Minnesota event organizers give security plans a second look

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Updated: April 18, 2013 - 4:51 PM

In Minnesota and around the globe, planners consider options in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

 

As Kris Sabas crossed the finish line at Monday’s Boston Marathon, he’d rarely felt more secure. His path was lined with exuberant supporters, as well as police, medical teams and marathon staffers.

But an hour later at his hotel, Sabas, a Twin Cities Marathon intern, heard the explosions that stunned a nation and sent event planners from Europe to Minnesota scrambling for new ways to beef up security and review the plans they have in place already.

“The crowd support makes these events,” said Sabas, 28, who finished the race in three hours, 12 minutes, long before chaos erupted. “But if something like this could happen at the Boston Marathon, one of the best put-together events of any kind. … It makes you wonder.”

In Britain, where the London Marathon will proceed Sunday with more than 35,000 runners, police and military members prepared to be deployed for another major public event Wednesday — the ceremonial funeral of Margaret Thatcher. The former prime minister’s coffin will be borne through the streets of the capital to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service that dignitaries from around the world are expected to attend.

“We have a very full and very well-rehearsed security operation” for the funeral and Sunday’s race, said Cmdr. Christine Jones of Scotland Yard.

Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of Scotland Yard, told reporters that for the marathon, the force was now “taking more precautions than we might have done otherwise. It’s a very reasonable response to an event such as we’ve seen” in Boston.

Closer to home

In Minnesota, the executive director of October’s Twin Cities Marathon, Virginia Brophy Achman, said her staff “practices crisis,” has a troubleshooting event manual and has fortified its relationship with the city of Minneapolis and its police force since the Sept. 11 attacks, attacks that will be 12 years old this fall but suddenly seem like just yesterday.

“Our course is closed, we have people monitoring nearly every inch of those 26 miles, there are marshals at every intersection and still, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Achman, who presides over the Oct. 6 run from downtown Minneapolis to the Capitol in St. Paul.

“We saw what happened in Boston,” she said. “You can’t justify senselessness, and you can’t predict it, either. Runners are a unique, special community, but they’re that way in Boston, too, and look what happened. While our hearts go out to the people in Boston, we all have to learn from this.”

Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, which will be run on June 22, issued a statement after the Boston Marathon offering thoughts and prayers for those affected by Monday’s events.

“The safety of our runners, volunteers and spectators has always been our main priority, and rest assured we will be reviewing and examining our security measures and protocols with the appropriate agencies in the coming weeks,” said Scott Keenan, Grandma’s executive director. He described the events in Boston as “heartbreaking.”

At the University of Minnesota, where the annual Spring Jam next week could attract thousands for outdoor concerts and other events, campus Police Chief Greg Hestness said his first thought after Monday’s bombings in Boston was whether there would be other, similar strikes around the country. Although the university is “not a logical target,” Hestness said, he is staying in “constant communication” with the FBI about possible threats (there have been none) and reviewing security procedures with officers.

Extra officers will be on duty for the Spring Jam, though that is normal, he added.

The Minnesota Twins conduct routine bomb sweeps at Target Field with bomb-sniffing dogs. Interior and exterior garbage cans are inspected before each game. Minneapolis police, Twins security and Metro Transit police are a presence at every game. The team says it’s in constant communication with the Department of Homeland Security regarding potential threats.

Metro Transit buses and trains that take folks to events added K-9 units Monday and Tuesday to patrol the system’s busiest light-rail stops, agency spokesman John Siqveland said. He said that train and bus operators were advised to be slightly more aware than usual and to use “an abundance of caution,” although there were no particular threats noted.

“We’re in line with other transit authorities around the country,” Siqveland said.

Bus and train operators, many of whom have had two years of training regarding suspicious activity, were told to be particularly aware of questionable packages and to immediately report any unusual findings to authorities.

The Minnesota State Fair beefed up its security after the Sept. 11 attacks, “and we haven’t dialed back,” said Jerry Hammer, State Fair general manager.

Hammer described Monday’s Boston Marathon as “a learning experience and a wake-up call reminding us that anything can happen at any time in any place.”

He said the fair gate security will continue to screen vehicles, ask for driver identification, restrict when and where vehicles can travel and “do other things we can’t discuss.”

Security elsewhere

In Washington, D.C., near the Pentagon’s subway station, two military personnel toting guns and a security official in a bulletproof vest were spotted by one of the station’s entrances.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and security officers were also deployed Tuesday to Chicago’s Union Station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said security had been beefed up at all its rail stations.

In London, police with bomb-sniffing dogs were seen Tuesday afternoon around such landmarks as Big Ben and Trafalgar Square ahead of the Thatcher funeral, but officials said the searches were routine and unrelated to the Boston attacks.

French authorities ordered security forces to reinforce patrols in public places “without delay,” urging citizens to be on the alert for suspicious-looking packages or abandoned baggage but to avoid panicky reactions.

Although security has been increased at some U.S. and European landmarks, overall terror threat levels have remained unchanged.

 

Staff writer Bill McAuliffe, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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