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns and operates the two-stadium Camden Yards complex, has also been examining security, according to Stadium Authority executive director Rick W. Slosson.

"There has been a lot of talk and meetings in recent days," Slosson said. "Obviously there will be a renewed emphasis on security.

He didn't want to get into specifics, other than to say fans entering the stadiums with bags or backpacks might find them undergoing more thorough searches. Metal detectors have been discussed for the buildings, but Slosson said he doesn't think that's a good solution.

"You don't want to turn it into a lockdown," he said.

City police are responsible for coordinating security at the stadiums, which is provided by uniformed and off-duty police officers as well as a private security force. Since Tuesday, patrols and videotaping around the stadiums have been increased to detect any unusual interest in the buildings.

The Maryland Stadium Authority was relieved when the NFL postponed Monday night's scheduled Ravens game. The nationally broadcast game at 69,000-seat PSINet Stadium might have been a tempting target for terrorists or copycats, Slosson said.

Ravens coach Brian Billick, who came out in favor of playing the games that were postponed this week, said that the important thing is to move forward.

"I don't know that we're going to be any more or less secure three weeks from now than we are this week," Billick said. "We can't be chased out of what we do in this country. I'm confident that the appropriate steps will be made to keep everybody - both fans and players alike - safe."

The Washington Redskins, who were scheduled to play the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field today, also have a lengthy break before they play at home again. Their next scheduled game in Landover is Sept. 30 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

FedEx Field is one of the closest major sports venues to the carnage that took place at the Pentagon, so returning to the stadium will be a challenge for the players as well as the fans.

"It hit home," said Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith. "It's definitely affected not only myself, but each and every individual on this team in a very negative way. I spent 15 years in upstate New York, but I can relate to this incident. The first Super Bowl that we [the Buffalo Bills] played in was during the Gulf War. I can remember the vivid pictures of Apache helicopters flying above the stadium for protection and safety of the individuals in that stadium."

Of course, football and baseball officials have to take both a short-term and long-term approach to the security issue. NFL executives are busy overseeing the resumption of the regular-season schedule next weekend, but also have to look ahead to their signature national event - Super Bowl XXXVI, which takes place in New Orleans in late January.

"Super Bowl security is an issue every year," said NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello. "It will be heightened like it was during the Gulf War [in 1991]."

The NFL already has been at the technological forefront of fan security. The sport came under criticism from civil libertarians in January when it implemented a high-tech security system that photographed all fans and matched their faces against a computerized police lineup of known criminals. Chances are, there will be less resistance to such measures in the heightened state of public alert that is certain to accompany the resumption of big-time sporting events.

For Major League Baseball, postponing the start of the playoffs and World Series won't put enough distance between the events and terrorist attacks to erase concerns. Selig said baseball has taken the necessary precautions to ensure safety.

"We have all of our people, all of our registered agents, in contact with all the appropriate agencies in the [major-league] cities and nationally," Selig said. "When I tell you that we have left no stone unturned, I mean we have left no stone unturned."

Olympian effort

Security concerns are nothing new to organizers of international competitions, but planners of next year's 2002 Olympic Winter Games looked at their $200 million security blueprint Tuesday afternoon and concluded it might not be enough.

Mitt Romney, president of Salt Lake Organizing Committee, met this week with the head of the Secret Service and members of Congress to ask for even more help.

The plan already includes no-fly zones over venues and a 17-block fenced-in area downtown, being policed by nearly 5,000 officers from 60 agencies and 1,400 federal troops.

"We have enough officers now, but we will try to increase that number without becoming so visible a presence that we become the story," said Salt Lake Police Chief Rick Dinse, who is helping lead security efforts. The U.S. World Cup qualifier game between the United States and Jamaica also could present some logistical problems when it takes place Oct. 7 at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, but the World Cup is another international event that already abides by strict security standards.

"Every World Cup qualifier at this stage, the final round, always has a high intensity of security," said Amilio Pozi, managing director of events for the U.S. Soccer Federation. "FIFA brings in a security officer with a checklist that applies to all international games, so extraordinary measures are already in place. We'll take that lead and follow it up with additional local authority. So we'll review it with the Massachusetts authorities to see if additional steps should be taken."

Bowl games vulnerable?

There is expected to be beefed-up security at this season's major college football bowl games and the Army-Navy game .

Paul Hoolahan, executive director of the Sugar Bowl, said that security for the game, to be played Jan. 2 at the 65,900-seat Louisiana Superdome, is always pretty tight. It is comparable to a Super Bowl, which will be also be played in New Orleans a few weeks later.

"I'm sure this time it will be off the charts," Hoolahan said.

Hoolahan said it didn't matter that the Sugar Bowl is the only one of the four Bowl Championship Series games to be played in an indoor stadium.

"We're so identifiable," he said. "We're such a huge facility. We're a target facility."

Mitch Dorger, CEO of the Rose Bowl, said the Pasadena, Calif., Police Department is well-versed in making sure that fans and participants at major sporting events in its city are safe. Dorger said that the experience comes from being the host of everything from Super Bowls to international soccer matches, including one a couple of years ago between the United States and Iran.

But much of the policy in place now goes back to the department's preparation for the Rose Bowl parade and game in 2000, when there were threats surrounding the Millennium Celebration.

'The security there is at a very high level because of the Millennium," Dorger said Friday.

Naval Academy acting athletic director Capt. Kevin Sinnett said that the Army-Navy classic in Philadelphia will be an obvious candidate for stepped-up security precautions.

"I would expect there is going to be increased security, but as far as who, how and how much, we haven't gotten to that point," Sinnett said. "We'll have our regular meeting Monday to discuss it. It's a little premature right now.

"We're still on Condition Charlie [alert status below Delta, the highest alert] and we've had a couple meetings to decide how we're going to handle the Boston College game [Nov. 22], but no decisions yet."

Caution at the track

Except for major events such as the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup series, horse racing seldom attracts enough patrons to one venue to be considered a likely terrorist target.

That's one of the reasons Pimlico was racing Friday and yesterday while other sports were dark.

"I really don't think racetracks will be hit," said R.L. Young of Laurel, who was at Pimlico on Friday. "I don't think they are a big enough symbol. Whoever was behind these attacks clearly had a well-focused operation and hit the symbol of our military and a major symbol of our commerce."

Still, Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that security at Pimlico, the current site of thoroughbred racing in the state, has been heightened.

"We have quietly [increased security]," he said, declining to offer specifics. "The less we say about it, the better."

De Francis said it was too early to consider security at the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown that draws 100,000 people to Pimlico in mid-May.

The next major gathering at a horse track in this country will be Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. Situated on Long Island about 20 miles east of Manhattan, Belmont will entertain about 50,000 patrons on this country's richest day of horse racing.

Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association, said security would be intensified for the Breeders' Cup, but that he didn't know yet in what ways. He said that track officials meet regularly with Nassau County and New York City police representatives to discuss security issues.

"I think we'll just piggyback on their efforts," Nader said. "It's safe to say we'll have a greater security presence than usual. He will err on the side of caution."

Though racing at most tracks, including Pimlico, resumed Thursday, Belmont officials decided yesterday not to continue racing until Wednesday.

Extra measures at Dover

NASCAR also suspended operations this weekend, but the Winston Cup Series will resume next week at Dover Downs International Speedway with the Cal Ripken MBNA.com 400. Officials there say the track has a security plan that was designed with the help of the FBI and local police authorities, but security will be enhanced around the track.

The track's director of security, Rick Quashne, has attended anti-terrorist meetings in Maryland the last several years.

"We're not going to go into detail," said John Dunlap, director of public relations. "But there are some things fans should be aware of."

For the first time, fans will not be allowed to bring coolers into the grandstands or even leave them at the gate to the grandstands. Fans are advised to leave the coolers in their cars.

Because track officials are aware that many fans do bring food and drink to races, Dunlap said concession prices will be cut 25 to 30 percent.

Also, all people coming in will be subject to inspections of bags, purses, containers and knapsacks.

"We hope people will be understanding and patient, as patient as they'd be at an airport, I suppose," Dunlap said.

Track president and CEO Denis McGlynn said he is excited that Dover will be the first track at which the series will resume competition.

"It was important to take this weekend to show our respect and honor the victims, their friends and families in this great tragedy," McGlynn said. "But we think it will be important to return to normality, to our daily activities, because if we don't, we will be playing into the hands of those people who are trying to terrorize us."

Protection near capital

The same issues are being examined throughout the sports community, from the professional ranks all the way down to local amateur sports.

Officials at MCI Center, where the NHL Capitals and NBA Wizards play in downtown Washington, also are reticent when asked what changes in security may be undertaken.

"In a normal situation, since we moved down here in 1997, we have taken our patrons' security very seriously," said Matt Williams, senior vice president of communications for Washington Sports and Entertainment, which owns the building. "We have worked with and continue to work very closely with local law enforcement agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department, the Metro Transit police, the Secret Service and the FBI."

Also less than a half-hour drive from one of the targets of the attacks, the University of Maryland plans to increase staff and modify security tactics for football and men's basketball games.

Larry Volz, captain in the school's department of public safety, said fans could expect more than the approximately 100 security personnel who already work games at Byrd Stadium and Cole Field House. That number includes campus police officers, state troopers and student police aides, but not ushers and gate personnel who would also have security responsibilities.

Volz declined to say how many more people he would deploy, but did say that there would be a sharper eye cast on what he described as suspicious packages and suspicious trucks.

The school checks packages for alcohol and weapons, and patrols parking lots adjacent to Cole Field House and Byrd Stadium overnight before games in an effort to protect both venues.

Arundel High athletic director Bernie Walter, who was involved in the difficult decision to suspend his school's sporting events until tomorrow, said fans and athletes should feel comfortable getting back into their normal routines.

"I certainly have faith in the people in charge at all levels that athletic events will be safe, and if for any reason they aren't, we shouldn't have them," said Walter, a University of Maryland graduate who regularly attends sporting events there. "But hopefully, everything should be straightened out. Also, as a country, we shouldn't let evil people significantly change what we do in everyday life."

The same sentiment was expressed by Brian and Cindy Stromwall, who are visiting Baltimore from Rochester, N.Y. They recently returned from a 15-month assignment working for Kodak in Southern China, and hope Americans remember to appreciate how good they have it.

"Security will definitely be tighter, but that's OK," said Cindy Stromwell. "It's a good thing. It [watching a game] will make people feel like life goes on.

"When we landed in America, we said it's nice to be in an airport without machine guns. We cherish our freedom. We feel very secure. America is a nice place to come home to. If you travel around the world, you realize a lot of countries are like [China]. It's kind of sad that we lost that innocence. We'll get through it."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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