Security tight for Boston Marathon

BOSTON -- Tuesday's arrest of a man who carried a backpack containing a rice cooker to the Boston Marathon finish line serves as a reminder that public safety remains at the forefront of this year's race.

With just five days to go until the running of the 118th Boston Marathon, race organizers are bracing for any unforeseen circumstances (including inclement weather) as they prepare for an unprecedented turnout of spectators and participants on Patriots Day. Security is the one thing they and their law enforcement counterparts say will not be left to chance.

"We want this to be the great race that this always has been," Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said during Wednesday's race news conference. "We're not going to scare people and make it look like it's an army camp. We have plenty of cameras, we have plenty of assets and I'm very confident in our officers. You've seen the great job they did last year and they're going to do a great job again this year making that race the jewel that it's always been as the best marathon in the world."

More than 36,000 runners will compete in this year's race, with projections for more than a million spectators to line the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Copley Square. Patrolling that area will be at least 3,500 police officers from the representing communities and state police, all coordinated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, with additional assistance from federal agencies and the National Guard.

Even before Tuesday night's hoax, the greatest scrutiny in the marathon security plan has been paid to Boylston Street and the blocks leading up to the finish line, where two pressure-cooker bombs hidden in backpacks killed three and injured more than 260 in last year's attack.

But as Tuesday's remembrance ceremonies and subsequent hoax also reminded, there is a balance to be struck between maintaining everyday life and playing it safe.

"Do you build the event around security, or the security around the event?" race director Dave McGillivray asked.

Building the event is a yearlong process for McGillivray, who has directed the Boston Athletic Association's race since 1981 and whose athletic resume lists 129 marathons, including a string of 41 straight in Boston. He had immediate concerns about whether runners would want to return in 2014. Those fears were unfounded, and now McGillivray's task is as the steward of an event that is equal parts athletic event and cathartic exercise.

Such is self-evident in the man behind the race. McGillivray has customarily run the course after his duties as director are completed, and this year he will run for the first time to benefit a charitable cause -- the Martin Richard Charitable Foundation.

Monday's scope began to settle on McGillivray on Wednesday morning, when he received a phone call from a Denver race organizer.

The message? "We're counting on you."

To that, McGillivray restated his belief in those tasked with ensuring Boston is run safely.

"I believe this will be the safest place on the planet on April 21," he said.

While adding that Boylston Street and Back Bay will not be "under lockdown," Evans outlined what revelers should expect. Huntington Avenue and Newbury Street will remain open as pedestrian walkways, helping to aid the flow of foot traffic from Boylston. However, all persons entering the area will be subject to random searches, including those who work at businesses and restaurants in the area, and if officials feel it has become too constricted, they may ask spectators to move out of high-traffic areas.

Evans said law enforcement officials in the area immediately surrounding Boylston will be credentialed, but that plainclothes officers will also circulate through the crowds. He again emphasized the responsibility the public shares to aid law enforcement, commending bystanders who sent reports and video of suspicious activity on the street Tuesday night. He believes the backpack hoax and its resolution serve as examples of the cooperative public safety model in place for Monday.

"Obviously, I have concerns about what happened last night, but Boylston Street's going to remain open all week," Evans said. "We're not locking Boylston down to the [Boston] Common."