City police and organizers of this weekend's Baltimore Running Festival say they are stepping up security after explosions shook the end of the Boston race this spring, joining other recent running events that have placed restrictions around the finish line.
Baltimore's race comes as the busy fall marathon season enters full swing for the first time since the Boston attacks, and officials are trying to ensure public safety without detracting from the celebratory atmosphere that marks distance running events.
Marathons pose a significant security challenge because spectators crowd the sidelines for miles and miles. In Baltimore, they cheer on runners from Lake Montebello to the Inner Harbor. The greatest security focus will be on the start and finish lines and celebration village areas, all near Camden Yards.
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Race organizer Lee Corrigan said that spectators won't be able to bring backpacks into the village areas, and will need to put items in clear bags if they want to hold on to them. He said there will also be a "buffer zone" between runners and spectators at the finish line.
Corrigan noted the area already is wired with dozens of cameras monitored by police and frequently hosts big crowds. He expects 27,000 runners in this year's marathon.
Corrigan said he isn't yet sure how much the extra security will cost — he said he'll be billed by agencies after the fact. "I have to believe it will" be higher than past years, he said.
Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt said Baltimore police have been coordinating for weeks with state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as agencies in other cities that have hosted or are planning marathons. She declined to go into detail about Baltimore's security plan, saying she wanted to avoid attempts to exploit any potential vulnerabilities.
"We're going to be doing some different things with surveillance and controlling access," Hyatt said. "We have a lot more resources because our [law enforcement] partners have contributed so much."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of the Boston Marathon bombings, is awaiting trial on federal terrorism charges. He is accused of detonating two pressure-cooker bombs along with his elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who later died in a shootout with police. The explosions killed three and wounded more than 260.
One month after the Boston attack, Corrigan's group coordinated the Frederick Running Festival, where 6,000 people took part in four races. There was a larger police presence, and runners in that race also had to place their items in clear bags.
The Baltimore marathon course winds through much of the city, touching eight of the Police Department's nine districts, and officials will be most focused on race day on the Inner Harbor, Patterson Park and Lake Montebello. Police officers have been checking the entire course in recent days.
"They've been having [officers] ride the course for the last three weeks, seeing if anything was out of order," Corrigan said. "They're very well prepared."
Said Hyatt: "The biggest thing for the Police Department is we want people to enjoy the event. We want to do our part to make sure it's safe."
Marathons can be difficult to police because of the long routes and use of public streets, according to security experts.
"It is impossible to effectively blanket with effective security coverage a route of that distance," said Patrick Brosnan, founder and chief executive officer of Brosnan Risk Consultants, which works with sports teams and venues. "As always, you say a little prayer."
Race organizers throughout the country have been emphasizing safety in marathons since the Boston bombing. The website of the New York City Marathon, scheduled for Nov. 3, includes a link to security measures, telling runners about baggage inspection and prohibited items, and warning of delays for family members heading to the finish line.
For this Sunday's Chicago Marathon, part of the World Marathon Majors series that consists of Boston, Berlin, London, New York and Tokyo, organizers have instituted baggage checks for runners and fans and restricted access to key points along the route.
Unlike previous years, only runners themselves can pick up their participant packets. Spectators will be funneled to four security points, and police said they would step up the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.
At the Portland Marathon in Oregon, held Sunday, organizers said they were committed to a safe environment but did not want security measures to be overly intrusive.
"For events like ours, we've been updating our security since 9/11," said Les Smith, event director for the race. "But we always want to make sure people are having a good time."