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For Start of Games, Security Is in Place

Safety: Atlanta will have the largest protective force in U.S. history.

July 19, 1996|ERIC HARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The crash of TWA flight 800 sent shivers through Atlanta, where the city is preparing to host the 1996 Olympic Games.

"It is unavoidable that it has cast a shadow over these Games," Mayor Bill Campbell said. "Two hundred and twenty people lost their lives. It is a great tragedy."

Campbell and security officials said, however, that security for the Games already is heavy and there isn't much more that realistically can be done.

The Federal Aviation Administration contacted local police and asked that they increase the frequency of patrols through the terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, said Miguel Southwell, director of marketing and media relations for the airport. "That is the only thing that has changed," he said.

In the wake of the bombing of the World Trade Center and the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Games already will have the largest security force and most sophisticated electronic systems of any peacetime gathering in U.S. history.

Thirty thousand security officers are on hand, including 11,000 military personnel. Surveillance cameras are in use in public spaces near Olympic venues and the Olympic Village, which is protected by an electric fence. Sophisticated "hand topography readers" and cards bearing micro-chips are in place to protect access to sensitive areas.

Security at the Games cost an estimated $300 million--more than the cost of constructing the new Olympic stadium.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, William Rathburn, the Olympics' director of security, said, "We have done everything humanly possible to provide the very highest level of security. Our security has always been designed for the worst-case scenario."

Security at Hartsfield, through which 130,000 passengers a day are arriving for the Games, already has been stepped up. All international airports went to Level 3, the next-to-highest level, in October because of concerns about the possibility of terrorism.

More recently, in anticipation of the Olympics, vehicle barricades have been erected at the airport here, ballistic film has been placed over windows to reduce shattering and other security measures have been taken, said Southwell.

Delta Airlines in Atlanta has two highly sophisticated scanner devices, called CTX-5000s, that are capable of detecting bombs, even plastic explosives, said Southwell. He said the devices, which are new, are in use in only one other location in the country.

"It has mechanisms that detect explosives and other contraband in the luggage of passengers," he said of the high quality X-ray imaging system.

Campbell said there isn't much more that can be done to tighten security without making attendance at the Games unbearable.

Still, Olympic officials said they would probably try to increase security another notch.

"We have been informed that security measures have been tightened in connection with everything related to flights, airport procedure and control," said Francois Carrard, director general of the International Olympic Committee. "This is the logical reaction which should be taken."

Recently, steps were taken to protect the city's water supply and guard highly radioactive material that is stored on the college campus where athletes are housed.

At the offices and hotel used by Olympic officials, soldiers in combat fatigues search every car that pulls into the garage, even using mirrors on poles to scan the underbodies.

An estimated 2 million people will visit Atlanta during the 17-day event, which gets under way with opening ceremonies tonight.

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