Heightened security a 'new baseline' for Boston Marathon

The significantly enhanced security plan put in place for the 2014 Boston Marathon has set “a new baseline” for the event going forward, according to officials involved with public safety planning.

“You don’t ramp up security drastically only to ramp it down drastically,” said Kurt Schwartz, the director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. “I think in some sense you set a new baseline, but again we will from year to year always adjust it based upon the threat environment. I would like to think over time there would be an opportunity to scale back as events change.

“But we’re certainly not in that kind of environment right now.”

While Schwartz said there are no current credible threats against the 2015 race, the plan for Monday’s 119th Boston Marathon will resemble the one developed for the 118th running after twin pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish of the 117th race in 2013, killing three and injuring more than 260.

Dave McGillivray, the longtime Boston Marathon race director, said the planning process leading up to 2014 was “very much more intense” and involved “at least five times” more time spent in meetings than prior to 2013. The resulting plan included an extra 3,500 police officers on course, security cameras along the route and barricades set up as checkpoints for spectators.

Though the process was the same for 2015, many involved said it was less intense this time around.

“Because [the plan] was successfully carried out last year, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel all over again,” McGillivray said. “It wasn’t like last year, starting from scratch.”

“[The process was] a little less intense because from 2013 to 2014, we really rewrote the safety and security plan for the event across the eight cities and towns [along the 26.2-mile route] and really significantly bulked it up,” Schwartz said. “It’s been more of a tweaking, but not a whole-scale rewrite [for 2015].

“We’re making smaller changes and tweaks based on two things: one, things that we observed in 2014 that we decided we could do differently or better; two, the threat environment that we’re in is different than a year ago, so that forces us to make changes to our plan to make sure we’re dealing with current threats.”

The federal-death-penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev contributes to the discussion, Schwartz said, but is only one part of the landscape being monitored by intelligence agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security.

Though the ramped-up security presented new logistical challenges for McGillivray and the Boston Athletic Association, there were no major issues to report.

“I really thought there were going to be some glitches,” McGillivray said. “Not because we didn’t plan well, but just because there were so many moving pieces.”

Likewise, Boston EMS chief James Hooley said good communication between agencies and proper planning assured there was no interruption in medical services.

“From Boston EMS’s point of view, the security plans that were put in place last year worked well,” he said. “They certainly didn’t inhibit our ability to respond to patients.”

In light of the increased attention to public safety, prior to 2014 some questioned whether the atmosphere of the event would suffer.

Tom Grilk, the executive director of the BAA, said there’s an easy way to answer those questions.

“Maybe the best way to answer it is this way: The feel of the event last year was magnificent,” Grilk said. “The enhanced security did nothing to detract from people’s enjoyment, which is a pretty spectacular job on the part of public-safety officials.”

Asked to evaluate the plan’s effectiveness, Schwartz said MEMA was pleased.

“Overall, we think the plan last year worked extremely well,” Schwartz said. “We judge it a number of different ways. First, we believe that the heightened security did not interfere with the actual running of the event or with the character and spirit of the event. We think we got the balance right between security and a fun family day.

“It’s easy to say, ‘We had a safe and secure event, so we had a great plan.’ But you can’t really look at it that way. We had a great plan the year before, and it was not a safe and secure event.”

Grilk, for one, said he’s looking forward to the focus returning to the athletes on the course.

“It’s an international athletic event, not simply a memorial,” Grilk said. “What happened in 2013 has become part of the history of the event and the region and the city, a very poignant part. But it’s not a defining part.”

Public-safety officials are again asking spectators to comply with a list of security measures, including not carrying weapons, backpacks, large bags or coolers. This year, state police also banned the use of drones along the course, which runs from Hopkinton through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and ends in Boston.

Schwartz said there were no issues with the guidelines last year and doesn’t expect there to be any this year, either.

“I think it’s human nature that the events of 2013 will be a little further out of people’s minds, and so it is possible that people may not be quite as patient and tolerant and accepting of the guidelines, but generally I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” Schwartz said. “If you were from Massachusetts, or anywhere in the country, nobody here will soon forget 2013. I think people didn’t just expect [the enhanced security in 2014], but I think they welcomed it. I think people will once again expect and welcome it.

“We have a great security plan, but we encourage people to come out, enjoy the event and the day and use their common sense, follow the guidelines.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.