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After Bombings, Tightened Security For Boston's July Fourth Celebration

About a half million spectators typically turnout for Boston's Fourth of July celebration along the Charles River. (kyleshank/Flickr)

About a half million spectators typically turnout for Boston’s Fourth of July celebration along the Charles River. (kyleshank/Flickr)

BOSTON — For 38 of the 40 years since the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular began, Steve MacDonald has been handling logistics and media for Boston 4 Productions, which puts on the show. But the undercurrent of this year’s 40th anniversary show is the bombing of the last major public event in Boston just 11 weeks ago.

“Because the marathon, much like this event, is a free and open-to-the-public event, there is no hard line of security,” MacDonald said. “We worked closely with law enforcement agencies and came up with a plan about what would be allowed, what wouldn’t be allowed that was reasonable.”

This year, there will be a wider area around the Hatch Shell gated off with revelers required to pass through security checkpoints. Among the things not allowed in this area are backpacks — all personal items must be carried in clear bags. Also banned are coolers on wheels, glass containers and cans.

MacDonald says other than that, the audience may not see much of a difference from previous years.

“Once you go through the checkpoint it’s going to be pretty much the same,” MacDonald said. “But we have a very sophisticated surveillance system in place. Many cameras have been added to help give a set of eyes on a constant basis.”

Along with all those new surveillance cameras will be hundreds more law enforcement officers. State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben won’t give an exact number, but he says the police presence will nearly double along the Esplanade.

“Some will be quite visible. Our troopers will be wearing their yellow traffic vests. We want the public to see them,” Alben said. “The less transparent part of that is the significant number of undercover officers.”

There will also be more federal officers, National Guard troops, local police and MBTA officers. Police have also set up a tip line so people can send anonymous text messages to law enforcement about anything suspicious.

All the added security has reassured some revelers, but it’s made others nervous. Michael McCumber, who is visiting from Pittsburg, says he’ll watch the show far away from the center of the festivities at the Hatch Shell because he can’t help but think about the marathon.

“It just happened here. It’s a big public event. In Pittsburg we haven’t had any incidents. Given Boston has, it makes you think,” he said.

Since the marathon bombings, state, federal and local law enforcement officials traveled to New York and London and consulted with international security experts who came to Massachusetts. Alben says he doesn’t want to speculate on reports that the alleged marathon bombers may have been planning a Fourth of July attack, but he says law enforcement is well prepared for the estimated half million people expected to attend Boston’s signature Independence Day event.

“There’s no denying the recent history that we’ve all lived through here. But my family will be there and it’s the first time they’re ever coming. If I had any concerns, I certainly wouldn’t put my family in harm’s way,” Alben said. “I think everybody is going to have a great time and I would encourage everyone to come down and do that. This is the Fourth of July, this is Massachusetts, this is our history.”

Many driving and pedestrian restrictions on Storrow Drive and the Esplanade go into effect Wednesday morning. Further restrictions will be in place Wednesday night and even more Thursday. The MBTA, which will also have extra officers on patrol, will waive fares after 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

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