Bob Kaminski and Greg Weber, two of the organizers for the Buffalo Marathon, were both in Boston on April 15 when bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. They knew immediately that their jobs for the Buffalo race had instantly become more important and more difficult.
“That’s for sure,” said Kaminski, the traffic and police course coordinator of the Buffalo race. “I was 200 yards away in a VIP tent.”
“There wasn’t much question it was a bomb,” said Weber, the starting line/finish line coordinator for the local race. “I knew everything had changed. I stood there and watched how it was handled there.”
Planning for a marathon/half-marathon like the ones that will take place on the streets of Buffalo on Sunday morning is close to a year-round operation.
The Boston bombing occurred only 41 days before more than 4,000 runners will take to the streets here, and everyone associated with security for the Buffalo event had to figure out what was needed.
“It’s been a long six weeks,” Weber said. “Our preparations started an hour after it happened. We’ve been working diligently to see that the runners are safe, and the spectators are safe.”
From a security standpoint, marathons offer some large logistical challenges. The course goes for 26.2 miles throughout the city. That’s a lot of territory to watch.
Buffalo’s race officials spent a great deal of time thinking about such issues for past races, but preparations have increased this time.
The obvious spots to watch are the starting line and finishing area, because more people are congregated there. Still, crowds gather throughout the course.
“In the first 13 miles, really, everyone is jammed together,” Kaminski said. “People are by the arena, on South Park and Ohio Street, and along the waterfront. The runners are coming from both ways in some places.”
Naturally, race officials aren’t going to give complete details to the public about their security plans for the race, but some measures will be obvious.
Law enforcement officials will be watching the runners and spectators on foot, on horseback, from the air and from the water.
“There are increased security procedures that people will see,” Weber said. “What Boston will bring is that we’ll have stricter standards, and we’ll stick to those guidelines.”
Runners will not be allowed to bring anything to the starting area that they aren’t planning to carry in the race, and spectators will not be able to hop a barricade and give a runner a high-five for luck before the start.
“There will be more of a police presence on the street,” Kaminski said. “We’ve sent an email to all of the volunteers, telling them to be aware of suspicious packages. If they see something, they should notify the authorities.”
All of the police agencies again will be connected by one network, run by Erie County Emergency Services. That’s been done for the past few years. If there is an emergency anywhere on the course, someone can be dispatched to it quickly.
A couple of other security changes had been planned even before Boston. The growth of the race – perhaps as much as 15 to 20 percent this year – has caused some changes to the way runners will line up at the start of the event.
Runners will not be allowed to enter the chute from the front at Huron and Pearl; they must go through the back at Pearl and Chippewa. The starting line will be barricaded until just before the start.
At the end of the race, people should expect to have bags checked as they enter the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for the postrace party.
Authorities will sweep the course to make sure all runners are safely finished by 2 p.m., seven hours after the start.
Race officials are working with representatives of the Buffalo Police Department, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. Weber has come away impressed with the way everyone is working together.
“All of the law enforcement agencies, they are cooperating at a great level,” he said. “I sat at a table with them, and there was no political posturing. They all said, ‘What do we need to do, and how do we make this happen?’ ”
Several marathons have been staged since Boston around the country. There hasn’t been a formal exchange of information, although one Buffalo official did attend the event in Oklahoma City at the end of April. He reported that the event increased its police presence and handed out clear plastic bags for the runners to store their belongings.
The 2013 Boston Marathon will always be remembered as the moment when marathon running lost its innocence. That’s why the victims of that tragedy will be remembered in Buffalo on Sunday.
“We’ll have temporary tattoos for all the runners,” Weber said. “At the start and finish lines, we’ll play music by bands from Boston. People will run the race in honor of the people in Boston.
“It’s sad in today’s society that we have to take these precautions.”