Increased Security Costs Boston Marathon its Innocence

Boston Strong sentiment will be out in full force this year, but so will police, surveillance cameras, and other new security measures.

I’ve read just about every article and watched just about every show looking back at the bombing attacks near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year.

I applaud those who have embodied the Boston Strong slogan, mourn for the victims and their families and feel pride, as I too am from the area.

But I’ve come to a conclusion, and it’s one that may not be overly popular given that I’m a lifelong Massachusetts resident: the terrorist attacks on our city have forever changed this signature event, and not necessarily for the better.

Yes, I know there was a rush to be part of the 2014 Boston Marathon—the 118th edition of the oldest race of its kind—after the dust settled, the smoke cleared and one bomber was dead and the other was in jail. And I will definitely be keeping my eye on the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston this Patriots Day. I know the Boston Strong spirit has and will continue to inspire many of the participants, organizers and spectators, but I feel like this event might never be the same.

Backpacks and strollers aren’t banned, but they will be subject to search by police, who will be increased in number, whether you see them or not. Maybe I’m somewhat naïve, but I never gave much thought to the security of the Marathon, even when I was writing about it for the local newspaper for many years.

One of my favorite things to watch as I talked to people about their reasons for coming to the Marathon were the soldiers in full uniform and some of the people who got decked out in ridiculous costumes and tried to conquer Heartbreak Hill. Those days are now officially gone, and that’s a sad thing to me.

I was lucky last year to talk to the company that installed security cameras in a bar near the finish line that helped to identify the brothers who placed two exploding backpacks in the crowd. This year, there will be more than 100 new cameras and about 50 so-called observation points along the route. I do understand why all of this is being done, but I expect it will give the event a whole different feel.

I will not actually be attending the Boston Marathon, but I feel like if I were in the crowd, whether it was at the 5-mile mark, the 20-mile area near Heartbreak Hill or closer to the finish line, I’d spend a lot of that time looking over my shoulder or thinking about what could happen. The security cameras and extra police are supposed to curb that feeling and that tendency, I assume, but I feel like it just heightens my awareness of potential danger.

The same was true when I was outside Fenway Park last October after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home for the first time in 95 years. I had been hoping to go outside and celebrate with other die-hard fans after that Game 6 victory, but police closed off the area around the park so no one could get in or out. I understand the idea of protecting and planning for the worst, but it really sapped a lot of energy and excitement from that post-game celebration for me.

I understand the need for increased security and I’ve written about how other marathon organizers have done something similar to what the Boston Athletic Association will do next Monday for their historic marathon, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. I don’t want to see a repeat of last year’s finish and I know why these security measures are being put in place, but I’m still not sure there’s anything that can be done to make everyone feel completely safe. I wonder how many parents will keep their young children away from Copley Square this year out of fear of a copycat, or if runners themselves will tense up as they approach the finish line.

Sid Ashen-Brenner III handles the life safety communications, security, low voltage and fire alarms at Salina Regional Medical Center in Salina, Kan., and also works with the county on emergency management on storm spotting and mobile incident command.

He agrees that even the tightest security plan can’t cover all contingencies and can’t prevent someone with “a true death wish” from following through on their plot.

“They will just trigger the device early,” he says. “Be very thankful these deranged folks can usually not get their hands on any high-grade explosives. If you have read any of Tom Clancy’s works, you have a good idea of what could transpire. The difficult part is in preventing it. A lot of the security-type stuff needs to be planned for well in advance, and it is difficult to plan for a deranged mind.”

Again, I applaud and support the runners who have dedicated themselves to training for this or any other marathon and those who have made it their mission to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragic ending, but I just know for me, it will never be the same—and that’s a shame.