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O.C. Fair Officials to Search All Bags

With a record turnout expected, event organizers say patrons who refuse will not be admitted.

June 20, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Terrorism concerns have prompted Orange County Fair officials to institute a new policy of inspecting all bags carried into the fairgrounds to increase security during the fair's run, which starts next month.

The county fair will run an additional week this summer -- July 11 through Aug. 3 -- and fair officials believe that attendance could hit 1 million visitors, a record.

"The fair's No. 1 priority is to ensure the safety of our patrons and employees," said Becky Bailey-Findley, general manager.

The new policy, approved by the fair's board Thursday, requires inspection of all purses, backpacks, strollers, diaper bags and other items that could conceal weapons or explosive devices, said David Brokaw, the fair's public safety chief.

Brokaw will be adding about a dozen security employees to ensure a strong presence during the 21-day run at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. Normally, the fair has 240 security workers who are not armed, joined by a contingent of sheriff's deputies who are responsible for law enforcement at the fair.

Security experts have recommended that large entertainment venues such as the fairgrounds enhance patrols in case federal authorities raise the national terrorism threat level, as was done over the Memorial Day weekend.

Homeland Security Department officials have lowered the threat level to yellow -- an "elevated risk" -- from orange, declaring that the chance of a terrorist attack, although still significant, had eased.

"People will see more signs encouraging them to leave unnecessary items like backpacks and sports bags -- anything that can carry a device harmful to fellow patrons -- in their cars," Brokaw said.

Patrons who refuse to allow their bags to be inspected will be denied entry, Brokaw said. Inspected bags will be given a tamper-proof tag.

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