EXCLUSIVE: This year’s Oscar show will be the first since the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris which, all told, took the lives of 144 people and injured 390. Law enforcement says there is “no specific information relative to threats” to this year’s Academy Awards, which is good news. Still, Sunday’s Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in the heart of Hollywood not only will be swarming with hundreds of law enforcement officers, but there also will be SWAT team members with bulletproof vests and tactical gear, bomb-sniffing dogs and sophisticated surveillance equipment (both overt and covert). There will be metal detectors, and every car entering into the Hollywood & Highland parking facility will be swept.
“Following any terrorist attack — and you have to remember that this is the biggest televised event in the world — it will be like a military state,” said one security expert with decades of experience. He added that security firms are changing as well: No longer will firms “outsource,” he said. Anyone that they hire to work events must be off-duty officers or security employees with whom they have a long history. “You simply can’t take the chance anymore,” he said. “And you want someone who, if something happens, can not only pull out a gun but knows how to use it.” This is the new normal for Hollywood, especially at awards shows, where the elite mix and mingle.
There are basically two phases in the Oscar security process: One is the setup and the days leading up to the awards, and the other is the day itself. We have learned that Culver City-based Security Industry Specialists will be providing security again this year. SIS did not return calls. This is the same security company that was hounded two years ago by the Service Employees International Union for a host of workplace issues. The union still is hammering SIS on racial and gender discrimination (see related story here).
The setup for the Oscars on Hollywood Boulevard is the responsibility of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. When contacted by Deadline, an AMPAS spokeswoman would not comment, saying, “We do not discuss security procedures regarding the show.”
By law enforcement standards, while the setup “is not considered a secure zone right now, it will be,” said Horace Frank, Assistant Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism & Special Operations Bureau. Come early Sunday morning, the bureau will be sweeping, well, everything to make sure all is safe and clear of any possible devices. After the sweep is finished, the CTSOB then will “post” to (put it in the hands of) the security company SIS. However, law enforcement will remain on site and will be working hand-in-hand with the private security firm. As Frank said, “You will see a very visible uniform presence, and checkpoints will be set up.”
He said there also will be a sophisticated camera surveillance system. In fact, Frank said, “Some security measures will not be visible to the public. We will have a lot of cameras. We can use them in a covert manner or an overt manner. At this event, it will be used in both capacities. They can be easily disguised, and they provide a perfect picture.”
According to James Marcella, director of Technical Services at Axis Communications, which has been providing the LAPD with camera surveillance for about five years: “They will be broadcasting the Oscars in 720P (HDTV quality) and they will be surveilling the Oscars in the HDTV quality.” How so? He said some of their cameras “are as big as the tip of a ballpoint pen”; others will be overt. Either way, the pictures they provide to law enforcement are high quality.
Those cameras then will broadcast images back to the command station, according to Frank. “They give us a huge investigative benefit,” he said. “What they provide is a situational awareness not just for the officers working the event but the commanding officers who will be watching.”
Said Marcella: “An overt camera gives a level of deterrence which is always helpful. The value of video surveillance is it acts force multiplier so you can cover broader areas potentially with less personnel or provide personnel on site with more information. The command center, which is miles away from the event, can then direct both uniformed or plainclothes officers to look at something that they might see on camera and direct them to check it out.”
Frank agrees, but neither would comment on the number of cameras that would be used.
“This is certainly, from a media standpoint, this is bigger than the Golden Globes and bigger than the Grammys,” Frank said. “There are more people watching, more people attending. The commensurate concern is the amount of attendees and the number of people watching it. Out of an abundance of caution, we certainly want to take all the appropriate and reasonable measures that this remains a safe environment for all those attending and watching it.”
Then there is the problem of a curious public. What’s in place to prevent someone in the public from causing havoc? “We set up a perimeter where the public is allowed,” Frank said. “There is an area where the general public is allowed outside the fences. There will be cameras in the areas where the general public is allowed and in areas where they are not allowed, and we will have people monitoring those cameras, too. We have other things in place which I can’t discuss. It’s not foolproof, but it is being monitored.”
He said law enforcement also is counting on the general public outside the fences to help them.
“We continuously tell people, ‘If you see something, say something,'” said Frank. “These people who are terrorists or gunmen don’t act out of a vacuum, so we urge the public to tell law enforcement if you see something or suspect someone. Don’t worry about having others think you’re a Islamaphobe or a homophobe or any kind of thing like that, because it’s about safety first.”
He encourages the public to download an app called IWATCHLA. “If there is something on site, you can click on it, take a photo and remain anonymous. It will get right to us, and we can then investigate it.”
Hollywood Boulevard between Highland Avenue and Orange Drive closed down at 10 PM this past Sunday and will not reopen until 6 AM on March 1. In addition, subway traffic to the Hollywood/Highland station stopped on Saturday and won’t reopen until 6 AM February 29.
The Oscar ceremony kicks off at 5:30 PT Sunday and will be broadcast live on ABC.