CINCINNATI: From bomb-sniffing dogs to uniformed military members and bag searches, runners will notice more security than ever at major events in Ohio’s four largest cities in the next month and indefinitely thereafter.
The changes come in the wake of last week’s Boston marathon bombings and after a flurry of meetings between Ohio’s race organizers, local police and federal authorities to review security plans.
The bombings killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded more than 180 others.
Even as the shock and despair of the bombings was still sinking in, race organizers knew they would need to rethink the way things have been done for years.
In Cincinnati, for example, runners at the Flying Pig Marathon on May 5 have always been able to bring their own bags from home and check them in with event organizers to be picked up after they cross the finish line. This year, they’ll have to use clear, race-issued bags or nothing at all, said Iris Simpson-Bush, executive director of the race.
Overall security will be more than doubled from past events, and for the first time will include bomb-sniffing dogs and uniformed volunteers from the National Guard, Simpson-Bush said.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating that this has now become a part of our daily lives,” Simpson-Bush said Monday ahead of an afternoon news conference announcing the changes. “As a citizen, as a resident of the community and as an American, it’s disheartening. But as a race director, it’s encouraging to know these resources are available.”
She said that the race has received no threats and doesn’t expect any, but that ramping up security is the right thing to do given the Boston tragedy.
She stressed that the giant after-party at a park along the Ohio River is still on following the Flying Pig marathon and half-marathon — expected to draw a combined 18,000 runners — and that friends and family are still welcomed along the race route, although they will be subject to searches.
“Nobody wants us to change our lives because of the acts of terrorist, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Simpson-Bush said. “We all know that only reasonable measures can be taken and there’s no guarantee.”
David Babner, race director for the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus — expected to draw 14,000 runners — said his event on May 4 also will have bomb-sniffing dogs for the first time and will increase the amount of officers and their visibility at the event.
Similar efforts will be taken at Cleveland’s marathon on May 19, said Jack Staph, executive race director.
“We’re strengthening security at all levels,” he said, adding that he and his family members will be working the finish line of the event. “We’re not going to let terrorists or evil or bad people stop us from putting on something that is very good.”
Organizers of Sunday’s Glass City Marathon in Toledo have declined to specify what added security measures are being taken, but are drawing on plans used for presidential visits and other major events, race director Clint McCormick said.
Darris Blackford, director of the Columbus Marathon in October, said that race has used bomb-sniffing dogs in the past, but security overall definitely will be increased, and that he will watch what other events do in the meantime.
He said that one idea under consideration is a colored-flag system that would signal to runners that there’s danger or whether the course has been closed, and that the race will include more physical screenings and checkpoints for runners.
“We’re going to be very vigilant and do more than ever to provide a safe and carefully studied event,” said Blackford, who had just finished running the Boston marathon last week and was in his hotel room overlooking the finish line when the bombs went off, giving him a horrifying but unique vantage point as a race director concerned about security.
“I will admit that I did try to learn right away and take mental pictures because this kind of thing can happen anywhere,” he said. “I want to be prepared as much as I can.”
Blackford, who has finished Boston 12 times, said he has no plans to cancel running in any of his upcoming races, including the Flying Pig.
“Being afraid is OK. I’m afraid,” he said. “But I’m not going to give up what I love. I’m just going to be more vigilant.”