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Marathon Safety Embraced By Boston, For The Most Part


This year's Boston Marathon will take place on Monday, and it will have a lot more security than in the past. Last year, of course, two bombs near the finish line killed three people and injured dozens more. Afterwards, Massachusetts authorities spent months developing a new security plan. The goal was to create an environment that's safe and secure but still allows people to have fun. Whether the plan can achieve that remains an open question, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: When runners start along the 26.2-mile course Monday morning, one thing they'll see is more people in uniforms. Police officers and members of the National Guard will patrol the route.

COMMISSIONER WILLIAM EVANS: But we also will have a lot of undercover officers working behind the barriers, working behind the crowd.

BRADY: Boston Police Commissioner William Evans says there'll be about 3,500 officers and soldiers assigned to the marathon this year. Another significant change is what spectators can bring with them and, more specifically, what authorities don't want people to bring. Kurt Schwartz is the undersecretary for Homeland Security in Massachusetts.

UNDERSECRETARY KURT SCHWARTZ: No backpacks, no over-the-shoulder bags, no large items, no bulky items, no masks, no costumes that protrude out from your body, no containers with more than one liter of liquid. And please, if you need to carry small possessions, carry them in a clear plastic bag.

BRADY: This list has been repeated often and word has reached people on the street. At the marathon finish line, a temporary bridge has been built over Boylston Street. Among those stopping to look and take pictures is Kathy Saitow. She is pleased with the new security plan.

KATHY SAITOW: It's necessary. It's similar to after 9/11, when they added all the extra security at the airports. It's - it makes me feel better. It makes me feel safer.

BRADY: Nearby, medical student Sharri Mortensen is with her parents who are visiting from Denmark. She says the increased security played a role in deciding what they will do on Monday.

SHARRI MORTENSEN: We were actually discussing whether to watch the marathon or go to a Red Sox game. And we thought about the bombing last year and whether it would be safer to come but we decided to come to the marathon.

BRADY: Organizers predict a million spectators this year, twice the usual number, and nearly 36,000 runners are registered. Among them is Donna Wise of Denver, Colorado. She ran last year, too, and says there are some new security requirements for runners.

DONNA WISE: The big one is basically that we're not going to be able to have bags transported from Hopkinton to Boston.

BRADY: Hopkinton is where the race starts. Without the usual bag transport, Wise can only bring what she's willing to carry while she runs. Anything else will be donated to charity. That means she'll have to part with the beloved teal velour tracksuit that has become her traditional warm-up outfit.

WISE: So somewhere out there, someone is going to be able to get a great, nice pair of teal velour sweat outfit from the 1980s.

BRADY: Wise says she's heard a few complaints about the extra security from fellow runners but she says most are understanding. Authorities hope spectators will accept the changes as well. Andrea Cabral oversees public safety for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After a panel discussion on marathon security, she said organizers hope the extra security won't interfere with the spectators having a good time.

ANDREA CABRAL: We've put an enormous amount of work into making sure that whatever the level of security that we're able to achieve, the optics of that security still give people the feel of the marathon. That's been so important to us.

BRADY: And Cabral says, if people are not satisfied, security planners will make changes and do a better job next year. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.