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Kovacevic: Can we take security seriously now?

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:43 p.m.
Pittsburgh police officers Dan Hubert (left) and Matt Schwartzmiller watch fans as they enter PNC Park on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, before the Pirates game against the Cardinals. Police are stationed outside every entrance prior to games at the ballpark.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police officers Dan Hubert (left) and Matt Schwartzmiller watch fans as they enter PNC Park on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, before the Pirates game against the Cardinals. Police are stationed outside every entrance prior to games at the ballpark.

One afternoon last summer, in a Major League Baseball stadium several states away, Trib beat writer Rob Biertempfel and I passed through a media checkpoint area that also serves other functions, including where the participants enter and deliveries are made. It's enormous, actually, big enough to take an 18-wheeler once the garage-type door slides up.

We strolled right in.

Not a soul was within view or within earshot of my “Hel-loooo?”

So we kept on and headed up to the press box.

Next afternoon, same thing.

I won't print here which stadium this was, only because I wouldn't dream of planting a seed with the kind of sinister sicko who bombed the Boston Marathon's finish line Monday and killed, maimed or injured more than 100 innocents. But I will email the team that operates this stadium to let them know.

I'll also email another baseball team in another state with the same issue.

And an NHL team in another country that allows unfettered access to the arena's entire floor level all morning and afternoon.

Will they listen?

Can't say.

Will it matter if they do?

Man, I hope so. Because what I can say — and with no small conviction, having covered events in nearly every MLB, NHL and NFL venue plus three Olympics — is that security across the sports world isn't close to what it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Patdowns, wandings, metal detectors and the like have been largely cast aside. Visible officers have dwindled. Dogs are nowhere.

That's not to suggest all stadiums and arenas all like the three examples above. Those are extreme.

Nor is it to suggest any amount of security could have prevented Boston's tragedy, or any event winding through 26.2 miles of public streets. Even the Olympic race walk I covered last summer — in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, no less — allowed the casual passersby to stroll right up to curbside.

But it is to suggest, from this one perspective, that it's more than alarming that our guard has gone down in venues we fill by the tens of thousands at the mercy of terrorists or lax security or both.

And it's further to suggest this is a fine time to swing that pendulum back.

Or, to put it another way, do what Heinz Field never stopped doing. The Steelers' home has never stopped treating every day like it was Sept. 12, 2001. There might be others in their mold, but I haven't seen it. Those giant cement planters still ring the property. Everyone is still wanded at every gate, patted down if necessary. Bags are still searched top to bottom, not just at a glance. And in the one practice you won't find anywhere else, electronic devices must be flicked on to show they're real.

It's a pain, I won't lie. But it becomes a bit more tolerable when Dan Rooney is in line ahead of you being treated no differently.

And it's a lot more tolerable after Boston.

I asked Jimmie Sacco, director of stadium management for the Steelers dating to Three Rivers Stadium, why Heinz Field never wavered.

He credited Landmark Security, the Colorado-based firm that handles Heinz Field and Pitt's Petersen Events Center, and added: “Our management team takes security very seriously.”

Expect that to be ramped up further this fall.

Same with the Penguins and Pirates, except that they're playing now. Neither team would divulge specifics of actions taken in the past 48 hours — that would be pretty stupid, actually — but the Penguins have hired extra Pittsburgh Police officers with dogs; they showed that presence for a non-public practice Tuesday. As Lt. Thomas Atkins of the police said, “They want people at every door.” Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said his team is “reviewing all current security procedures” and “introducing additional measures.”

I wouldn't worry about either. Although no one matches the Steelers, I've never seen egregious lapses among any of Pittsburgh's major events.

But then, this is hardly a local issue. It's a global one. And to an extent, it's a cultural one.

One, we inherently don't like security. It feels more like an infringement of our freedom than a survival mechanism. And while we'll accept it for the next little while, it'll fade before long.

Two, we as Americans tend to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to terrorism. When one idiot on one plane stuffs explosives into his shoe, we're all required to take off our shoes at the airport. When another guy tries it with his underwear, we're all getting body-scanned.

Sports are a different beast, though, and that might be where Boston offers the most frightening omen. Our games are highly predictable in schedule and in practice, and they draw tens of thousands, even more than 100,000 in places like State College, Ann Arbor and now Dallas. Where the Cowboys play, everyone is under one colossal roof and ...

I'll stop there.

This can't be about getting the sequel right.

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