Nightmare on Boylston Street

Nightmare on Boylston Street

The marathon bombing in Boston on Monday was the realization of every event organizer’s worst nightmare. Terrorism is an ever-present threat wherever there is a significant crowd and a threat that is taken very seriously by sports facilities, leagues, teams, governing bodies, and event organizers.

Security is a foremost priority and responsibility in planning for a major sporting event, particularly for a special event like the Boston Marathon. A marathon makes uncommon use out of common spaces, often spanning multiple municipalities, making planning even more difficult. Nevertheless, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) likely has had a detailed security plan for many years that covers a wide range of risks including crowd control, unusual weather events, criminal activities, and terrorism. In developing their plans over the years, the BAA would have worked hand in hand with law enforcement and security experts, ensuring that all bases would be covered.

What is less obvious to most is the extensive role played by federal and local safety agencies. For an event of the magnitude of the Boston Marathon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collaborate with event organizers and local officials to prepare comprehensive security protocols, making various threat assessments and planning against all manner of risks. For example, the FBI will share any threats from intelligence they have gathered. Another example is that agencies will cooperate to ensure a clear airspace around a stadium during an event like the Super Bowl and limit delivery times for large haul vehicles.

Nevertheless, an event like the Boston Marathon has a much more difficult time managing security risks than a sporting event at a stadium. While a stadium is self-contained and can be easily locked down, it is much harder to protect a 26.1 mile marathon course, especially since it is an event that happens only once a year. There is no foolproof solution to prevent terrorism at major sporting events, but what we can expect is stricter security measures after every incident we experience.

Expect to see an even greater police presence at next year’s Boston Marathon, particularly where there are high concentrations of spectators. Although Boylston Street is a busy commercial area, it may be possible for authorities to impose rules prohibiting backpacks and packages for a period around the event. Municipalities will also consider removing or sealing objects like mailboxes and identifying other hiding spots to block off. And there will be even more ‘eyes in the sky’ watching every person while they are in high profile locations.

Ultimately, event organizers will continue to have security nightmares while delivering events. The balance of creating a welcoming atmosphere for spectators and participants while providing adequate security is difficult to achieve. Considering the financial cost of increasing security measures, the struggle to achieve the right balance will remain. How much more could have really been reasonably done to prevent such a tragic and deplorable incident like the marathon bombing? If anything, we will likely learn that authorities and event organizers did as much as we could practically expect of them and that the probably saved many lives in their emergency response. Going forward though, event organizers and their security partners will work harder than ever to prevent their nightmares from coming to reality.


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JB Hacking

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