There are no known threats of violence targeting the July 4 Peachtree Road Race, but law enforcement officials warn they still have to be ready, especially in light of recent mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando as well as terror attacks overseas.
And the specter of the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon continues to hover.
Boston - where three people were killed and hundreds wounded after bombs in backpacks exploded near the marathon finish line - changed how law enforcement handles security for the huge Atlanta 10k along with fireworks planned for later Monday.
“We’ve had to train officers (differently) because of what we saw in Paris,” Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said, explaining that law enforcement had to be ready for multiple people making simultaneous attacks at different locations like the assaults last year at a French nightclub and stadium.
“The threat of terrorism is a serious concern to us all,” said Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “The recent tragic events … serve as a reminder to all of us that acts of violence associated with terrorism are real and can happen anywhere.”
So, as 60,000 participants sprint, run, plod or walk the 6.2 miles between Lenox Square Mall and Piedmont Park, there will be law enforcement in and out of uniform watching over them as well as the tens of thousands supporters lining the route. Some you’ll see and some you won’t, Turner said.
The message from law enforcement: if you see something, say something.
“While there are no current threats relative to any of these planned events, the FBI continues to encourage vigilance and requests that anyone observing anything out of the ordinary to report it to their police department or to the FBI,” said FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett.
Rich Kenah, Atlanta Track Club executive director, said safety is paramount. But they are also focused on making “sure everyone has a fun time from Lenox Square to Piedmont Park.”
This will be the 47th running of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. And in the past few years, the Atlanta Police Department, the FBI, the GBI, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and other local and state agencies have developed joint plans for keeping things safe.
Officers from more than two dozen law enforcement agencies attended a “tabletop exercise to review the security plan” at state homeland security headquarters on June 23, said spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan. The National Guard will be on standby.
“GBI bomb technicians will be working various venues throughout the day with bomb technicians (from the FBI and from several local police agencies),” Keenan said. “The GBI will also have bomb technicians positioned throughout Georgia to respond.”
Turner said APD sharpshooters will also be along the route. The Track Club, also a race sponsor, will control access to the race start and the finish line. Spectators’ bags will be searched, so organizers suggest limiting what you bring to greet runners at the finish. Runners cannot wear weight-belts, backpacks or “bladders” containing water strapped to their backs. They also won’t be allowed to wear costumes, push strollers or pull luggage, and they can have only small signs. Firearms and military or fire gear round out the list of banned items on the race course.
Spectators handing out things like towels and bottles of water is well-intentioned but still a problem. “What do you do when you’re done with it? You drop it on the ground. You have a tripping hazard,” Kenah said.
“When you have 60,000 runners and you drop something… there really isn’t time for our volunteers to step out and retrieve stuff,” he said.