Security officials and resilient runners making plans for Chicago Marathon
(MCT) CHICAGO _ The countdown clock on the Chicago Marathon's web site on Tuesday showed 179 days left until the Oct. 13 race, but organizers this week were focused with fresh urgency on security details in the wake of Monday's terror attack in Boston.
Their annual task for organizers of the annual run is already a daunting one: securing 26.2 miles of city streets for more than 40,000 runners and untold thousands of spectators. Some might wonder if it's even possible to provide security over such a vast footprint.
"I would like to say we could," said race director Carey Pinkowski. "We can use our best efforts and all the resources we have. Security has always been a main focus of what we do."
Despite the tragedy in Boston, several Chicago area runners said they will not be deterred from running in major marathons like those in Boston and Chicago.
"Runners will be more drawn to (marathons) to show the resiliency of the good people in the world," said Dan Daly, 50, a Chicago resident who ran in Boston. "There are far more of us than there are bad people. Runners will rally around this tragedy and show the goodness of humanity and that good can triumph."
Pinkowski said existing procedures for Chicago's race have placed a heavy emphasis on security around the start, at Columbus Drive south of Monroe Street, and finish, on Columbus between Roosevelt and Balbo.
Spectators aren't allowed into the area around the finish line until a half hour after the race starts. Non-credentialed spectators are not allowed in a secured area around the finish, Pinkowski said. And vendors are credentialed and have to supply vehicle information to race coordinators in advance, he said.
"There are primary and secondary perimeters," he said. "General spectators can get into areas south of the finish line." Race officials would not say how far south the perimeter extends.
The Chicago Marathon does not have a designated security director. Pinkowski is the contact for Chicago police and other city agencies, while the races' operations director deals with contracted security.
Pinkowski said in the past the major areas of concern have been road safety along the course and managing the sheer size of the event _ this year's marathon quickly drew 45,000 entries, compared to the less than 8,000 who signed up in 1990.
"The popularity of the World Marathon Majors (of which Chicago is one) has made this a mainstream activity," he said. "Participant numbers are up, so everything is magnified. Everything is on a grander scale."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, race organizers received a directive from the city that the race would go on, Pinkowski said. Police and federal authorities became more involved with adding layers of security after 9/11, he said.
Pinkowski said he's already had multiple discussions with organizers of the other major marathons, and expects security to be a topic of discussion when he sees them this weekend at the London Marathon.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday pledged the Chicago Marathon will go on as scheduled, but said wants to see what is learned about what happened in Boston before deciding whether changes need to be made.
"You have to wait for the after-action report in the sense that you make any alterations or changes," he said. "But the marathon will go on. It's a great part of the city, it's a great event, as well as it brings in about $170 million in economic growth to the city of Chicago, and so it will continue."
Emanuel said he and his public safety team have offered their assistance to their counterparts in Boston. The city will also begin reevaluating the city's security needs for the marathon in October.
The city's experience last May managing security at the NATO demonstrations, which included miles-long marches that went on for hours, positioned the city well for a range of events, said Neil Sullivan, a former Chicago police commander who ran security at major events including the 2005 World Series and its aftermath
The strategies Chicago police put in place for the NATO demonstrations relied heavily on officers on bicycles moving quickly along march routes. When an event is spread out over a large area, mobility is key and Sullivan said NATO employed methods that had been evolving in the department for years.
On Tuesday, many runners began planning blood drives and fundraisers for the victims. Jennifer Grosshandler of Highland Park said she, like many runners, ran in Boston for a charity and will continue to run marathons.
"Are people going to be scared to put in the effort and the pain and train for the mother of all marathons? Are they going to be scared off? I'm telling you I feel it will be the opposite," said Grosshandler, 46, who finished the Boston Marathon for the first time.
"We can't let these things take away and crush what is such an important part of people's lives."