For terrorists out to make a splash, few events are more tempting than the Oscars, a star-packed salute to American culture watched live by millions across the globe. The Academy long has been on guard against all manner of potential intruders, from anti-war protestors to animal-rights activists. But since the World Trade Center attacks, its security efforts have dramatically intensified — and a scare on Feb. 19, when a man pulled over for reckless driving at Hollywood and Highland claimed to have a bomb in his trunk (the LAPD bomb squad later found no explosives at the scene), already put several of those security measures to work. The Dolby Theatre, which opened shortly after 9/11, was specially designed to withstand chemical attacks and even small-scale bombings. (Rumors of a secret underground tunnel network never have been publicly confirmed.)
This year, in the wake of ISIS atrocities abroad and the Charlie Hebdo murders, authorities are mounting their most sophisticated security effort yet, deploying an astounding array of high-tech gadgetry and armies of police officers to keep the party safe. Operation Oscar is headquartered in a state-of-the-art underground bunker downtown, with a makeshift command post at a Hollywood soundstage. Led by a Los Angeles Police Department commander, the task force unites nearly 1,000 officers from agencies including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. They divide the area around Hollywood and Highland into concentric rings that require progressively higher levels of protection. “As you get closer to the inner circle, you’re trying to make that tighter and tighter,” says Tim Horner, a managing director at global security firm Kroll.