Last week’s horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon had security forces in London on high alert as they prepared for their own marathon last weekend. Thankfully there was no violence in London – only respectful tributes to trans-Atlantic events, hugs and lots of great running.
For security professionals – and, indeed, government officials and members of the public – the two events give rise to a variety of very important questions regarding public security for large crowds at events that include multiple access points and countless areas to hide dangerous items.
And all of this is happening in a world featuring ubiquitous and near-instant social media messages and images. The security news cycle is now 140-characters and nano-seconds long.
So how did security experts handle London in the wake of Boston?
What technical lessons have been learned?
And what role(s) do social media have in police investigations for major public events?
We’ll answer these questions in a series of blogs over the next week.
Today we’ll start at the start … with planning – including, of course, contingency planning.
Race planners in Boston have years of experience in organizing and securing the world’s oldest annual marathon event. And while those organizers didn’t publicly discuss their pre-race security plans after the bombing, they did bring out more officers to the marathon this year than in any other year,according an article in The Huffington Post.
“They plan for a bomb to go off at the Boston Marathon. If they haven’t, then they’re incredibly lax,” said Howard Levinson, a security consultant for corporate clients and special events who frequently coordinates with local authorities who was quoted in the HuffPost story. “That probably saved a lot of lives. But unless you’re taking such extreme measures, you can’t prevent this from happening.”
Their counterparts in London also have vast experience in such security matters.
The Globe and Mail reported on the weekend that Metro Police Chief Superintendent Julia Pendry, who was in charge of policing the London Marathon, said she would increase the presence of security personnel by 40 per cent compared to the same event last year.
Earlier in the week Nick Bitel, CEO of the London Marathon, told the BBC that security plans would“take account of many contingencies, including this type of threat and incident, but one can’t be complacent and when it has happened, you need to then review those plans you have in place to see what else may be necessary.”
In the end the London Marathon went off without a hitch, thanks in part to a massive security presence, clever security planning and extensive experience in securing such events. And having just had the high-security, major incident-free Olympics in London last summer, the legacy of security expertise remains strong in that city.
But, still, planning for the London marathon in the short days after Boston must itself have been both a marathon and a sprint.
In our next blog we’ll take a more technical look at security for big public events.
And in a third blog we’ll look at the evolving role of social media in security.