Security Hints from the Jerusalem Marathon

March 21, 2014

One of my Facebook friends, Rachael Toor, just came back from the Jerusalem Marathon. She called the race “by far the most spectacular urban marathon” that she’d ever done. Over 25,000 runners participated in the weekend’s events, which included races covering distances from 800 meters up to the full marathon.

Moses splits the runners at the 2014 Jerusalem Marathon

Moses parts the runners at the 2014 Jerusalem Marathon (Fitoussi photo)

In the context of the new security procedures for this year’s Boston Marathon, I had been curious about how Jerusalem addressed the issue of runner and spectator safety. Israel, of course, has had to deal with much more in the way of terrorism over the years than we have here in the US.

One controversy among Boston runners is the new bag check policy, which requires runners to check their clear, BAA-provided bag at the finish before getting on the bus to Hopkinton. In previous years, runners, many of whom have to spend 4 hours or more outdoors in potentially nasty weather waiting for the race to start, could check their bag on a bus in Hopkinton just before their run.

Meanwhile, according to Rachael, Jerusalem has “a bag check with no regulations at all.” Perhaps they realize that the runners aren’t the problem.

Rachael also says that there was “way less visible security than in most other major cities.” Jerusalem had 1000 police along the course, while Boston will have over three times as many. The Jerusalem course twists back and forth within the city and the whole area is basically shut down for the race. That could make security easier than it is for Boston, where officials have to cover a 26-mile corridor for the point-to-point race.

On the course, an Israeli runner pointed out to Rachael that much of the city, and certainly most of the marathoners, were trained in security. The mayor, an experienced marathoner who ran the half, said, “We do this [security] all day, every day.”

Boston could learn from this. I’m confident that most runners can tell the difference between pre-race jitters and “I’ve got a bomb in my bag.”

Of course, it’s not all just Manischewitz and anemones. A report on the 2012 edition of the race complains that most Palestinian West Bank residents would never be given permission to enter the city for the race. Another reporter discussed his thoughts on running only a day or two after reporting on bombings in the city.

But so far, Jerusalem has managed to strike a reasonable balance between safety and celebration for runners and spectators. Let’s hope Boston learns to do the same.

You Need Big Props for Security Theater

April 18, 2011

Giant backpackThis gigantic backpack recently appeared at the Alewife MBTA station .  It’s part of the “If you see something, say something” campaign sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the T.

I’d be very interested to hear of any terrorist acts actually brought to light by the campaign, but I suspect all it really is is another way for the government’s fear machine to justify its ongoing existence.  However, the program may not be a complete waste of taxpayer money.  Maybe more lost items end up turned in and returned to their owners?

At least this display is entertaining, and it’s nowhere near as dangerous as the security theater production I saw on New Year’s Eve.

And now there’s finally a backpack I can use if I ever want to carry a king-sized bed when we go camping.


January 1, 2011

Can you think of any situation that would be improved if someone were to shoot off automatic weapons in a crowded underground subway station?  I can’t either.

A machine gunBut last night, New Year’s Eve, as Ruth and I were passing through Park Street Station on the way to our train, we were surprised to see two men in fatigues standing at parade rest next to the westbound Green Line tracks with machine guns.

I’m no expert on personal weapons of mass destruction, so I can’t say exactly what they were carrying.  I might have stopped to take a picture, but I preferred to spend as little time as possible in a place where drunks mix with automatic weapons.  Also Massachusetts is one of the states where citizens can be arrested for taking pictures of public employees in public spaces.  So we passed through as quickly as possible and continued down to the Red Line platform, which was free of any military presence.

Ruth thought that the soldiers might have been deployed to counteract some “credible threat”, but I was pretty confident that this was just another case of security theater gone wild. A search this morning didn’t turn up anything in the news, and the authorities are usually not shy about giving vague pronouncements about how they successfully protected us from shadowy undefined  threats.

Boston had promised increased security for First Night.  There were cops and TSA agents loitering near the turnstiles when we got on the Red Line at Alewife.  But why send out soldiers with machine guns, weapons that are great for killing masses of people, but not so good at killing selected individuals in crowds of panicking drunks?  What were they thinking?

What do you think?


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