Marathon security after Boston

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05/01/2013

After the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, I began wondering what the security would be like at the April 28 Big Sur Marathon.

I ran (OK I jogged, maybe even walked a little) this spectacular course that runs along Highway 1 in California in 2011 and did the same on Sunday. I was curious to see if there would be a more noticeable security presence at the event this year.

There were a few stories published before the race. In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Michael Klein, who oversees security for the event, declined to talk specifics, but he was quoted as saying there would be “tons more resources” this year compared to past years.

He said entities involved in security for the event included: California Highway Patrol, California Emergency Management Agency, Cal Fire, Monterey County Sheriff's Office, Monterey Police Department, Sand City Police Department and the Monterey Regional Airport Fire Department. All will be coordinated into an incident command system that will be based on training models used by he federal government for mass casualty disaster response.”

Another story from Active.com about post-Boston marathon safety reported that the Boston Marathon has been a pilot project of sorts for “emergency action techniques” a communication system and protocol called Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS). The Boston Athletic Association coordinated with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard and other local authorities to implement NICS.  

From that story:
“In 2008, Boston Emergency Medical Service Chief Richard Serino told the Boston Globe that they approached events like the marathon as, "planned disasters." He went on to state that such circumstances presented, "an opportunity to test some things you would never want to test in a real disaster."
It just turned out that, this year, the disaster occurred during the marathon.”

In the Santa Cruz article, Michael Klein says points out that the Boston and Big Sur marathon locations are completely different. Managing threat in a crowded city involves different techniques than managing threats along a difficult-to-access highway that has hills on one side and the ocean on the other.

While terrorism may not have been top-of-mind for Big Sur marathon organizers in the past, the possibility of mass casualties that could result from a natural disaster have been, according to Klein. Along the California Coast, earthquakes and landslides are common and occur without notice.

In fact, as the result of a landslide in the winter of 2011 that left part of Highway 1 impassable, the Big Sur race course had to be changed from the usual Big Sur to Monterey point-to-point race to an out-and-back course that started and ended in Monterey.

So, what was Big Sur like? I have no doubt there were more security measures in place, but it wasn’t very noticeable.  Maybe there were a few more police vehicles around, perhaps certain protocol—like maybe tickets to get on buses to the race start (at 3:30 a.m.!)—were checked a little more thoroughly by than in the past, but it wasn’t obvious or restrictive feeling.

The event is really well organized, and as any security director or integrator will tell you, you need policy and protocol in place to make even the best security system work effectively.

More than 4,000 people run the marathon and 6,000 others do races of shorter distances or the relay. That’s a lot of people along the 26-mile stretch of highway.

It takes 200 buses to move people to the start line and various staging points for the relay and other races. The event is manned by 2,500 volunteers who cheerfully transport, feed, direct and assist the runners.

So, I didn’t see more cameras or armored vehicles or obviously restricted access to different venues at the marathon.

What I did notice was a lot of talk about security and the Boston bombing. Ron Kramer, the Boston Marathon event director spoke to the crowd at the starting line.

Many incredible athletes run Boston and Big Sur every year, but this year nearly 400 people did both.  More than ever before.

From a participant’s point of view, the Big Sur Marathon went off without incident. The landscape was as stunning as ever, the hills as beastly as before. There was definitely a new awareness of security among the crowd, (and certainly on the part of the organizers.) but it didn’t lessen the experience for me.  On the contrary, it made me appreciate even more how very well organized this event really is.

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