SLC increases security for marathon

Apr 16 2013 - 5:41pm

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A Police officer watches as people take pictures, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
A Police officer watches as people take pictures, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

SALT LAKE CITY -- Security will be increased for Saturday's Salt Lake City Marathon - the first race in a major city since the tragedy in Boston.

"It's going to be the safest marathon Salt Lake City has ever seen, and it's safe already," race director Steve Bingham said Tuesday after a meeting with coordinating agencies.

Police patrols will be increased in high-traffic areas such as the start and finish line at Liberty Park; at the 19 aid stations along the 26.2-mile route; and at the post-race party.

The heightened security was ordered after two bombs exploded Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 170. Authorities have told The Associated Press the explosives were packed in 6-liter kitchen pressure cookers that were hidden in black duffel bags and left on the ground. The bombs were packed with shrapnel.

In Salt Lake City, officials want spectators to travel light and leave backpacks and duffel bags at home. Spectators are also being asked to be vigilant in reporting bags or other gear left unattended, Bingham said.

Salt Lake City police declined to say how many additional officers will be on site for the city's 10th marathon, but Bingham said the decision was made to add security because the race is planned just five days after the attack in Boston.

About 23,000 runners participated in the Boston Marathon. Salt Lake City's marathon typically draws about 7,000 competitors, with another 3,000 to 5,000 spectators. The festivities also include a bicycle tour, wheelchair/hand cycle marathon, half-marathon, 5K and children's 1K run.

"I hope we get more (entrants) than what we were expecting," Bingham said about sending a message to terrorists. Being afraid "is sending the wrong message."

Several tributes are planned to honor people killed or injured in Boston, including a moment of silence before the start of each race on Saturday.

The pre-race meeting on Tuesday had been scheduled long before the Boston tragedy. Afterward, Bingham thought back to his shock at seeing the initial news reports from Boston.

He had worried about a co-worker who could have been in the finish area, and was thankful to receive a text message confirming the man was safe.

"Simultaneously I'm thinking, oh, my, gosh, I'm going to have a finish line in five days," Bingham recalled. "While I was shocked, sad, angry, at the same time I felt a sense of security in knowing what we had done. There was no panic."

Salt Lake City police Detective Mike Hamideh emphasized that no specific threats have been made against the Salt Lake City Marathon.

Fraser Bullock, Utah's chief operating officer in the 2002 Winter Olympics, said it's difficult to establish a secure perimeter around the large area covered by a marathon.

"Boston is probably a wake-up call for all of us to be more aware," he said. "Law enforcement can't do everything, can't be everywhere. It's up to the rest of us to keep a vigil eye on what's going on."

Bingham agreed, calling it impossible to secure a marathon route with barricades, As a result, security personnel will focus on key areas, he said.

In addition, Hamideh said, Salt Lake City police will be working closely with other agencies and the public to safeguard the event.

Orem resident John Bozung will be running in his 339th marathon on Saturday and believes racers will be more inspired to compete after what happened in Boston.

"Life is too short to live in fear," the 60-year-old said. "Tragedies like that don't show our weakness. It actually brings out our strength. It's shown from everybody who responded, from medical personnel and even spectators who helped the injured."

Bozung is looking forward to extending his streak of 215 consecutive months running a marathon. He has run races in every state and on all seven continents, and said security was something he never thought about - even when he ran in Berlin just weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"The consensus among friends is that (Boston) forever changed the way big marathons are run," he said. "To secure 26 miles of a marathon course is literally impossible. But where they have the most crowds, around the finish line ... it's going to change, just like 911 did with security and everything else. It's a shame what our world is coming to."

Bozung, participating in a Twitter-inspired trend (hash)runforboston, proudly pulled out his blue-and-gold 2012 Boston Marathon shirt and black visor. He'll be wearing both on Saturday.

"I think it makes people more determined," he said.

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