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Security plan for Pittsburgh marathon grows in scope

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 12:04 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A crew hangs a Pittsburgh Marathon banner across the Rachel Carson Bridge, Downtown on Monday, April 22, 2013.

Runners and spectators heading to the Pittsburgh marathon on May 5 should prepare as if they're boarding an airplane.

“Allow a lot of time on race morning,” Patrice Matamoros, executive director of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, said on Monday. “Just like going to an airport, you're going to be checked.”

Race organizers are finalizing security policies and awaiting approval from city officials, said Matamoros, who declined to divulge all the details.

Because of the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon a week ago, heavy security will greet the 26,000 runners and more than 100,000 spectators expected in Pittsburgh. That might include National Guard members, which organizers in Ohio are enlisting for races during the next few weeks.

“I would absolutely love that,” said Matamoros, who has started asking what it would take to get that uniformed presence. “I'm going to do whatever I can to get more people there.”

Sgt. Matthew Jones of the Pennsylvania National Guard's public affairs office said the Guard has not gotten a request from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the usual path for such activation.

“You will see very visibly ramped-up security,” said Wes Oliver, director of the criminal justice program at Duquesne University School of Law, who is not involved in the marathon. He recalled guards carrying military-style rifles at airports after 9/11. “Then we'll get back to something closer to normal.”

The marathon each year hires about 200 private security guards for race weekend, and this year expects to hire more than that, although organizers won't know the number until Pittsburgh officials say how many municipal police officers will work.

Public Safety Director Michael Huss did not return a call for comment.

Guards at entrances to runners' corrals at the start line will check race bibs to make sure they're in the right place and look inside hydration bags or runners' belts carrying supplies. Runners will be required to place other bags or items not needed for running in clear plastic bags and leave them at the gear-check area. The clear plastic bags will be provided in race packets.

Matamoros said there's no plan to use metal-detecting wands.

People who plan to run in full military outfits with rucksacks — a common sight at races — must alert race organizers ahead of time, Matamoros said.

The fenced-in corrals will open at 5 a.m., two hours before the start. Only runners will be allowed inside this year.

“That's going to help,” said runner Jinny Hertweck, 40, of Renfrew, who plans to run the half-marathon. “It's pretty crowded.”

Police will use bomb-detecting dogs and equipment, a practice started in 2010 when an unattended microwave on the route caused a bomb scare.

Organizers expect help from other big races. Three staffers from the Boston finish line will make their third trip to Pittsburgh, joined by eight staffers from the Chicago marathon and one each from Toronto, Houston and the Twin Cities Marathon, Matamoros said.

Approaching the finish line on Boulevard of the Allies, runners and spectators can expect tighter security. Spectators won't be allowed west of Stanwix Street on the Boulevard. Runners will exit the secure area on Commonwealth Place at Liberty Avenue.

Mark Shipley was looking forward to a special moment at the end of the race.

“My daughter is almost 2. I've been waiting for the chance for her to cross the finish line with me,” said Shipley, 37, of Cranberry, a running coach in Seven Fields. “Now, I don't think that will happen.”

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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