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Public Safety: The Measures Taken To Keep Crowds Safe


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Celeste Headlee. Neal Conan is away. The attacks on the Boston Marathon have had a ripple effect around the world. Organizers of the London Marathon are working with local police to increase security measures there. And organizers of smaller marathons, like the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, are meeting to discuss how to best protect runners and spectators in the wake of the Boston tragedy. We'll speak to the emergency coordinator of that marathon in just a moment.

But first, if you work or volunteer at public events, whether it be a marathon, a street fair, a parade, football game, we want to hear from you. What do you do to make sure people are safe? Going beyond "see something, say something" - tell us your story. Our number is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and then click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later on in the program: you can make a property claim on anything, including genes, these days. But we're going to talk to a legal scholar about the land rush to copyright, patent or trademark everything. But first, protecting runners and spectators in the wake of the Boston tragedy.

Joining us now is Scott Friedlein, emergency services coordinator for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. He's also a retired police sergeant for the city of Champaign, where he was in charge of special events management. And he joins us from a studio in Champaign, Illinois. Scott, thanks so much for being with us.

SCOTT FRIEDLEIN: Glad to be here, thank you.

HEADLEE: So your marathon is a week from Saturday, which is pretty darn close. What security changes, if any, are you making after what happened in Boston?

FRIEDLEIN: Well obviously we've done a complete review of what we have in place right now, and we continue to evaluate information out of Boston to help us kind of decide additional security measures to take place.

Being a smaller community, resources are not as abundant as you would see in Boston. And so we're having to be a little more selective about how we use those resources and bringing in additional resources to help us out.

HEADLEE: How large an event is it? How many spectators do you get; how many runners do you get?

FRIEDLEIN: Well, it's actually not too far off of the Boston Marathon. This year we're expecting right at 20,000, maybe a little over 20,000 participants. It's a multi-day event, so we have a race Friday night, as well as races on Saturday. Spectator-wise, obviously it's - lines our entire 26-mile course. We have people from the community who come out and cheer on the runners.

HEADLEE: And, I mean, what kind of things do you learn? Do you change things? Do you worry about placement of trash cans? Do you worry about how close spectators are to the actual course? What kind of things run through your mind as you're trying to make - keep people safe in an open-air environment?

FRIEDLEIN: Well that's exactly it. I mean, obviously you're going to look at where - the gathering points that are most significant, where the most risk is and then move forward from that. So we evaluate those first. As far as our outlying areas, we use a lot of volunteers, approximately 3,500 volunteers are used to help manage our event. Many of those are course team volunteers who are working intersections, monitoring what's going on.

We give them specific training, and we've actually enhanced that training now because of Boston to say look out for these types of issues: packages, unusual behaviors, things like that. In addition, then obviously we're going to increase our law enforcement presence to be able to respond to those complaints or concerns, and, you know, move forward.

Champaign does have a major Big 10 football stadium that holds about 70,000 people, and so that becomes a huge gathering point, as well. And we would do the same measures for this event as we would typically do for a large-scale football game, that type of activity.

HEADLEE: So have you heard - you're talking about people's concerns. What kind of concerns have you heard? Have people asked you to cancel the race?

FRIEDLEIN: We've had a few. Interestingly enough, the most surprising thing to me was the number of people who actually stepped up. Our last day of registration for the race was the 15th, the day of the bombing, and we had over 440 people register that day for the race, which I thought was pretty surprising. In addition to that, we've had a number of citizens who have indicated an interest. I've had calls from people I've known who say hey, can I help out in some way to make the event safe.

So it's really created a bonding of our community, even with the events occurring in Boston.

HEADLEE: You know, since 9/11, we all - it's become ubiquitous to hear that phrase: see something, say something. I assume you use the same advice there for your marathon. And I wonder what kind of things you would suggest people look for.

FRIEDLEIN: Well, I think the first thing that they need to do is something that doesn't appear to be normal for that environment. If something stands out to them, especially we're going to be scanning that environment in advance. We want our volunteers to get to the area early, see what's there already. If something stands out for them, and there's other people nearby, ask them does this belong to you.

If you get that non-response, then we send somebody who's got a little bit more experience in looking at those items and saying yay or nay as to whether or not it might be something of danger.

HEADLEE: Well, I wish you the best and a successful marathon. Scott Friedlein is the emergency services coordinator for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. He's also a retired police sergeant for the city of Champaign, where he was in charge of special events management. He joined us from a studio in Champaign, Illinois. Scott, thank you so much.

FRIEDLEIN: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Charles Simpson joins us as well, the assistant secretary for response and recovery operations for the California Emergency Management Agency, joining us on the phone from Cal EMA's Joint Information Center in Mather, California. And with me in the studio is Bill Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, here in Studio 3A. Welcome to both of you.

CHARLES SIMPSON: Thank you, good afternoon.

BILL BRANIFF: Thanks so much for having us.

HEADLEE: Charles, let me ask you about California's response to what happened at the Boston Marathon. I mean, there was a lot made of the caller alert system, right. We went from orange to green, and people were never quite aware of where we were. But does California use something like that, ranks and levels of threat assessment?

SIMPSON: Not necessarily. We look at the threat that may be posed to California and assess that and notify the sectors that may be implicated in those possible threats.

HEADLEE: Let's take a call here now from Lily(ph) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lily, are you there?

LILY: Yes, I'm here, hello.

HEADLEE: And you volunteer at public events? How do you make sure people are safe?

LILY: Well, I have a state of hypervigilance always, because I travel in the Middle East for work. So I'm always looking for packages without people attached to them. I went to an open-air event for Barack Obama in a public park, and I was just constantly surveilling the people around me and ready to immediately report or act on something that I see.

And I'm sort of caught between appreciating our freedom to assemble without surveillance and also being appalled at our lack of security because I see so much more security in the Middle East and Europe, around public events.

HEADLEE: That's interesting. Thank you so much. That's Lily in Cincinnati, Ohio. And let me bring that directly to you, Charles. When you ask people to be more vigilant, how do you balance that with maybe erroneous calls or people calling in to say, sort of report pretty much everything?

SIMPSON: Well, the people that call in and report, they are showing a concern, and we don't know if it's an erroneous report. You know, we have to be vigilant and check everything and do the best we can to get those non-events cleared as fast as we can so we're not using our resources to evaluate them. But we must do an evaluation.

Even someone who may provide erroneous information may be something to do with an event that may be about to take place.

HEADLEE: You know, what happens? I mean, when an event like the bombing at the Boston Marathon occurs, and you begin to look very carefully - I guess you're always careful, but perhaps a little bit more vigilance at possible threats in California - what triggers - are there certain things that occur at that point?

SIMPSON: Well, I think we look at all major gatherings and events and just evaluate them for the circumstances with what happened in Boston. And as you know at this point, we have found no connection with anything in California. But still we look at that - those events and see if there's something that we need to be concerned about, events that possibly do not have screening for the spectators and other things like that.

We follow our large stadium initiative planning, which is designed for working with large events and mass gatherings. And, you know, it's a multi-event, multi-venue program that looks at an all-hazards approach to public safety. And we have trained with venues around the state and trained them on lesson learned and from other events and what mass care and mass response issues that have been learned from previous disasters.

We work directly with the owners and operators of those facilities and help them develop their plans and policies to respond to events and better protect and hopefully prevent any event from happening at those venues.

HEADLEE: We're speaking with Charles Simpson, who's the assistant secretary for response and recovery operations for the California Emergency Management Agency. Let me bring Bill Braniff into this conversation, executive director for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. We're just going to say START from now on.

BRANIFF: Perfect.

HEADLEE: So when's something - you hear Charles Simpson kind of working through how they assess threats. When something like what happened at the Boston Marathon occurs, how do you know if the event that you're hosting then could be under threat?

BRANIFF: Well of course the problem is that you don't. Terrorism is a phenomenon that in the scheme of things rarely happens. So it's a low-probability, high-consequence phenomenon, which really makes it a difficult thing to plan for. You could very easily overly securitize an event and sort of take that free and open feeling away from that community celebration or community event.

At the same time, you can't underestimate the consequences, the importance of securing that event. And so it's an exceptionally difficult challenge for security, you know, professionals to address something like terrorism in a free and open society.

HEADLEE: Is it a moving target, over-securitizing? I mean, is there any kind of marker that tells you at this point, when you have people take off their shoes or whatever, then it won't become fun anymore?

BRANIFF: I think the thing we've learned over the last, you know, decade-plus is that we're finding our way as a society in this new security environment. There's no path to walk down. We're making the path. We're, you know, blazing the trail as we go. And there's this constant tug, there's a dialogue between those who are concerned with things like privacy, civil rights, civil liberties, free and open movement and the, you know, the other side of the equation, those who feel that it's their job, or for whom it is their job, to secure people's lives and well-being.

And so it's a give and take, and it's, I think, a place you arrive at, but it's a very dynamic environment that we live in. And so I don't think that once you arrive at that sweet spot, it's easy to necessarily stay on that course. I think it's a constant...

HEADLEE: Or even know that you've gotten there.

BRANIFF: Or even know that you've gotten there. That's an excellent point.

HEADLEE: If you work or volunteer at public events, we want to hear from you: marathons, concerts, parades. What do you do to make sure that people are safe? 1-800-989-8255, or send an email to talk@npr.org. We'll be back with more after just a short break. I'm Celeste Headlee, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


HEADLEE: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. And I just want to let everyone know we are continuing to follow developments out of Boston. NPR has been informed by a senior law enforcement official there that no arrest has been made in the marathon bombing. We will of course continue to bring you details as we get them and as we can verify and confirm them.

Organizers of sporting events are expected to draw some big crowds, and they've stepped up security in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Monday night, just hours after the explosions, bomb-sniffing dogs swept Bridgestone Arena in Nashville before the Predators-Canucks hockey game. Armed officers guarded the dugouts at the Padres-Dodgers matchup in L.A. And security swept wands over fans who were entering the Wizards-Nets game in Brooklyn.

And looking ahead, representatives from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Kentucky Derby told the AP the Boston attack will figure in future security meetings. So we're wondering: If you work or volunteer at events like these, places where large groups gather, what do you do to make sure people are safe? Our number is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. Or join the conversation through our website, it's npr.org, and then click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining me now is Charles Simpson, he's assistant secretary for response and recovery operations for the California Emergency Management Agency, and he's joining us from Cal EMA's Joint Information Center in Mather, California. You know, I wonder if you ever take measures, Charles, that are symbolic, to reassure people, that are less used for their efficacy than just for consolation.

SIMPSON: Well, there have been instances where that has been done. However, there are so few resources, and they are very expensive to put things out strictly for symbolism. We try not to do that, and we try to look at where the most effective use of the resources would be to properly protect the people, properly protect the public.

HEADLEE: And therefore, I guess, if there was any kind of event in California, you'd have to choose, I guess, or make a calculation at that point of whether or not the population is panicked and reassurance becomes a more important goal?

SIMPSON: Well, I think there are so many events that happen around the state of California on a day-to-day basis that, you know, those event promoters will be looking at that, working with local law enforcement to see if there are additional measures necessary at each of those venues.

But, you know, there cannot be an extreme response to every event everywhere in the state.

HEADLEE: Yeah, understood.

SIMPSON: That would be sending the wrong message.

HEADLEE: Charles Simpson, assistant secretary for response and recovery operations for the California Emergency Management Agency, joined us from Cal EMA's Joint Information Center in Mather, California. Thank you so much. Also with me still in Studio 3A, Bill Braniff is executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. That's a pretty long title there, Bill.

Let me take the same question to you about the difference between a symbolic act that might reassure people and something which actually has more efficacy. Would there ever be a reason to invest in some kind of symbolic act to tamp down panic?

BRANIFF: I think the key in your question is that those two things don't have to be mutually exclusive. A lot of activities that build trust between sort of the law enforcement and security community and the public will pay dividends from a security standpoint.

HEADLEE: Such as?

BRANIFF: Well, meeting with the community, addressing the community's concerns, having sort of open sessions to hear what they have to say about security and what level of security they're interested in, what trade-offs they'd be willing to make, et cetera.

We're actually funded through a research award from the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to survey the U.S. populace about their attitudes towards terrorism and counterterrorism. And we found that over the last decade-plus, the government has actually earned a lot of trust from the American public, you know, broadly speaking.

In fact, 87.4 percent felt that the government was successful or - sorry, was somewhat or very effective in its counterterrorism role. And that, that pays dividends because the public is then more likely to come forward with information, to engage with the law enforcement community.

And so I don't know that we should sort of distinguish between efficacy and sort of symbolic or - because in many cases the things which might look like symbolic efforts are building trust, and trust has its own payoff.

HEADLEE: So let's talk about the events in Boston on Monday. How - you know, obviously every one of the - every time this happens it's going to be devastating and upsetting. But they're relatively rare. I mean, this is the first that we've really had in quite some time, correct?

BRANIFF: Yes, especially in terms of an explosive attack. The nature of this attack was very different. There's a lot of reasons why this was a pretty rare event, and I can just talk you through a few of the numbers to put this in a historical context.


BRANIFF: In the United States since 1970 - so 1970 through 2012 - there have been about 2,370 terrorist incidents in the U.S. And of those, only 28 have generated 10 or more casualties. And when I say casualties, I mean a combination of both injured and killed. So this event that occurred in Boston, should it turn out to be motivated by some sort of political ideology, religious ideology, economic or even sort of social motivation, will be among the 1.1 percent of most dangerous terrorist attacks in the United States over the last 43 years - one in 100.

So the level - this would actually, in fact, be the fifth-most casualties produced by a terrorist incident in the United States since 1970, behind things like the events of 9/11, the World Trade Center bombing, Oklahoma City and another event that has sort of fallen off the annals of history: In the 1980s there was a cult that conducted these mass poisonings, called the Rajneeshees, in Oregon, poisoning over 700 individuals.

This, you know, with 170-plus casualties, would be fifth on that list.

HEADLEE: And of course anything that produces casualties is already a tragedy. We're talking about the rareness of this particular type of event.

BRANIFF: This particular one.

HEADLEE: And - well, let me take a call here really quickly, because our question for people listening is if you volunteer or work at events of this kind, how you keep people safe. And we have a call here from Mike(ph) in Golden, Colorado. Mike, how do you keep people safe at large events?

MIKE: We have instituted a plan that brings into the mix the local law enforcement and fire marshal, EMTs. So a lot of it is just preparation and communication in advance to discuss contingencies that may arise during events.

HEADLEE: And then has protocol changed since 9/11?

MIKE: Absolutely, yeah. I think there's a heightened vigilance, and I think just in general the biggest change would probably be the insurance has dramatically increased, and I expect that it will again.

HEADLEE: Insurance liabilities, right.

MIKE: Yeah.

HEADLEE: OK, thank you so much for that call, that's Mike in Golden, Colorado. And we also have Chris(ph) calling from Jacksonville, Florida. Chris, are you there?

CHRIS: Yes, I am.

HEADLEE: How do you keep people safe? And you work at an event, I assume?

CHRIS: Yes, I've ushered pre-9/11 and post-9/11, and I find the security is worse now than it was before. For example, you know, pre-9/11, the main thing being an usher like at a big sporting event - I worked at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta - you know, you just check the ticket, you know, make sure people are in the right place. That was the main thing, people being in the right place.

Now post-9/11, and I do have a question I'd like to ask, as well, after I make this - I did an event, a Tea Party gathering in 2010 in Atlanta at the state Capitol. And the way they had the security set up, if you're familiar with the Capitol of Atlanta, it's on - the building is in the middle of a roundabout road. There's roads on all four sides. You can enter the Capitol on all four sides.

Well, the two sides of the Capitol were blocked off to where people could not walk by on two sides. And the amount of room, there was only 10,000 people there at this Tea Party gathering in Atlanta, and the amount of room there was between the street and the church across the street from the - it was crushing people.

HEADLEE: Packed.

CHRIS: I mean, babies were being crushed, and the police did not care. You know, and Benjamin Franklin said, you know, you should never give up any liberty for the sake of security, and if you do, you deserve neither. And my question to this gentleman who is on the phone is: Why has the World Trade Center Building Number 7, which came down in like six seconds at 5 PM on 9/11, 1,500 architects...

HEADLEE: Chris, is this a - sounds like - thank you very much for your call. That's Chris calling from Jacksonville, Florida. That sounds like a World Trade Center conspiracy, which would take us off in a completely different direction altogether.

But I do have a question from email here, Bill, that I wanted to ask you. Tom in Atlanta says: I'd like to see all security staff carry small scales to weigh every backpack and package at an event. Don't bring more than two pounds. How much would something like that cost, and is it - would it be effective?

BRANIFF: It's a great question. I think that what's interesting about that is it's probably a somewhat low-tech way to try to increase security if the underlying assumption that things that weigh less will be less dangerous is accurate. I think the largest concern there would be slowing down the entry into the event...


BRANIFF: ...going through that process. And so that would be, you know, a decision for those in charge of that event, about whether or not they wanted to inconvenience their folks or not.

But what's interesting about it, again, is that there are some low-tech ways to - you know, creative ways to try to address these very difficult issues. There's also sort of very high-tech ways, a lot of things like standoff sensors, the ability to try to detect the presence of any dangerous materials - whether it's chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or just explosive - from a distance.

And things like K-9 units, you know, perform that function now. But are there other, you know, sensors in development that would help allow people to move freely, but still provide security against those kinds of weapons, right? So I think there's likely always a mix of high-technology solutions, as well as behavioral solutions, as well as low-tech solutions. And these things come together in different ways, based on resources.

HEADLEE: We've heard a lot of discussion about the type of bomb, the fact that the bombs that were used in Boston Marathon were in pressure-cookers. I wonder how common these particular bombs are, and what it tells us, why we hear so much from law enforcement about this type of bomb.

BRANIFF: Well, in the United States, it's exceptionally uncommon. In fact...

HEADLEE: Pressure-cooker bombs.

BRANIFF: Pressure-cookers, as used in an improvised explosive device in the United States. That's not to say that IEDs are uncommon in the United States. There have been 1,100...

HEADLEE: Improvised explosive devices, yeah.

BRANIFF: Correct. There have been 1,169 uses of IEDs between 1970 and 2012 in the United States. That's 49 percent of the terrorism incidents that we've experienced over that period of time. So the idea of creating...

HEADLEE: Say that - how many of them again?

BRANIFF: Over 1,000 improvised explosive devices, but not using pressure-cookers. We don't have an example of a successful use of a pressure-cooker among those 1,169...

HEADLEE: Until Monday.

BRANIFF: ...until Monday, assuming that turns out to be...

HEADLEE: The case.

BRANIFF: ...a terrorist event, meaning that the motive turns out to be, you know, sort of...

HEADLEE: Ideological.

BRANIFF: ...ideological. And so while IEDs have generated 225 deaths in the United States, well over 2,000 injuries in terrorism incidents in the United States, the two attacks most responsible for that are the '93 - 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the '95 Oklahoma City bombing.

Pressure-cookers have been used, according to the data we've been able to collect through the open source - and, again, so this is probably a conservative estimate. But globally, in the world, 1970 to 2012, we can count 29 instances - 29. That's .001 percent of the cases, in which a pressure-cooker was used as part of an improvised explosive device. Now, I'm sure that's an underreported number.


BRANIFF: But if it's .001 percent of 104,000-plus incidents, it's not a large number no matter how much we've underreported it. This is a technology that can be used in insurgencies, and we wouldn't necessarily pick that up, because we have different inclusion criteria in our data.

So, again, this is just an illustrative statistic. It's not meant to be definitive. In the United States, this is a very uncommon tactic, and so I think it's one of the reasons it's drawn so much interest.

HEADLEE: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And, you know, most people are familiar with the term IED from Iraq. But you are using it in its broader sense, an improvised explosive device, the exact example of that, which would mean - that includes what?

BRANIFF: I mean, it includes, really, what most of us think of when we think of a homemade bomb...


BRANIFF: ...a bomb in which the components - component parts are used for something other than their intended purpose from the manufacturer.

HEADLEE: Including Faisal Shahzad and the attempted Times Square bombing.

BRANIFF: Correct.

HEADLEE: OK. We're speaking with Bill Braniff, who's with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. How easy is a bomb, a pressure-cooker bomb to make? Does it require a particular expertise?

BRANIFF: I don't know that I can really speak to that. There are places to go to gain instructions on how to do it. So, online, there are various sources where you can sort of follow step-by-step instructions. The one that the media is talking about currently is from this English-language jihadist magazine called Inspire, produced out of Yemen by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, their media arm, al-Malahem Media.

And Inspire, in 2010, had an article that talked about using a pressure cooker or a pipe to make an improvised explosive device. And the intent was to empower people, who couldn't go to a training camp, to learn from a bomb-maker how to make a more sophisticated explosive, to be able to do so on their own. But this is an English-language text, so anyone could use it. I have a copy, so therefore anyone could have a copy. It doesn't necessarily apply...

HEADLEE: And, again, you're mentioning that as something people are pointing to, not connecting them in any way, shape or form with Monday's bombing at the Boston Marathon.

BRANIFF: Exactly. It's a source - it's an example of a source where one could find instructions on how to do this.

HEADLEE: Let's take a call now from Calvin in Sumter, South Carolina. Our question is, if you work or volunteer at large events, how do you keep people safe? Calvin, how do you do that?

CALVIN: How are you doing? Well, you brought up a question about how do you, I guess (unintelligible) symbolic thing. I guess, more or less, I would declare the symbolic part as being visible, you know, where you clearly acknowledge that you are security on the day of the event and whatnot, would be in conjunction with several other law enforcement and those who are undercover, the - and letting people know that, you know, you do have undercover.

So it makes them very wary about trying anything, because they don't know who in the crowd, who along the margins, or whoever is actually working as security, you know? And that the first...

HEADLEE: That's a really good point.

CALVIN: Uh-huh. Go ahead.

HEADLEE: I was just going to say, that's a really good point. That's Calvin in Sumter, South Carolina. Bill, we only have about a minute left, but the fact - the mere presence of law enforcement can be a deterrent, correct?

BRANIFF: Absolutely. And even things that we typically make fun of, I guess, in the public sector, things like metal detectors at the airport. If you look at global terrorism data, you see a drastic decline in aerial hijackings after the implementation of metal detectors in airports, period. These things have a deterrent effect. They're not perfect. But they can have a deterrent effect, as can plainclothes and uniformed police at an event.

HEADLEE: Even if they're not, as Calvin was describing, that they're not necessarily - they're maybe undercover?

BRANIFF: Well, both. I mean, I think his - both point are wise: one, to have the uniformed police who are a visible presence, which might change the behavior of a perpetrator, make them do something that they didn't plan on doing and make a mistake in the process, because they see a uniformed cop that they didn't expect. That is useful. But also understanding that there are plainclothes individuals, or - as the intelligence community is using now - informants to sow distrust.

HEADLEE: Bill Braniff is the executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. He joined us here in 3A. Thank you so much.

BRANIFF: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Marathoners rely on their fans along the route to give them a boost through all those miles, 26.2. Three days after three of those fans died in Boston, we salute the spectators. Stay with us. I'm Celeste Headlee. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.