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Expect new security measures for 2014 Chevron Houston Marathon

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The attacks in Boston have marathon organizers all over the country taking a closer look at security. But, here in Houston for the Chevron Houston Marathon, new security plans were already in motion before the attack.

This is timely because early registration for the Houston marathon begins next week.

Every January, as many as 250,000 people are clustered along the Houston marathon course. Many of them are right at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where both the start and the finish lines are. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, the organizers are taking a hard look at security even though they've been beefing it up for a few years.

On January 13, there was plenty to see along the Houston marathon course. But there was a lot that people didn't see.

"All of the agencies really in the southeast part of Texas, and this past year, they used it as a training exercise," Houston marathon race director Brant Kotch said.

Dr. Christopher Chung is a University of Houston associate professor who worked with the army and the secret service to protect the president and foreign dignitaries. He says a marathon's sheer size gives the bad guys plenty of opportunities, and that's part of what happened at the Boston marathon.

"In many cases, those kinds of incidents are hard to counteract," Chung said.

But the marathon committee has ramped up security significantly in the last few years under executive director Wade Morehead; first with the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in 2012 then the law enforcement drill in 2013 -- even down to gear check bags. They were blue in 2009. This year, they were clear plastic. And bomb-sniffing dogs were on hand that day.

"By having clear bags, by having bomb-sniffing dogs available, we have a responsibility to our participants and our spectators," Morehead said.

There are likely changes coming to the 2014 marathon, like securing the start and finish lines even more tightly, and perhaps after 2014, needing to raise the registration fees to help pay for the cost.

But the biggest piece of security will be as many as a quarter million pairs of eyes that are now on alert.

"There are going to be thousands and thousands more spectators than there are going to be law enforcement or security personnel," Chung said.

Security plans for the race won't be finalized until after a summer meeting with race committees all over the county, and until the new course is approved. That could be coming in the next few weeks.
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