Superdome security heavy for wartime Final FourPosted: Thursday April 03, 2003 8:54 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The palm trees lining the main promenade alongside the Superdome now sway amid cement barricades and tall chain-link fences.
Fans who once could have easily flowed into the dome will now line up outside white tents that will serve as security checkpoints during Final Four games on Saturday and Monday.
The fortress-like scene is not so unfamiliar in New Orleans, which hosted the first Super Bowl after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and is now home to the first Final Four since the beginning of the war in Iraq.
"We know how to put on events of great magnitude that require a tremendous amount of teamwork from security agencies," New Orleans director of homeland security Terry Ebbert said Thursday.
Indeed, big events are nothing new to New Orleans. Since America went on heightened alert 19 months ago, the Big Easy has hosted one Super Bowl, two Mardi Gras, and several of the largest music festivals in the world -- and all have gone off without major disruptions.
Security precautions for the Final Four will affect everyone this week, whether they're in town for basketball or just a night on Bourbon Street.
On display at hotels are flyers instructing anyone going to the game what can and cannot be brought in to the dome (large purses, noisemakers, video cameras and the like).
About 50 National Guard troops will patrol areas around the Superdome. City police have promised increased visibility both around the stadium and in tourist attractions like the French Quarter.
Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms also will be part of the security detail, which will include a number of plainclothes officers.
While federal officials declared the 2002 Super Bowl a National Special Security Event -- placing the secret service in charge of security -- that was a very rare occasion. Normally, that status is reserved for things like presidential and papal visits.
Ebbert said the lack of a federal designation shouldn't matter.
"One of the rationales for the designation is to bring federal resources for the city," Ebbert said. "We did that for the Super Bowl and ever since that time we've been using the same team for other events in the city."
Ebbert said security costs for the Final Four would run "in the mid hundreds of thousands" more than the average event staged at the Superdome since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
During the Super Bowl last year, access was heavily restricted to high-rise office buildings surrounding the Superdome where snipers were stationed along roof ledges. Airspace above downtown was closed, as were all six lanes of traffic on Poydras Street, the main thoroughfare running from the heart of downtown past the dome.
This time, commercial planes will be able to fly overhead, although Charles Cunningham, FBI special agent in charge for Louisiana, stressed that air traffic would be closely monitored. Officials would not say if any of the snipers would return.
"We can't really get into specifics about security personnel and where they will be, just rest assured they will be here," Superdome manager Doug Thornton said.
In part because the Final Four is a multi-day event, employees at surrounding offices will be able to come and go as they please. Some lanes of Poydras Street farthest from the stadium also will remain open to traffic.
"We have to remain flexible on things like street closures in consideration of things like businesses that are downtown," Thornton said.
The four large parking garages attached to the Superdome will be closed during the games, but will be open to contract parking tenants on Friday, even during team practices, which are open to the public. Since the garages will be open, the perimeter checkpoints also won't be in use on Friday, meaning fans won't be screened until they get to the Superdome door.