CINCINNATI - As a women's choir from Shanghai, China, dazzled the lunchtime crowd on Fountain Square Thursday, cameras overhead scanned the crowd for potential problems.
The video was being closely monitored miles away at the Hamilton County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Radcliff Drive in South Fairmount. Fortunately, there was nothing on the multiple screens that raised any eyebrows.
That surveillance is part of a complex safety and security plan to keep everyone involved with the World Choir Games safe during the two weeks of competition.
Cincinnati Police Department Assistant Chief James Whalen said it's more of a customer service mission than a crime-fighting effort.
"Virtually every Cincinnati police officer at some point in the next 10-days is going to work this event or support this event," he said. "Everybody's in it."
The EOC is being run from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day of the games. It's being staffed by a World Choir Games official and representatives of every department in the City of Cincinnati. Call them the problem solvers.
"We've dealt with things from passports being lost to nobody being at the airport to pick up the choir from Budapest," said District Chief Anson Turley of the Cincinnati Fire Department. "Any concern that can come up, we're going to take care of it. We don't turn anyone away. We find an answer to their problem. We do not refer them."
In a small room on the second floor of the Duke Energy Center, Cincinnati Police Lt. Lisa Thomas occasionally glanced at a dozen monitors on her computer screen.
"If somebody needs help, we can find them and locate in a crowd," she said. "It's there if you need it and you hope that you don't."
Security planning began two years ago and involved the Cincinnati Police Department, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, Ohio Homeland Security and representatives from most of the police and fire departments in Greater Cincinnati.
It's a big job to handle 15,000 choir members performing at more than a dozen venues spread out over Ohio and Kentucky.
"We've got the floor plans for every place. We've got evacuation plans for all. We've got for the outdoor events where we're going to go in case of inclement weather -- what to do with overflow seating," said Lt. Col. Whalen. "Then, of course, the weather creates an additional obstacle."
World Choir Games Safety & Security Director Gene Ferrara said the basis for the plan was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
"I have to say with the terrible tragedies of 9/11 we're all learned to really work together," he said.
If you venture downtown, you'll see officers on foot, officers on bicycles, officers on horseback, officers directing traffic, officers on Fountain Square and officers posted at venues like the Aronoff Center, Cincinnati Masonic Center and Christ Church Cathedral.
"We are all ambassadors for the city," said Lt. Col. Whalen.
Officer Howard Grant was stationed at Fifth and Elm Streets Thursday in front of the Duke Energy Center. He and partner Tim Eppstein made sure only buses traveled North on Elm Street. Every other motorist had to head East on Fifth Street.
Officer Grant said he's been amazed the melting pot of people he's met and the questions he's been asked. Most have involved people seeking information.
"I've interacted with Asians, Hispanics and some Australians," he said. "It's been great."
The heat has been the biggest challenge. It was among the reasons the department changed from white to dark uniform shirts, which contain 24 percent wool. Under that shirt, however, is a required bulletproof vest.
"It definitely increases the heat," said Officer Grant. "We have plenty of water out here, so we'll be all right."
At the corner of Fifth and Race Streets, a mobile police command van was being manned by Sgt. Randy Rengering,
"It's been a very quiet week so far and we're planning on that for the next couple of weeks," he said.
Lt. Jay Johnstone stopped his bicycle at the edge of the square to check out the crowd attending the morning Festival Concert. People continually came up to him to get their questions answered. He politely handles each and every request.
"We're just trying to make sure the experience here in Cincinnati and the United States is one for them to remember for the rest of their lives," he said.
Mounted Patrol Officer John Boyle found himself constantly surrounded by young people who wanted to know everything about his horse, Copper. Children petted the animal and crowded around the officer.
"I think it's been an awesome response," he said. "Look at the kids. They just love it. They just gravitate to it."
Officer Boyle added that most people -- particularly the Chinese -- took plenty of pictures on Wednesday.
"I don't think they've seen a live horse in other countries," he said. "I had about 300 of them come and surround me."
Nearby, along the back side of the square, a group of young men and women accompanied