Boston hotels: Marathon safe, secure, normal

Even bomb-sniffing dogs ‘blended in’ in hotel lobby
 - 
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BOSTON—A day after the Boston Marathon brought more than 32,500 runners, hundreds of thousands of spectators and security in full force to the city, hoteliers were basking in the normalcy of the event.

“It was very orderly, it was a family event,” Mike Soper, chairman of the International Lodging Safety and Security Association Boston, told Security Director News, the sister publication of Security Systems News.

Soper’s ILSSA worked over the past year to ensure that marathon-weekend hotel guests and employees would feel physically safe and, for those returning after last year’s bombings, “stress-free.”  The group is pleased with how everything turned out, Soper said.

Association hotels tightened luggage policies, checked guest keys to make sure they had reason to be in the hotels and, in some cases, used bomb-sniffing dogs to check deliveries at loading docks and to wander through lobbies as guests arrived with their bags.

The dogs “just blended in,” he said. “They’d just be wandering around the lobby with their handlers. There weren’t any checkpoints. People just accepted it.”

ILSSA Boston will meet next month to go over how its plans worked out, but really the group had a strong security foundation already in place, Soper said.

“Hotels here are always busy. We have huge conventions and high-profile events that sometimes last for a week,” he said. “One week we can have a Star Wars convention or an anime convention with folks walking around in costumes all the time, the next week we can have a dentists’ convention with family members attending.”

So for the marathon, “what we do is what we would normally do,” he said, just to a more hyper-vigilant extent this year because it was the first marathon after last year’s tragedy that killed three and injured more than 360.

“We’re lucky that we’re used to change. We have people coming and going all the time and we have to deal with that” from a security standpoint, he said.

During big events like the Fourth of July or the city’s First Night New Year’s Eve festivities, “we always have to adjust, secure access to the hotel and keep non-guests out,” he said.

During race time, Soper did a lot of driving around the route perimeter to see how things were going. “There really weren’t any vehicle hindrances. The normal roads were closed. The closer to [the finish line on] Boylston Street there was a much heavier police presence with checkpoints for bags and strollers and things, and people didn’t seem bothered by it at all,” he said. Instead, they were interacting with the police officers “and the police were high-fiving the little kids.”

Some 3,500 uniformed and undercover officers, many from agencies outside Massachusetts, were stationed along the 26.2-mile route and 45 canine units also were on patrol, all up significantly over last year’s presence.

And, for the first time, law enforcement was able to monitor the whole event via networked surveillance cameras the entire route.

Police responded to a number of calls about unattended bags, news reports said, but those were dealt with quickly and were of no consequence. Soper said he heard of only one marathon-related arrest—for disorderly conduct.

“It was a tremendous family day,” he said.