Pittsburgh to heighten marathon security

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A former FBI agent and security expert characterized a marathon as a “classic soft target” on Monday in the aftermath of the attack in Boston.

In less than three weeks, tens of thousands of runners will be in Pittsburgh for the city's annual long-distance race, and police said security will be tight.

“Horrific incidents like what just occurred at the Boston Marathon remind all law enforcement that we must always remain vigilant,” said Maurita Bryant, Pittsburgh police Assistant Chief of Operations. City police “will work with all local, state and federal agencies to ensure that heightened security measures are taken to maintain a safe and secure atmosphere,” she said.

Larry Likar, chairman of the department of Justice, Law and Security at La Roche College who spent 23 years with the FBI, said, “It's an easy target. It's impossible to secure a site like that. It's not like a football stadium, where you're funneled in through entrances where security can be concentrated.”

Organizers of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon expect 30,000 runners during race weekend events, including the 5K on May 4, and the half marathon, full marathon and relay on May 5. The race begins and ends Downtown.

Likar said that bombs often are the weapon of choice for terrorist groups and that claims of responsibility typically follow.

“You would expect someone to claim it, if it's a terrorist organization. They want the maximum publicity,” Likar said.

Stanley Parker, 45, of Squirrel Hill, a vice president of the Pittsburgh Marathon who ran the Boston race, returned to his hotel a block from the finish line and heard two explosions. He said police and race organizers are well prepared.

“I wouldn't say anything different has to be done because we've always prepared for it,” Parker said. “This incident will obviously raise awareness at any kind of public event.”

In 2010, a bomb scare disrupted the Pittsburgh half marathon. A microwave oven was found on the sidewalk in front of the Greyhound bus terminal along the race route, blocks from the finish line. Police rerouted the race and called the bomb squad.

“Since then, we've been really trying to prepare extensively and put measures in place to protect and keep people safe,” race Director Patrice Matamoros said.

“Runner safety is No. 1. We've worked with the city of Pittsburgh bomb squad, Homeland Security, police and EMS to put together a process for race week and race weekend in which we do sweeps for bombs or mysterious packages or items that may be along the course or at the start and finish lines.”

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said officials will need to review security around the Pittsburgh marathon and other events.

“We have a lot of large community events,” he said. “This shows we are potentially vulnerable.”

Staff writers Dave Conti, Karen Price, Bobby Kerlik and Andy Conte contributed. Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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