Boston Marathon bombings prompt new discussion about security plans for Canton’s premier event.
Planning for the unimaginable.
Organizers of the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival say the deadly Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 170 others underscores the need be prepared.
Hall officials and the local safety forces they rely on are considering new ways to keep the event safe. The festival includes 19 events that draw 700,000 people to Canton over two weeks in late July and early August.
“We live in a day and age when (planning year round) is the appropriate thing to do,” said Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “You can plan and review those plans but you can never fully prepare for the bad things that people think to do. ...We’re very concerned when we see people who suffer from the acts of others. That’s really the tragedy in all of this.”
Joanne K. Murray, director of the enshrinement festival for the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said safety remains organizers’ top priority.
“Certainly our hearts go out to the people of Boston,” Murray said. “When you work so hard to have such a quality, well-respected event and to have something like that happen must be devastating.
“It’s very scary,” Murray said. “We take safety very seriously, whether it be something minor like someone being injured or whether it’s something catastrophic like what happened in Boston.”
WHAT THEY DO
Local safety officials began informal discussions hours after the marathon tragedy. Stark County Emergency Management Agency Director Timothy Warstler and Sheriff George T. Maier spoke briefly Monday about adding more staging areas so paramedics and police can respond faster to large-scale emergencies, including a terrorist attack.
Canton Police Chief Bruce Lawver anticipates there will be more formal discussions when the festival’s safety committee meets in June. Lawver said police manpower will be at full force, as in past years, with many officers working 12-hour days throughout the event.
“There’s no ignoring this,” Lawver said. “It’s going to be discussed. It has to be discussed. This increases concern across the country.”
The safety committee is made up of officials from area police, fire and health departments, local hospitals, the Stark County Chapter of the American Red Cross, as well as the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“All of those groups are at the table,” Warstler said.
Organizers of the festival are familiar with all sorts of security risks.
Hours before the 2012 Timken Grand Parade, police responded with guns drawn to a report of a fight in the 1600 block of Cleveland Avenue NW. People fled as police arrived. One officer, who was chasing a suspect, fell with his gun in his hand and the weapon accidentally discharged. A bullet fired into the ground and fragments ricocheted into the hand and leg of one of the persons who was fleeing.
Page 2 of 3 - In 2005, between 200 and 300 visitors and workers were evacuated from the museum during the festival after a bogus bomb threat was called in by two men. The threat was a diversion so the men could rob a Unizan Bank across town. The men were convicted of bank robbery and one of them was also found guilty of violating the Patriot Act.
Warstler said the response to the marathon bombing was impeccable, mostly because first responders were stationed along the marathon route to treat runners for race-related medical conditions. He said similar pre-staged “resources” could become a larger part of this year’s festival.
John Whitlatch, division chief for the Canton Fire Department, said there is a higher threat level this year because it is the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary. He said more paramedics will be needed. And additional atmosphere-monitoring devices that detect noxious chemicals will be used this year. The Hall of Fame will be inspected before, during and after each day of the festival, he added.
Stark County’s Hazardous Materials Response Unit deploys four 8-by-18-foot trailers that each contain enough equipment for paramedics to treat 100 severely injured patients. The trailers are kept at local fire departments throughout the year but are strategically positioned near the Hall of Fame events at undisclosed locations throughout the festival.
The Ohio National Guard’s 52nd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team out of Columbus is also called in, Warstler said, to help “monitor different activities.”
The Civil Support Team and the Stark County Hazardous Materials Response Unit provide mutual aide to each other during the festival. The agencies took part in a dirty-bomb drill at the Amos McDannel School in Canton Township in November.
Canton Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Garra, who heads the county hazmat team, said the public must be vigilant, especially at large events.
“A lot of the attention has been on airports and schools,” Garra said. “A lot of it has to do with suspicious packages left lying there in unusual places, left where it’s not supposed to be. We need to stay vigilant. A lot of times (people) say, ‘It can’t happen in our area,’ but it can.”
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REPORTING SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY
• If you see something suspicious, call local law enforcement and provide a prompt and detailed report.
• Call 911 if there is a life-threatening emergency.
• Provide the following information:
- Brief description of the activity
- Date, time and location of the activity
Page 3 of 3 - - Physical identifiers of anyone you observed
- Descriptions of vehicles
- Information about where people involved in suspicious activities may have gone
- Your name and contact information (optional)
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Homeland Security