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The new Comdex: Hurry up and wait

Those who attend the world's largest technology trade show are used to lines, but this year one of the longest starts at the metal detector.

LAS VEGAS--Those who attend the world's largest technology trade show are used to lines--lines for taxis, lines for keynote speeches. But this year there is a new line at Comdex: the one for the metal detector.

At one point Monday morning the line to enter Comdex Fall 2001 through the Las Vegas Hilton stretched through a good portion of the lobby. But by midday, passing through the scanners and into the show took only a few minutes.

The metal detectors are one of a handful of new measures implemented in the wake of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks. There are also the trained dogs searching the perimeter, a ban on bringing bags onto the show floor, and more scrutiny on those working behind the scenes.

But it's still a tradeoff, with show organizers trying to provide more security while convincing companies that Comdex remains a viable place to sell their wares.

Several of those waiting to enter the show Monday said they were glad to see extra security.

Louis Laliberte, who works for Canadian Internet service provider Lino Sympatico, said the extra measures were necessary in the current environment but lamented that he had not allowed enough time to get where he was going.

"I tried to, but it was not enough," he said.

Rick Moore, senior vice president of show organizer Key3Media, said the company was trying to balance security concerns and business needs.

"It's about doing business," Moore said. "What we don't want is a policy that prevents people from doing business. I think we tried to (take) a middle-of-the-road" approach.

Organizers originally planned to ban attendees from bringing anything onto the show floor, but eventually decided to allow laptops, just not laptop bags, briefcases or backpacks. Moore said if the company had allowed bags in, for example, the lines would have been far longer as security personnel went through each item.

"We could have had lines two miles long," he said. "I'm not sure people would have wanted that."

But most people apparently got the message that bags were not allowed. Many of the items in the bag check, which the company had originally not wanted to offer for security reasons, came from folks who were unaware of the new procedures. Most dropped off their bags and took a laptop or cell phone by hand onto the show floor.

"It comes in spurts," said one temporary worker who was checking bags.

The extra time needed for security measures is being offset some by the lower attendance. Final numbers aren't in, but Moore expects somewhere between 125,000 to 150,000 people, down from more than 200,000 last year.

Sales of show space, the key determiner of a show's profitability, are down about 15 percent.

Moore said security is 10 times greater than in past years, with the increased cost likely in that range as well.

Still, the world's biggest technology trade show won't be in the red, Moore said.

"It's enough to be profitable," he said.