Public Safety Officials Seek Balance Between Security, Celebration At 2014 Marathon

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Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz, left, details new security measures for the 2014 Boston Marathon on Monday. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz, left, details new security measures for the 2014 Boston Marathon on Monday. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Despite some barricades and lots of extra cameras and police officers, Massachusetts public safety officials are assuring people that this year’s Boston Marathon will be a festive event.

Reducing Risk

A year after tragedy rocked one of Boston’s signature events, there will be thousands of people working on security for this year's marathon. Although communication among law enforcement agencies was cited after last year's bombings, the FBI says its communication policies are — and always have been — sound.

FBI Special Agent Kiernan Ramsey said there are no current threats against this year's marathon.

Items prohibited for spectators:

  • Weapons or items of any kind that may be used as weapons, including firearms, knives, mace, etc.
  • Backpacks or any similar item carried over the shoulder
  • Suitcases and rolling bags/rollers
  • Coolers
  • Glass containers or cans
  • Flammable liquids, fuels, fireworks or explosives
  • Any container capable of carrying more than 1 liter of liquid
  • Handbags or packages or bulky items larger than 12 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches
  • Large blankets/comforters, duvets, sleeping bags
  • Costumes covering the face or any non-form fitting, bulky outfits extending beyond the perimeter of the body
  • Props (including sporting equipment and military and fire gear)

Full security policy for the 2014 Boston Marathon

"The communication here has been second to none to ensure that all of us are talking about the possibility of any threat coming up,” he said. “But at this point we don't have one nor do we anticipate one."

For the past eight months, federal, state and local public safety officials have been planning security for the 36,000 runners and estimated 1 million spectators at this year’s Boston Marathon.

Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said security planners have traveled to other cities, even other countries, to learn from those who deal with security and large crowds.

“You know in this world you never eliminate risk, you never bring it down to zero,” he said. “There are certain risks in crossing the street every day or going to work every day or going to school. But we are working very hard at reducing that risk level."

Among the security steps being implemented this year is to ask people not to bring backpacks or other large items. Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz said if people do bring large items they will likely be searched at security checkpoints.

"We are urging spectators along all 26.2 miles to carry personal items in clear plastic bags, and we are strongly urging them not to carry backpacks," Schwartz said.

Backpacks are believed to be the way pressure cooker bombs — bombs that killed three people and injured more than 200 others — made it to the marathon finish line last year, allegedly left there by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Increased Security

Schwartz said 3,500 uniformed police officers will be along the marathon route this year — about double the number of officers as last year.

In addition, there will be plainclothes officers, private security contractors, bomb sniffing dogs and increased video surveillance. But Schwartz said that should not affect the atmosphere of the race.

"We are confident that the overall experience of runners and spectators will not be impacted and that all will enjoy a fun, festive, family-oriented day," he said.

Runners will also face increased security. They too cannot bring backpacks. No unauthorized runners are allowed anywhere on the course, and those entering crowded areas such as the grandstand will have to have an official race bib and will be subject to a security search.

Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, said race organizers are following law enforcement's lead.

“What we do is put on races, and public safety officials are the ones who prescribe or strongly recommend those guidelines,” he said. “That said we don't disagree at all. We want the right balance of security and celebration and fun, and that's exactly what these public safety officials are trying to maintain.”

Officials expect the marathon route will be crowded with 9,000 more runners than last year, and they say this year's race will be as much about resilience as it is about running.

This segment aired on March 11, 2014.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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