Olympic Security: Life On High Alert

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Terror alert? What terror alert? While the rest of the country is scrambling into high gear in response to an FBI all-points bulletin, here in sunny Salt Lake City, it's business as usual. This is the first high-security Olympics, where super-tight security is a way of life, and where Americans are getting really good at being really careful.

Here's the drill: before passing through the inner perimeter of any Olympic venue, media, athletes and spectators alike go through a security check more rigorous than anything you'll ever encounter at a U.S. airport. You and everything you have on you is x-rayed, your bags are searched by hand, and all electronic equipment is turned on. God help you if you didn't remember to recharge the battery on that camcorder; you might not be allowed to take it in.

It's easy to feel intimidated, even anxious (will my fillings set off the metal detector? Will the guards be unimpressed with my choice of reading material?), but it's amazing what you can adjust to in just a few days — and what routines become, well, routine. Since arriving here in Salt Lake City, I've acquainted myself with the intricacies of metal detectors, learned that no one cares what book I'm reading, and formulated a special dance step that helps me sail through the endless security screenings: Step, unzip coat, open coat, twirl, take off ski hat, move through the metal detector, pause and smile. Works like a charm.

Sometimes all this vigilance is a bit frustrating. It can leave us stuck in lines for hours at a time, and I've heard horror stories of spectators trapped in buses because the driver forgot his pass. But the security does provide a great sense of comfort to those of us prone to worry.

It also provides some fun moments. One of my co-corespondents was surprised when a guard pulled her cosmetics case from her backpack, took out two lipsticks, and twisted them both up, either satisfying himself that they weren't explosives or that their colors really did work with her makeup.

Another incident involved a well-endowed woman, her push-up bra and a totally clueless National Guardsman who, hearing the shrill wail of his metal detector wand each time it passed over this woman's chest, stood there for at least five minutes, his brow knitted, waving the wand back and forth, over and over again, never realizing what he faced was not a security threat but an extremely sturdy brassiere. Finally, his female colleague noticed what was going on and stepped over and whispered something in his ear. He blushed and waved the poor woman through the entrance, and I muttered a prayer of thanksgiving I'd left my more restrictive underthings in back New York.