Life in wartime

Studios tighten security amid new warnings

Even before Thursday’s FBI warning that another terrorist strike could be imminent, Hollywood had been adopting tighter security measures.

The lines outside studio lots are getting longer as security crews not only ask visitors for an ID, but also inspect car trunks, perform an under-the-car mirror inspection and search purses and briefcases. There are concrete barriers set up to slow traffic and some studios are employing metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Visitors now receive not just a parking pass but a personal security badge to be worn at all times. In certain buildings, guards in the foyer again check IDs. Visitors wait as the guards call employees to approve an office visit.

Many employees must, for the first time, wear badges or other ID. At Disney, for example, each employee — from top execs to lowly assistants — now wears a picture ID badge around his or her neck. The badge-wearing makes the corridors of a film studio resemble those of a defense contractor.

At most studios, visitors and employees alike can expect to spend 20 to 40 minutes waiting in line for studio guards to perform a series of security checks. The wait has forced execs to move some meetings off the lot. And security-related tardiness has become an epidemic.

Despite the delays, “in this day and age,” said one exec on the Universal lot, “nothing’s an inconvenience.” Typical of many studio denizens, the exec believes these measures are here for the long haul.

“It’s a major pain, but in a good way,” said one frequent lot visitor.

Some of the initial grin-and-bear-it attitude, however, is starting to wear off. For those just now resuming their busy schedules, constant delays are becoming an irritant.

Employees now try to make educated guesses as to which gate is the “best” on a given day — much as they might select the least-congested commuter route.

Observers say that security efforts have again increased since the U.S. and its allies launched air strikes in Afghanistan. Fox has stationed guards on the sidewalk on Pico Boulevard in front of entrances instead of further back in the driveway.

Off the lot measures

Reactions to the possible threat also extend off the lot. Those who provide protection for showbizzers have experienced an increase in business.

“We’ve always been busy, but now we’re working like crazy,” said Jack Struble, co-founder of international security and investigation firm Mercer-Michael, which has served top stars as well as former presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

L.A.-based Struble, a former police detective, said his firm has been inundated with calls seeking counsel about traveling, crowd safety and home security. “Everyone has been a little paranoid since the reports that Hollywood has been targeted (by terrorists),” he explained.

Client requests have ranged from individuals looking for “peace of mind stuff,” like alarm checks and property risk assessment, to orgs and events looking at evacuation plans, bomb threat responses and liaisons with local law enforcement agencies.

Individual clients are taken through everything from background checks on staff and medical record updates to defensive driving techniques and threat avoidance.

Gavin de Becker, whose firm has been employed by Robert Redford and Bill Cosby, would most likely second Struble’s assertions of increased demand — if he had time.

“As a result of the events on Sept. 11, Gavin de Becker has postponed all non-emergency projects and matters,” said spokesperson K. MacKinnon. “He has revised his schedule completely so that his time is committed to emergency client matters.”

(Jonathan Bing, Claude Brodesser, Cathy Dunkley and Dana Harris contributed to this report.)

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