PRB Articles


Boston: Think It Can't Happen To You?

I try to keep my contributions to Week-Ender light and positive, something to go into the weekend with a glowing outlook on life; but I don’t see how the subject of this Week-Ender could be anything else except the horror that occurred at the Boston Marathon.

How do you deal with security when planning large public events?

As parks and rec professionals who plan large public events every day, PRB readers should be especially interested in this, because this was an assault on the very essence of why PRB readers do what they do.

As I write this, nobody has taken responsibility and there are no suspects, at least none named by authorities. Authorities don’t know if it was domestic or foreign terrorism. It is important to know who did this and why; they are criminals and should be brought to justice.

But in my honest opinion, the more pertinent question for public-event planners is: How did this happen and how can I prevent it from happening at my event?

If nothing else, this criminal act demonstrates that a free and open society such as ours provides a wide-open arena for bad people who want to do bad things to innocent people.

Event planners might get the NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality, thinking, “It won’t happen here, at my little event.” But all criminal acts such as this happen in somebody’s back yard.

Odds are terrorists wanting to see the results of their crime will choose an event that is widely televised so that national and international news agencies are already on scene. Another unintended consequence of a free society and press is that it gives bad people good coverage.

But there are all shapes and sizes of criminals who have a “statement” to make, and sometimes a smaller event presents a “softer” target, with less scrutiny and less security -- but still lots and lots of people.

Criminals who can plan such a crime are probably savvy enough to know that with smartphones, digital video cameras, and high-speed communication, it wouldn’t be long before the story hit the national news.

It is unfortunate that we live in a world where we have to think of such things, but I submit that an event planner who isn’t factoring higher levels of security into his event plan is being myopic. I believe we have passed the point where we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend “it could never happen here.”

But hey, I am a Marine. I tend to think in terms of perimeter security, potential threats, preparation for the worst-case scenario. I believe an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

Am I being too vigilant? I’d like to hear some opinions from those of you who are in the business of organizing, staging, and presenting large public events. Do you factor security into your plan? Do you worry that someone may use your event as a forum for a criminal act?

Do you involve your police department in the planning and ask for an assessment? Local PDs are linked to national and international networks that can provide fast and updated threat assessments.

I know some of you are saying, “There is no way we can ensure a totally secure event. It is a wide open place, people can enter from different points, it’s in a public park, etc., etc., etc.”

I acknowledge that in this free and open society we value our freedoms and the ability to move unhindered through our public spaces. However, that very freedom of movement is what criminals are counting on and using as part of their strategy to gain access to large numbers of people.

So at some point -- and I submit that we are at that point, even beyond that point -- measures need to be taken to reduce the ease by which criminals can gain access with their weapons of destruction.

Security experts will be able to help with this. For example, we can limit access points and channel them so that every person entering an event goes through some level of scrutiny, from visual to physical, depending on the need.

Some might say that having to do this means the criminals and terrorists have won, that they have achieved their goal of squelching our freedoms.

To some degree that may be true; anyone who has gone through airport security has experienced that. However, there are ways of protecting the innocent from bad guys without either even knowing.

Use of security cameras to watch crowds is one way; security experts may be able to spot criminal activity and stop it. If they see a nervous-looking individual carrying what appears to be an unusually bulging and heavy bag, they may want to have a talk with that person.

There are those who may say this is an invasion of privacy, or that it is “profiling.” Well, yeah, it is; but the alternative is potentially being in the middle of a horror like the Boston event. If that sort of surveillance can prevent it, I’m all for it.

So, what do the parks and rec planners have to say? I’d be very interested to hear from you, and others may benefit from your perspective.

My heart goes out to the families of those killed and to the injured and their families -- and to the event planners who will live with the tragedy, as well. My hope is that we can take measures to never let it happen again, anywhere.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.

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