Law enforcement officers keep watch on horseback near Lykes Gaslight Park… (Tom Pennington / Getty Images )
TAMPA, Fla. – Despite the threat of hurricane-driven flooding, in one sense low-lying Tampa is quite possibly the safest place in the world right now. Like rings around a bull’s eye, concentric circles of security surround the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where thousands of delegates and officials will gather this week to nominate Mitt Romney for president, and the nearby Tampa Convention Center, where 15,000 credentialed journalists are in the process of setting up camp.
Though the convention has not even begun here in the Big Guava, as locals call this town for somewhat obscure reasons, getting a car into the convention center’s designated parking area was a painfully slow process Sunday, requiring passing through no fewer than three anti-terrorist vehicle barriers -- big flaps that are raised and lowered to allow cars to pass.
Well-armed agents whose vests identified them as members of the United States Secret Service waved vehicles into a first checkpoint, where a car’s occupants were ordered out and told to stand on the sidewalk. As a bomb-sniffing dog circled the car, agents examined the trunk and looked under the hood. They are part of a force of 3,500 to 4,000 agents from 60 agencies that have descended on the area to ensure that human-caused disaster is kept at bay, even if natural disaster cannot be.
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When the convention starts, an agent said, the first set of checkpoints on the street that functions as an entrance to the parking structure will be covered by a tunnel-like tent, the poles secured with heavy barrels against what are expected to be tropical-storm-force winds close to 60 mph.
Entering the Tampa Convention Center required another perimeter credential check amid walks of hurricane fencing , plus a trip through a magnetometer.
If past conventions are any rule – and if the weather threat subsides -- the precautions will cause long delays at checkpoints and high levels of frustration. But that’s the price – along with a $50 million federal grant to Tampa – of convention security in the post- Sept. 11 age.
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