PITTSBURGH — City police and organizers of the Pittsburgh Marathon are reviewing security for the May 5 race following the explosions at the Boston Marathon, and officials said security is already tight because of a bomb scare in 2010.
That’s when officials found a microwave oven along the race course that was thought to contain explosives.
That scare overwhelmed local cellphone networks and sent organizers scrambling to control the situation. It has also resulted in a much more rigorous security and disaster response plan for the race.
“We will be going into meetings between now and race day to discuss security and what else we can do to ensure runners’ safety,” race director Patrice Matamoros said.
Tougher security measures are expected at upcoming major sporting events around the country following the bombings Monday in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 170.
In State College, Penn State officials announced the university would beef up security this weekend for the Blue-White intrasquad football scrimmage, including the banning of bags and backpacks from Beaver Stadium. Last year’s spring game drew about 60,000 fans.
In Pittsburgh, next month’s marathon is expected to draw about 28,000 runners and up to 50,000 spectators and it figured to be a topic of conversation at the city’s public safety chiefs’ regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, even before the Boston bombings.
“Obviously we’re going to sit down and look at it with a different set of eyes now,” said Ray DeMichiei, the city’s deputy emergency management director. “I’m not sure we’re going to do anything differently, but we’re going to look at it and look at it hard.”
After the 2010 bomb scare, race organizers reviewed security and communications plans for other major races, including the Boston and New York marathons, and hired a crisis management team that created game plans to deal with everything from traffic jams and water shortages to bombings.
Race organizers spend about $160,000 to hire 350 on-duty police officers and 200 more security guards, Matamoros said. The race route is checked for suspicious devices and packages, bomb-sniffing dogs inspect people at the starting line, and bike-riding observers and surveillance cameras are used to keep an eye on things during the race.
Race volunteers and sector leaders are given scripted commands they are to use to direct the public in the event of various scenarios, and even those who supply water to the runners — and the 100 or so bands that traditionally play music along the race route — are part of the emergency response plan. The water volunteers and others have megaphones to make emergency announcements, and the bands have agreed to use their public address systems for the same purpose, Matamoros said, adding there are plans to evacuate people to schools and churches along the race course.
Matamoros believes this year’s marathon will be no different than others.
“I think our runners are safe,” she said. “We are doing what it takes to keep them safe, and we’ve been doing it for years.”
At Penn State, the bag ban also applies to other campus venues holding events this week, including the NCAA men’s gymnastics championship being held Friday through Sunday at Rec Hall.
Local and state police will be joined by the FBI in a heavier law enforcement presence at all events, the school said. Nighttime lighting of Beaver Stadium will begin Wednesday, and there will be additional checkpoints for those traveling to campus events.
Steve Shelow, the school’s assistant vice president for police and public safety, urged attendees to be vigilant and report anything that looks unusual.
“While not permitting any bags into Beaver Stadium is a significant change from our ordinary routine, it is an important additional layer of security that we are instituting for this event. It brings us in line with most other stadiums across the nation,” Shelow said.
The school asked anyone with medical needs, or those who need to carry baby supplies, to use clear, one-gallon plastic bags that zipped shut.
In Philadelphia, police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said authorities will be beefing up their security for the 10-mile Broad Street Run, also on May 5. Ramsey said he has been in contact with the FBI and other agencies since the explosions in Boston, but that no specific threats have been received in the city.