With the war in Iraq and in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, security has been tightened at major events like this week's men's college basketball championship in New Orleans, Louisiana. The challenge is to prevent any incidents at the high-profile event and still allow fans to enjoy the game.
The palm-tree lined street, next to the New Orleans Superdome, has sprouted a new kind of growth, chain-link fences. Along Poydras Street, police cruisers are parked and barriers have been erected to prevent unauthorized vehicles from getting close to the Dome.
Outside the dome itself, fences and checkpoints have been erected and everything and everyone, is being checked. A loudspeaker reminds fans what can and cannot be brought into the stadium.
"All large bags and backpacks are prohibited from entering the Super Dome and all other bags will be subject to inspection. Also, all persons entering the building will be subject to inspection with a metal detector. Failure to comply will result in forfeiting admittance into the building. See the gate attendant if you need assistance."
Spectators and media personnel alike are subject to search, and, as Kenneth Ball from Kentucky learned, something as small as a miniature binocular case means a walk back to his car.
Ball says that the security is inconvenient, and would like to see a national standard for major events. "I can take the binoculars in but I can't take the case in. I don't mind the security thing but I think they ought to get it nationwide everything the same. Because we go into other stadiums and stuff and we are allowed to have the case but we are not allowed to here," he says. "I think most people come here to have fun and they are not really they are trying to get along. I just think it would be nice to not have to walk all the way back to the car to get ride of that stuff."
The Super Dome hosted last year's National Football League Super Bowl game, which was the first Championship game following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. No incidents occurred. Security was tight. The men's basketball championship is the first major sporting event since the beginning of the war in Iraq.
Terry Ebbert is the director of the New Orleans office of the Department of Homeland Security. He says the goal is to keep fans and the teams safe, while still ensuring a fun event. "Those things that we have retained that I would describe as peace of mind operational details inside the dome, we have been able to get extraordinary experience and insight on certain details that we have changed in the operation of the facility on game days and on practice day so it provides additional peace of mind not only to us but as it relates to the fans and the student athletes participating in the event," he says.
As part of those preparations, the Louisiana National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Treasury Department and Homeland security agencies are working at the final four.
Traffic has been diverted around the Super Dome until Tuesday, although the lanes on Poydras Street, farthest from the building, are open. The Final Four has not been declared a National Security event, and the area above the facility has not been declared a no-fly zone.
City officials expect to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for the added security, but say that it will be worth the cost, if the games are the most exciting thing happening in New Orleans this week.