Houston readies for emergency situations

April 15, 2013 8:44:00 PM PDT
Houston Marathon officials are extending thoughts and prayers to everyone in Boston, all those affected by the bombing tragedy.

Members of the Houston Marathon committee are on the ground in Boston. We're told they are OK and on lockdown in their hotels. Among them is the Houston Marathon's medical director, though it's unclear if he was there providing first aid or not.

The Houston Marathon is about two thirds the size of the race in Boston. That's scheduled for next January. Officials in Houston say they have been preparing for a situation like this.

Planning for a major sporting event is always a challenge for public safety. But race and Homeland Security officials in Houston say they've been acting out "tabletop" exercises in which an attack of some kind leads to significant carnage. One of the keys, they say, is this type of pre-planning.

"We look at these scenarios and probabilities and what are the consequences and how we are going to react to that," said Assistant Chief Thomas Munoz with the Houston Fire Department and Houston Homeland Security. "We are prepared in the event something should happen. We do take that proactive approach."

Between 200 and 300 runners from the greater Houston area are believed to have participated in Boston's race. It's too early to say if all are OK. So far race officials they have not heard of anyone from the Houston area being hurt.

The Bayou City hosts its own marathon and is no stranger to large events that attract visitors from across the world. Security at an event like the Boston Marathon presents a number of challenges -- the sheer number of people involved and the length of the course, at 26.2 miles.

The Boston Marathon, at 27,000 registered runners, is pretty similar in size to the Houston Marathon and half-marathon, run here every January. It draws a lot of people, runners and spectators, and winds for miles through the city.

Security expert Jim Conway says the number of people, the difficulty in protecting a course that long and the fact that it's also Patriot's Day may have been a draw for the people behind the explosions.

"The group that's behind this was obviously able to penetrate this hard target," Conway said. "This is not a soft target. This is not a hotel in an innocuous location. This is an event that is staged. It's got a lot of media attention and you can rest assured that law enforcement had this, including manhole covers and trash cans and everything in the area, significantly secured. So the group that's behind this, that was responsible for this, was able to penetrate that hard target."

Conway says the best thing any individual can do at a large gathering like a marathon or sporting event, is to be aware and report anything that looks suspicious.

A city of Houston representative who spoke about security for the Houston Marathon and other big events says that HPD is involved every step of the way and Houston makes security top priority. There's no word if they will be looking at changing anything, with the Houston Marathon still 278 days away.

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