Emergency responders have spent more than a year anticipating every possible scenario to protect runners, spectators and the community when Columbus hosts its first marathon.
The recently completed Mill Race Marathon safety plan, designed with input from 15 public-safety agencies, specifies how officers will respond to:
Severe weather, such as tornadoes or thunderstorms.
Medical emergencies involving runners or spectators.
Traffic accidents or the possibility of a plane crash, which the city experienced July 25 when a small aircraft struck a Columbus home minutes after takeoff.
Bomb threats or a terrorist attack, such as what occurred at the April 15 Boston Marathon, where three people were killed and more than 180 were injured after two bombs went off near the race’s finish line.
Police are not anticipating heightened criminal activity or terrorist actions that weekend but want to be prepared, given that as many as 4,000 runners and walkers could be on hand, bringing 12,000 guests.
“It will be wall-to-wall people,” Randy Stafford, a member of the event’s planning committee, said last month about the weekend of events that begin Sept. 26 and include a health expo, kids’ run, block party and race.
Residents will see a significantly higher public-safety presence during marathon weekend, with about 150 police officers from various agencies compared with about eight city officers who routinely patrol city streets per shift each day.
Some will be on motorcycles, and others on bicycles. Also on hand will be the SWAT team, bomb squad and K9 units.
Safety planning for major events, from auto races to football games, took on a new level of seriousness after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington.
Planning for safety around running events was ramped up even more after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings this spring.
“It’s heightened our awareness,” said Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix, who has been coordinating the marathon safety effort with Capt. Mike Richardson. “It makes having plans and pre-planning even more
“It’s the times we live in,” said Richardson, who will serve as incident commander during the marathon. “Boston is on everyone’s mind. It wasn’t that long ago.”
Security steps following discovery of a suspicious package found at the Bartholomew County Courthouse at 6:40 a.m. Aug. 22 demonstrated that local police will not take any potential threat for granted.
The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department asked the city bomb squad to examine and X-ray the package to determine if it contained an explosive device. County and city officers spent several hours on the scene before allowing county employees to enter the courthouse, only after police determined that the package contained music compact discs.
For the marathon, some safety details are being closely guarded by police, but the increased police presence will be visible throughout the city.
Columbus Police Department will have nearly all of its 70-plus officers on duty. Maddix said 15 to 20 of them will work downtown, and
six to seven will patrol on bicycles.
Officers will be alert to any suspicious or criminal activity, be available for crowd control, handle any unruly party-goers at the evening block party and assist with traffic control when needed.
Richardson said the extra police presence also will give out-of-town visitors someone to ask questions about the city or directions.
Other officers will be assigned to special units, such as SWAT and the bomb squad, or be prepared to handle non-marathon related calls throughout the city.
City police officers will work 12-hour shifts the day before and the day of the marathon.
The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department will have 20 officers assisting with marathon security, but the agency also will have deputies at Hope Heritage Days, a three-day festival that draws thousands each year to the small town in northeastern Bartholomew County for music, food, crafts and a parade.
Indiana State Police will provide a large amount of marathon-security support to the city with 68 officers helping direct traffic at intersections as runners come through in waves. Another 20 state troopers will be on motorcycles throughout the city.
“We couldn’t have done this without the other units assisting,” Richardson said.
Richardson added that having the extra backup will enable officers and emergency responders to be able to keep up with the regular, daily calls that will not stop just because of the marathon.
CPD officers were told early on that unless there were special circumstances, such as a medical issue or they were running in the marathon, they would be working that weekend.
All of the overtime costs for the added security will be paid for by the marathon organizing committee. Primary sponsors for the marathon are Cummins Inc., Columbus Regional Health and MainSource Bank, but funding also comes from entry fees from participating runners and walkers.
Maddix said that on Sept. 28 representatives from all of the assisting agencies will be based at an Incident Command Center downtown to monitor events.
“You have to have decision-makers there, people who can make decisions and communicate that out,” said Maddix, whose department will be the lead agency for marathon security.
The Emergency Operations Center on Illinois Street, however, will be fully staffed and operational during the marathon. But a smaller version of the dispatch center will assist at the marathon command center, with two dispatchers helping to direct assistance to runners or others needing help along the marathon route.
Also in the command center will be a representative of Indiana Department of Homeland Security, who can command extra resources should the need arise.
A representative of the National Weather Service will be on hand and provide tracking equipment so officials and runners can be alerted as quickly as possible of any impending weather threat.
“Because of the amount of people in the community, this will give us the extra support and a trained professional to monitor the radar,” said Reigna Zeigler, deputy director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center.
Any weather condition that would force cancellation of the race will be communicated throughout the course to the all of the law enforcement officers and volunteers at water stops, which will have emergency radios.
An emergency flag system will allow runners to quickly see if the race is canceled. A black flag displayed at each of the more than 20 water stops will signify that the race has been canceled. Thirty weather shelters also have been identified for runners, volunteers and others to seek safety.
Dr. Chris Schneider, an emergency department physician at Columbus Regional Hospital, will serve as medical director for the marathon.
Barring a major incident, such as a bombing or car wreck on the course involving runners, Schneider said the biggest factor determining medical care will be the weather. A hot, humid day will result in more heat exhaustion or even cases of heat stroke, he said. But anything could arise, such as heart attacks, bee stings, asthma attacks, broken bones, sprains or dehydration.
Spectators also might need care and can seek help at the medical tents set up throughout the course.
He figures the busiest location will be at the finish line since many runners might wait until the end of the race to seek medical attention.
Schneider said he and his staff of medical volunteers, including doctors and nurses from the hospital’s emergency department plus emergency medical technicians and paramedics, will be prepared for whatever comes their way.
“We’re used to this,” Schneider told a group of marathon volunteers attending a recent training session about the type of injuries they expect to see.
Police asked volunteers assigned to water stops to be alert for anything suspicious and to be prepared to call for medical help if they see a runner injured or in distress.
Race coordinator Ken Long told volunteers they would need only to relay the runners’ bib numbers. From there, organizers could find their name and contact information.
Based on other marathons this size, Schneider said he expects medical staff to treat roughly 100 runners and walkers, mostly for minor issues such as blisters, muscle aches and cramps. He expects many of those treated will either be running or walking in their first race. This could include those who have not spent enough time training and will face more physical issues based on their inexperience and lack of conditioning.
Medical help will be available in a variety of ways, including:
- Medical tents.
- From emergency medical technicians on bicycles.
- Mini-motorized carts capable of transporting a patient.
- Ambulances stationed strategically throughout the 26.2-mile course.
- Working together
Maddix said he is pleased with the thorough planning that has taken place and the many people who have helped, including those who have attended the dozens of planning sessions.
Police also want the public to help.
Posters are being distributed to businesses to be posted in local workplaces, asking people to be watchful of anything that looks suspicious — and then to call police. The posters state: “If you see something, say something.”
Spectators or runners can call 911 or the office of Homeland Security: 877-226-1026.