High-Tech Security Firms Have Summer Games Covered

Technology makes the 1996 Summer Games the most secure in Olympic history

The single-largest integrated security system ever assembled may not be the most exciting attraction at this year's Olympic Games, but security-minded ticket holders and athletes probably will be happy it's there.


For the first time in history, security at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games will rely more on technology than on a massive buildup of law enforcement and weapons.

Organizers expect 400,000 spectators a day and are billing the Games as the largest peacetime security event in U.S. history. The 1996 Summer Games will be twice as large as any previous Olympic event and will be comparable in size to the combined Los Angeles and Barcelona Summer Games.

"There will still be people patrolling, but technology will be used to help make them more efficient," said Sean Malinowski, director of the Office of International Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The organization is a non-profit agency that provides research and training to combat terrorism.

Security has been a prime concern of Olympic officials ever since 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 games in Munich, Germany. Recently, the Oklahoma City bombing and the World Trade Center bombing in New York have raised concerns about the ability of terrorists to strike at U.S. targets.

Sensormatic Electronic Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., is the official security integrator for the Games and has put together a massive system that incorporates both biometrics and microchip technology. In keeping with the wishes of the Olympic Committee, the company needed to coordinate development of a system that was not intimidating to athletes, coaches and spectators, while still providing them with a heightened level of security. The system also needed to be capable of spanning large distances. Sixty percent of the events are occurring within a six-mile radius of Atlanta, but there are venues as far away as Washington and Miami, said Louis Chiera, director of Olympic marketing for Sensormatic.

Instead of relying on one technology, Sensormatic has selected a mix of security measures. These include identification cards with holographic images and microchips; readers designed to verify the geometry of a person's hand; and high-speed, movable, computer-controlled surveillance cameras. None of the technologies are new, but in some cases the way they are being used is a first, said Chiera.

For example, the Olympics will be the first wide-scale deployment of ID cards linked to hand-geometry readers through radio frequencies. Each card contains a chip that stores an ID number and a digital template of the person's hand to whom the badge was issued. As a person approaches high-security access points, such as those into the Olympic Village, the radio-frequency chip transmits the image and number. A computer records the number so that a person's entry and exit can be tracked. Meanwhile, the person places a hand on a reader that takes and compares a three-dimensional geometric image of the hand with the image sent by the ID card. Access is denied unless the two match.

Hand-geometry readers were selected instead of more complex physiological identification methods because they are unintrusive and quick, said Erik Bowman, an industry analyst with Personal Identification News, Rockville, Md. The entire process takes only a few seconds. Additionally, the template of a hand print requires only about nine bytes of memory. A fingerprint system could use 1,000 bytes of memory per print, depending on its level of sophistication, said Bowman.

The combination of technologies is giving security officials an edge, said Bowman. Guards are only humans whose eyes get tired after viewing so many cards. The hand-geometry reader provides proof that a person is allowed access, he said. The system is configured to be seamless, he said, but whether it will work that way depends to a certain degree on the training athletes and others receive on its use.

Olympic athletes have been given extensive briefings on the security measures, said Bill Dolan, father of Olympic swimmer and Washington-area resident Tom Dolan. They'll do what they're told to do because they are trained, disciplined professionals and because they realize there are people out there who may want to hurt them, he said.

The screening to gain access to the Games is very tight, and that is making the athletes feel very secure once they are in the Olympic Village, said Dolan.

Entry into less secure areas will require only that the person walk up to a door that reads the radio frequency. If a card is lost or stolen, its ID number can be rendered ineffective. The numbers also can be used to limit access for some people, such as housekeepers at the Olympic Village, to certain times of day and certain entrances.

The ID cards also will carry a photo. Eastman Kodak is providing the technology to embed the image into the plastic, and to laminate it with a coating that contains holographic images. This will eliminate the likelihood that someone can paste a picture onto a badge to gain entry.

In previous Games, athletes and others with Olympic credentials were given identification badges with bar codes. Badge swapping was a common occurrence because while the authenticity of the badge could be verified, there was no way to tell if the person wearing it was the one to whom it was issued.

Guards and security personnel will also get a helping hand from hundreds of SpeedDomes ? computer-controlled cameras that will be preprogrammed to walk beats. The cameras will pan, tilt, swivel and zoom in preset patterns, said Chiera. If an incident such as a fence shaking or an access alarm sounding happens in a high-security area, the camera will automatically focus on that site and require the image to come up on a control center monitor, he said. The images will be sent over communications links provided by Motorola Inc. to the command center. The domes can be manually operated and will be complemented by thousands of fixed-focus cameras provided by Panasonic.

The equipment should be invisible to spectators who want to enjoy the Summer Games without letting security fears put a damper on their fun.

Yet, as the parent of an Olympic athlete, there is no administrative hassle or spectator inconvenience that is too great a price to pay to keep the participants safe, said Dolan. And this year, technology should help keep that hassle and inconvenience to a minimum.


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