FALCON HEIGHTS (AP) -- The Great Minnesota Get-Together will be as family-friendly as ever, but State Fair officials say that behind the scenes security will be tighter than usual.
The fair, which opens Thursday, is just one of hundreds of events feeling tighter security restrictions following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
It's all precautionary, of course. Authorities have no evidence Osama Bin Laden is targeting the Minnesota State Fair.
"I don't think we're on his to-do list," said Jerry Hammer, executive vice president of the fair. But officials had been considering some security improvements for years, and now with heightened public concern, they are implementing some ideas, Hammer said. They include:
* Security sweeps of fair buildings every morning.
* Alerting food vendors to watch for any efforts to contaminate their products.
* Background checks have been done on all 3,000 fair employees.
* Emergency plans have been developed that include what to do in case of a terrorist attack.
The average fair visitor won't notice many differences. You won't have your ID checked, your car won't be searched and you won't be asked to open your purse when you enter the fairgrounds, Hammer said.
"The thing that bothers me is not Bin Laden," said fair Police Chief Art Blakey. "It's the wannabes, the people who might want to make some type of statement, political or otherwise."
Blakey said he will have a total of 500 police officers on duty during the fair, about 150 more than in past years. The force includes vacationing officers from other departments and retirees. About 150 will be on duty at peak times.
Hammer said that heightening security on Aug. 1, three weeks earlier than usual, is the main reason fair security costs have doubled this year from $600,000 to $1.2 million. Normally, such security measures would not begin until Thursday.
Increased fair security gets praise and criticism, depending on whom you talk to.
Told of the fair's plans, former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza described it as "the moderate side of hysteria." While he commended fair officials for making some plans, overall he dubbed the fair's efforts as "stupid, too costly and too inefficient." He warned that the public will have to pay the additional costs and said he would have favored a plan with less security.
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