Sunday, January 5, 2014

Enhanced race security at future marathons

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a writer from Runner's World, asking if she could interview me for an article about the current and future state of marathon security.

That article was published the other day on Runner's World's website.

I had a lot to say, but she could naturally only fit a few quotes into the article, so I thought I would post the entire e-mail interview here.

Age: 32 (I'll be 33 in September)
State: NJ
Number of marathons: 10
Number of Philadelphia Marathons: 5

What did you notice security-wise at the Philadelphia Marathon this year that you hadn't noticed at marathons you've run in the past?

Just a lot more fences.  They were everywhere around the starting area and made getting around very difficult.

And if you'd run Philly before, can you compare 2013 to your past experience there?

This was my 5th time running Philly, previously in '05, '06, '09 and '10.  In the past my dad used to drive me in from NJ and was able to get me just a few blocks from the starting line.  I would usually shoot for a 6:30 arrival for a 7:00 start. This year the race organizers urged everyone to arrive by 5:00 due to the enhanced security.  My wife and I took PATCO in and arrived at the starting area a little after 5.  When we got to the closest security checkpoint, we saw that it was only for runners, and spectators were being directed elsewhere.  But then there were spectators coming back saying they weren't allowed in the checkpoint they had been directed to.  So organization was pretty bad.  And what was the point of dividing runners and spectators in the first place if we were all headed back to the same place anyway?

Eventually I gave my wife my bag and went in through the runners' entrance, then we walked along either sides of the fence to the spectators' entrance a few blocks away.  She could have easily handed me my bag over the fence.  We had read that only liquids in factory-sealed plastic bottles would be allowed in, but she got in with her large coffee cup with no problem. Also, the security people at the spectators' entrance looked like they were in high school, and barely glanced at most peoples' bags.

We then headed for what looked like another checkpoint because there was a super long line, but it turned out there was no security here - the only reason for the long line was due to the fences narrowing and creating a bottleneck.  Finally my wife and I made it to my corral and sat on the curb for 40 minutes waiting for the race to start.

To sum up, enhanced security this year did not make me feel any safer.  It was an absolute joke and was nothing more than a giant inconvenience to runners and spectators.

Did you think that the security measures there were appropriate, or did you think there should be more/less?

Does an event like the Philadelphia Marathon warrant the level of "security" that was present? I don't have a background in law enforcement or counterterrorism, so it's hard to say.  I wasn't privy to all the details, so I don't know the exact statistics.  All I know is it only seemed like there were more fences yet no increase in police officers at the starting area.  I think in the end, the enhanced security there was more to give people peace of mind.  That said, however, the marathon is such a different kind of public sporting event than just about everything else out there.  It is not an environment that can be controlled, with surveillance cameras, locked doors, and specific points of exit and entry that we see in stadiums and arenas.  It is 26.2 miles of outdoor unpredictability.

Did you feel safe at Philly? Was feeling safe a concern of yours?

Yes, I did feel safe at Philly, but not necessarily due to the enhanced security.  The thought did cross my mind that something could happen, but only in the same sense that I sometimes sit on a plane and think it could crash.  Yes, it is a possibility, but ultimately a statistically improbable one, and I can't live my life fearing every single thing out there just because it could happen.

Has security factored into the decisions you've made about which marathons to run?

No, it hasn't.  Most marathons I have my eye on are likely too small anyway to attract the attention of any would-be bomber/assassins/wackos out there anyway.

How likely is it to factor into your decisions about the marathons you will run in the future? For example, could you imagine not wanting to run a given marathon because the logistics, due to security measures in place, become too much of a hassle?

Again, I compare it to flying.  We live in a changed world after 9/11, and now if you want to get from point A to point B in a hurry, you just have to accept that airport security is what it is now, and just put yourself through the many annoyances of it and hope for the best.  I just qualified for Boston, and also hope to run other big city marathons like Berlin, Chicago and New York someday, and the additional inconveniences of security will just have to be a part of those overall experiences.

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