As costumed heroes descend on downtown San Diego for the comic and pop culture extravaganza that is Comic-Con, real life heroes will be working to keep the convention safe.
Many of the local officials charged with security at the four-day event said they are on heightened alert in the wake of terror attacks that have occurred nationally and abroad. And although there have been plenty of crowd security challenges this month - first surrounding the 2016 All-Star Game, then during San Diego LGBT Pride events - Comic-Con presents some unique challenges, such as make-believe crusaders and villains toting realistic-looking weapons.
While officials wouldn’t specifically detail their security plan, San Diego police Capt. Joseph Ramos, who oversees special events, said they’re ready.
“I can 100 percent guarantee we’re ready to respond quickly and aggressively to anything that may arise,” Ramos said.
Josh Layne, security and guest services director at the convention center, said Comic-Con attendees will notice more uniformed officers than in years past, but that most security measures were designed to blend into the background.
Police will be on the ground, in the crowd and overhead, Ramos said. Security forces will also be monitoring footage from cameras in the convention center and those strategically placed outside.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department officials will be paying close attention to venue capacity to ensure entrances and exits are clear so emergency crews have room to act if they need to. Convention center personnel will be zeroing in on the crowd.
“There are a lot of people solely dedicated to managing lines and crowd flow,” Layne said. “That’s our biggest concern in there, for people’s individual safety.”
Security guards will also be taking a close look at weapons that accompany many of the elaborate outfits conventiongoers piece together, Comic-Con officials have said. Anything that looks too real will be tagged, noting it has been found harmless, which has been the protocol in previous years. This year, people with realistic weapons will also be asked to wear a wristband.
Officers are trained to recognize the difference, Ramos said, but he asked cosplayers for patience if an officer approaches them and asks them about their costumes. He said it’s just as likely an officer will play along, feigning alarm at spotting a light saber.
The captain said security measures have been shaped by recent attacks, especially those that have targeted crowds.
“We learn from (these attacks)” he said. “We talk about lessons learned and about how we can keep something similar from happening. We’re very good at that. We’ll then modify our plans appropriately. Our new normal is a little different right now.”
Officers know terror attacks have people on edge, as well. Ramos said it’s part of their mission to ensure people not only are safe, but feel safe as well.
“We want officers to be a part of the festivities,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t want anyone going overboard, but they’ll be welcoming people, taking pictures if it’s appropriate - just being good ambassadors of the city.”
Security isn’t just in the hands of law enforcement. Several outside events have made it a point to promote safety as well. Organizers of Zombiewalk San Diego, a lurching march of costumed zombies that takes over several downtown streets during the convention, has a page on its website dedicated to safety tips, urging attendees to obey traffic laws. People who dress up together trade tips as well.
“Generally we tell our members to stay hydrated, make sure they’ve secured their belongings and try to wander with (someone who isn’t in costume) or in a group,” said Drew Hannah, who is part of the 501st Southern California Garrison, a Star Wars-themed costume group.
Security leaders encouraged convention attendees to be aware of their surroundings and to report anything suspicious.