BOSTON — There’s a tense excitement running through this city as it prepares for the 118th Boston Marathon, a uniquely Bostonian event, held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April, which celebrates the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
Residents are waiting to see how much of the traditional carefree spirit of Marathon Monday will remain after officials implement security measures to make the 26.2-mile route “the safest place on the planet,” a goal the long-term race director outlined last week.
The numbers are impressive: There will be about 4,000 uniformed and plainclothes police officers and National Guard soldiers along the course, more than double the number from last year. Law enforcement officers will be watching live video feeds from 100 cameras along the route — 25 erected just for the race — and from at least one helicopter.
There will be nearly 100 K-9 units, double the number from last year; and 260 people gathered in the multi-agency coordination center, three times the number from last year, to monitor security during the race.
“It’s sort of what we have been doing, but on steroids, so to speak,” said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
There will be 36,000 runners this year, an increase of about 9,000 from last year, and there could be as many as 1 million spectators.
The agency maintains that spectators won’t notice the extra security precautions too much. An idea to have a drone in the sky above the event was nixed, Judge said. People are urged not to bring backpacks or large bags to the event, but if they do, they will merely be searched and allowed on their way — something that could help make others standing near them more relaxed, knowing that they’ve been vetted, he said.
“We agreed that a primary goal is to preserve the traditional feel and character of the Boston Marathon,” said Kurt Schwartz, director of the emergency agency, at a news conference last month. “Our safety and security plan accomplishes this goal.”
The security plan is the product of seven months of preparation, Schwartz said. During that time, public safety officials traveled to other cities to observe their security procedures for large events, and consulted with other government agencies for best practices.
Despite those measures, some Bostonians are staying away from the finish line on Boylston Street.
John Ward, 66, was born a few blocks from the finish line and has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. He goes to the Boston Public Library — directly opposite the finish line — nearly every week, and walks past the Tannery shoe store, which he remembers when it was a drugstore with a soda fountain. He often comes down to the finish line to watch the end of the race, but is staying away this year — just in case.
“I don’t have any fear, but there’s too much spontaneity in a crowd,” he said.
Medical professionals have also increased their staffing levels in case anything does happen along the route. The city will add 13 more ambulances, in addition to the 24 stationed along the course, as well as 140 emergency medical services workers who will line the route on bicycles and on foot. The Boston Public Health Commission will also have a medical station on Boston Common with 30 beds at the ready.
Dr. Lyle Micheli, director of sports medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, has worked at the finish line medical tent every year since 1975. Last year’s events made Boston realize how vulnerable it was, he told reporters at a recent tribute to marathon victims. This year, he said, “I think we have prepared as much as we can.”
The finish line tent this year ordered three emergency medical kits from Israel, complete with tourniquets and sterile gauze pads, which Micheli said he did not have last year at the finish line. He’s also doubling the personnel available there, to six physicians and four physician assistants.
For some Bostonians, though, there’s a fine line between preparing adequately and going overboard. Ken Perez likes to watch the July 4 fireworks on Boston’s Esplanade, but last year, in the wake of the marathon bombings, the security was so tight that long lines kept him away. He’s not planning on watching the marathon either, because he thinks security will be overbearing.
“I refuse to just react,” he said. “They make it so you can’t go anywhere.”
There will be at least a few law enforcement officials not working in Boston on Marathon Monday. That’s because they’ll be running in the race. They include Edward Deveau, chief of the Watertown Police Department, which played a major role in catching the bombing suspects last year. There will be 12 Watertown police officers running the race Monday, Deveau said.
“I want to run the 26 miles in 2014 with some of my officers and cross the finish line together. To me, it will be a statement that no terrorist act will stop Boston from being united,” he wrote, in an application for a special bib for those affected by last year’s events.
He’s run the marathon three times before, and thought he was through running because of a bum knee. But training with his officers has been a welcome distraction, he said in an interview. He’s sure his officers are prepared to run, just as other public safety officers are prepared to protect.
“Security is always changing — it changed after 9/11, and then things changed after what happened on April 15,” he said. “We’ve done our homework.”