Suburban race, fest organizers vow security reviews after Boston tragedy
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There's no shortage in the suburbs of places where large groups of people gather -- festivals, running or biking races, shopping malls, theme parks, even libraries -- and some of these places have relatively light security.
In the wake of the bombings Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, security experts say now is the time for those in charge of public places and events to review and heighten their protective measures.
"These areas are very vulnerable because we have not spent much time in terms of saying how do we secure these types of facilities," said Theo Darden, a professor of criminal justice at the College of DuPage who developed the college's Homeland Security certificate and degree programs. "We need people who are responsible for these places to look at what their security plans are, and are they up to the level that they should be. And if they are not, what needs to be done?"
Best practices vary across events and venues, but being vigilant and following the "see something, say something" rule are prudent steps everyone can take, said Norm Sturm, director of DuPage County's office of Homeland Security.
"Yesterday's bombings in Boston are a jolting reminder that we remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks even at the most festive community occasion," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said in a statement. "We now see that 'soft' targets such as yesterday's marathon are now vulnerable."
Providing tight security on courses that can span anywhere from 3.1 to 26.2 miles is a "monumental task," Darden said, but race organizers should consider recruiting more safety volunteers and using loudspeakers to remind participants to report suspicious activity.
Craig Bixler, director of the Fox Valley Marathon scheduled to start and finish Sept. 22 in St. Charles, said organizers are used to preparing for heat or thunderstorms, but protection from "malicious acts" is "one more piece of the safety puzzle."
St. Charles police spokesman Paul McCurtain said his department will be providing more security this year than at past runnings of the marathon. While checking every bag would be difficult because runners often give excess gear to friends or family members before the starting gun, Bixler said race organizers could step up security at a bag check area.
"Law enforcement might participate in the gear check, too, so that nothing is going on in that area," Bixler said.
Organizers of the Tour of Elk Grove have a 10-mile cycling course to protect, as well as three days of musical performances and gatherings that coincide with the competition, said Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson. He said he couldn't provide specifics about security, but plans are updated yearly to make each race safer than the last.
Darden said race organizers could consider increasing the use of bomb-sniffing dogs or limiting the number of garbage cans and "almost getting to the level of dignitary and presidential security."
"That's exactly what it's going to take," he said. "We live in a day and age where anything and every place can be a target."
In Naperville, which will host its first marathon Nov. 10, Police Chief Robert Marshall said he is paying specific attention to information out of Boston about how the bombs got into a restricted area. Marshall said he directed his special events team to give a fresh look to the security plan for events this summer, including the popular Ribfest and Last Fling festivals.
Organizers of annual festivals say they already provide security that includes police, private security officers and patrols checking for explosives, but they say the tragedy at the Boston Marathon calls for additional review of ways to keep the public safe.
"We work very closely with the county, the city and the park district to secure our event," Naperville Ribfest spokeswoman Julie Lichter said. Still, what happened in Boston "is a reminder that we need to be even more diligent."
Other festival organizers say they, too, will reexamine how they provide security.
Wendy Nadeau, chairwoman of the committee that organizes Lisle's annual Eyes to the Skies fest, said officials are planning to take up the topic this week.
"It's horrible what happened in Boston. It's like you're not safe anywhere," Nadeau said. "I just want to make sure we have some extra security."
Organizers behind Blues on the Fox and Aurora's Downtown Alive! festival series say they will implement different security protocols depending on the type of concert, but the public is likely to see additional examinations of purses and bags.
"To enter into one of these concerts, people are going to have to be subject to search," said Tim Rater, president and CEO of the Aurora Civic Center Authority. "It's part of the routine."
At the Sugar Grove village board meeting Tuesday, Trustee Robert Bohler, a Corn Boil volunteer, said the planners of the Corn Boil have asked for Kane County sheriff's department to bring their explosives-sniffing dogs to the July event. He said Sheriff Patrick Perez has agreed and asked Sugar Grove Interim Police Chief Ron Moser to make the arrangements.
"Maybe it is pushing the panic button, but safe is safe," Bohler said. The fireworks show on Saturday night attracts about 5,000 people, he said.
Trustee Rick Montalto, a police officer, said it would be good training for the dogs.
Trustee David Paluch, also a Corn Boil volunteer, said the Corn Boil committee is thinking about prohibiting people from bringing backpacks in to the festival and having police officers inspect coolers. Besides the safety concern, inspections would also keep people from sneaking alcohol into the Corn Boil. The festival has its own beer tent.
• Daily Herald staff writers Justin Kmitch, Robert Sanchez and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.
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