In response to the Boston Marathon bombing, authorities are deploying a “security overlay” for Sunday's 13th annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon that will include uniformed police along the entire 26-mile route.
Plans are for anyone running or watching to be within sight of a law enforcement officer at all times, said Leon Gillum, security director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
Stepped-up security also will be in place at the start and finish lines downtown, around the federal buildings near the National Memorial, and at the Murrah Plaza.
The most obvious effect on runners will be a restriction on “running with backpacks or anything other than normal running apparel,” Gillum said.
“We have a lot of different runners that come in that want to carry or run with some different type garb,” he said. “It's counterintuitive … to allow people to run with a backpack.
“It's just common sense in light of Boston events.”
Some 26,000 people are expected to take part in the marathon and associated events, including a wheelchair marathon and children's race. Add in spectators and the total exceeds 40,000.
Runners include a half-dozen who were still on the Boston course when the bombing occurred and were unable to finish, said MaryAnn Eckstein, a spokeswoman for the Memorial & Museum. They were offered free registration if they wanted to run in Oklahoma City.
The Memorial Marathon commemorates the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. It is the memorial's biggest fundraiser.
Runners with a good enough time can qualify to run in Boston.
The Boston bombs were concealed in backpacks left near the finish line.
Oklahoma City organizers are spreading the word to everyone — runners, visitors and residents who come to watch — that backpacks should be left at home or in the hotel.
“If they bring it, they need to stay with it and not abandon it by the side of the road or by the side of the spectators,” Gillum said. Bags will be subject to scrutiny by law enforcement, he said.
“We emphasize the adage that's been around since Sept. 11: ‘If you see something suspicious, say something,'” he said. “The security overlay that we have in place will actually provide a uniformed, professional police officer on site for them to say something to.”
Agencies sending officers include the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; Oklahoma City, Nichols Hills and The Village police; and the Oklahoma and Cleveland County sheriff's offices. Members of the military also will help out, Gillum said.
Gillum declined to say exactly how many officers will be deployed: “There's a lot of people.”
Oklahoma City police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said it would be some time before the city has figures on how many of its officers serve on the security force or how much it costs.
Eckstein said the memorial's budget for security is $21,000, unchanged from last year.
Runners will receive a clear plastic bag to store gear in during the marathon, Gillum said. Gear will be subject to search before being moved to the finish line area, where runners will claim their belongings.
“We have no reason,” he said, “to believe it's going to be anything other than a beautiful day and a beautiful race and a way to honor the 168 victims of the Murrah bombing in 1995 and to remember those victims of the recent Boston tragedy.”
We have no reason to believe it's going to be anything other than a beautiful day and a beautiful race and a way to honor the 168 victims of the Murrah bombing in 1995 and to remember those victims of the recent Boston tragedy.”
Security director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum