Boston Marathon Bombings Stir Up Questions, Lessons for Public Safety Protocol

The bombings at the Boston Marathons stirred up questions about public safety and security at events with large crowds. Jeffrey Brown examines the safety lessons learned with Jim Davis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Safety, and Ed Cannon, former assistant chief of the New York City Police Department.

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    And we come back to the Boston story.

    Last week's bombings sparked new interest in beefing up security at large public gatherings from street fairs to sports competitions.

    Jeffrey Brown looks into that.


    The question after the events of last week, how safe can we ever be, especially in major cities, when thousands of people gather in public buildings or for big events?

    It's a question that was posed after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 and a year later after a pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the Summer Games, killing one and injuring 111; 9/11, of course, brought a ratcheting up of security measures, including, among much else, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA and surveillance cameras watching for suspicious activities.

    And there have been examples of thwarted attacks on public spaces, notably in 2010. The car bomb in New York City's Times Square was disabled after two street vendors reported the smoking vehicle to police.

    Since 2003, Homeland Security's Urban Area Security Initiative grants have funneled billions of dollars to major cities for anti-terrorism training and equipment. Security experts will now study Boston for lessons learned for future public gatherings.

    And just one small example: National Football League officials said today that they're increasing security for this week's player draft, to be held at New York's Radio City Hall — Radio City Music Hall.

    And we look at these issues now with Jim Davis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. He's also chair of the National Governors Association Homeland Security Advisers Council. Among big events he's worked on was the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. And Ed Cannon, currently of T&M Protection Resources, a private security consulting firm, he was formerly an assistant chief of the New York City Police Department, and helped set up security for that city's marathon and many other events.

    Well, Jim Davis, starting with you, how does Boston change things for people in your position? What kinds of discussions are going on now?

    JIM DAVIS, Colorado Department of Public Safety: Well, certainly we're much more focused on security.

    You know, in the United States, we have got pretty short memories. And I think, after 9/11, we were very focused on security, and then things kind of — we'd go through a time period where we don't a lot of attacks or we don't have any successful attacks, and now Boston happens. And people get focused on it again. I think that in the — in law enforcement, in the intelligence community, we have always been focused on it.

    But people are going to be more receptive to security measures now and more focused on making sure that major events are safer.


    Ed Cannon, explain to us how this works. Take something you have worked on, perhaps the New York City Marathon, for example. What kind of measures go into it? How much preparation? How much thinking, and again how might that change if at all now?

  • ED CANNON, T&M Protection Resources:

    Well, Jeff, you know, the New York City Marathon is going to be examined with lessons learned from what occurred last week in Boston.

    And think about it — 26.2 miles of a route is a very difficult area to effectively secure and police. So what we need to recognize is what a terrorist's mind-set is, what do they consider to be a high-value target. And their goals are to strike at something that's iconic, such as the World Trade Center, such as the Murrah Building, such as the Boston Marathon.

    And they also want to inflict as many casualties as they possibly can, and, lastly, they're looking to have an economic impact as well. So when you think about a marathon and thinking of what have a terrorist's goals are, we would focus primarily, — because we have finite security resources, we would focus on those areas that are most crowded, specifically the starting line and the finish line.

    And I think what we're going to see is, as we have seen at venues post-9/11, where there's going to be additional screening, akin to what we see at Times Square on New Year's Eve where folks before they get into Times Square need to be screened by officers, and as are in ballparks, prevented from carrying in backpacks, briefcases, other large packages.

    And I think we're going to very rely heavily on the commitment of the civilian population to go along the lines of, if you see something, say something, and be more attentive, sort of like they do in Israel, which has been living for decades under this type of threat. If you leave an unattended package in an airport or a bus or a train station in Israel, it won't be long before a civilian will announce it to the others around them and to law enforcement that there is that unattended package.

    So there's going to be a combination.


    Well, Jim Davis, one obvious question is, can we ever guarantee protection? Can we ever guarantee that something like this doesn't happen, given all of the kinds of things we just heard about?


    No, I think we absolutely cannot guarantee it.

    So — but, you know, the challenge is to make sure that the event is as secure as possible, while also allowing for people to enjoy the event. You know, people expect to be able to participate in a marathon. Or they expect to be able to go to a football game and enjoy that event and still have a feeling of security.

    So it really is a challenge for law enforcement to — to make sure that you're doing what you can to secure the event while also allowing people the freedom to really enjoy the event.


    Well, where is that line? Yes, where is that line? Because it's enjoyment. It's convenience. There are obvious civil liberties issues that can come up. Where do you draw the line?


    Well, it's a continuum.

    And a lot of it has to do with what people expect. So, for example, National Football League, they look at all the bags that people — all the spectators bring in bags. The security is going to look through your bags. They are going to pat people down as they come into the venue. And that is what people expect now from the NFL.

    It's, you know, if you want to get into the game, you have got to follow those procedures. So I think that it has a lot to do with people's expectations. Certainly, after something like Boston, I think people are going to be more willing to have security measures, more strenuous, more invasive security measures. But, again, you know, this is the United States, and we have got to protect people's freedoms and their civil liberties.


    Jeff …


    Yes, Ed Cannon, go ahead.


    If I could follow up on Jim's point, which is an excellent point, that there needs to be a balance between security and people's right to enjoy their everyday lives, to do business, to go to school, to enjoy the freedoms that this country has to offer the entire world, but I think what we're facing now is a new type of threat.

    The government has put in place a radar, if you will, that will identify large-scale attacks, such as the Murrah attack or the World Trade Center attacks, when they're in the planning or the very early operational stages. So I think what terrorists have done is, they have now — the threat that we're faced with is more of a lone wolf or small cell, such as the brothers in Boston, who are involved in low-tech, low-cost, but high-consequence attacks.

    And because of these types of attacks, we do have to perhaps become more involved in some of these more thorough screenings before we come into venues. Also, the use of technology, closed-circuit television systems can be adjusted so as to recognize — to be able to recognize things that are unusual, such as if there's a sensitive or an isolated location and someone enters that location, the cameras can be trained or programmed, I should say, with rules that will recognize that and send an alert.

    If a bag is dropped and left in a location for a particular amount of time, the video analytics will recognize that and send an alert. And to your question as to when does it become too much, this type of surveillance, these types of screenings, things like that, I think the courts will let us know. The courts have always let the police, to let the government and law enforcement agencies know if they have gone too far and crossed the line.


    OK. Ed Cannon, Jim Davis, thank you both very much.


    Thank you.


    Thank you.


    Find out how much money different metropolitan areas, including Boston, have received from the Department of Homeland Security. There's a graphic on our home page.