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Utah National Guard added to Salt Lake City marathon security

Published April 19, 2013 10:12 pm

Safety • Organizers ask spectators to not bring backpacks Saturday.
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The Utah National Guard will watch for unconventional weapons at the Salt Lake City Marathon, whose organizers are asking spectators to leave backpacks at home.

Twenty members of the 85th Civil Support Team — hazardous-materials specialists — will monitor the event Saturday for radioactive or chemical threats, providing security along with officers from three police departments. The team, composed of Army and Air Force personnel, have at least 10 years of military experience and an average of 650 hours of specialized training.

Team members provide the security for the Iron Man triathlon in St. George, though historically they don't have a presence at the Salt Lake City event, said team leader Lt. Col. Ken Verboncouer. They know many of the officers they'll be working with Saturday, since they routinely train with law enforcement and aids them whenever they can, such as helping investigate the deaths of two Layton girls in 2010 after a pesticide was misapplied around their house, he said.

"We came up with a game plan to enhance SLCPD and other law enforcement's [security]" after the Boston bombings, Verboncouer said. He plans to spread the team along the 26.2-mile route in a similar way as the police, where the highest concentrations of people are expected to be — including the starting line, the finish line, and Sugar House Park, where a concert will be going on at the same time.

If there's a suspicious package at the event, though, police would take the lead in handling it.

At a briefing Thursday, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank advised spectators coming to the marathon to treat the event like the airport — don't leave bags unattended and report anything suspicious.

In the same vein, Carter Livingston, media relations director for the Salt Lake City Marathon, also said organizers are advising spectators to avoid bringing backpacks and large bags to the race. "Bring what you need," Livingston said.

Livingston said the marathon is "all systems go" in terms of preparation for the race starting on the Olympic Legacy Bridge at the University of Utah and ending at Liberty Park.

"We have been as focused on doing a great race as we were six months ago," he said.

Asked if there have been voices of concern from competitors or volunteers, Livingston said the response has, in fact, been quite the opposite.

"It's been very heartwarming," he said. "The number of people that have come up and said, 'Let's go, we're excited, whatever we can do to help' has been great."

Livingston said between marathoners, half-marathon runners, 5K participants, as well as kid racers, there will be upward of 7,000 competitors Saturday. He said he also expects about 3,000 spectators and 700 volunteers to help.

"The work that has been going on for the last year," he said, "has prepared both the public safety officials and marathon organizers for a great race day."

Saturday's race in Salt Lake City begins at 7 a.m.

"When we have an event like [the Boston bombings], it's important to support the [Salt Lake City] Marathon Saturday," SLCPD Detective Mike Hamideh said Tuesday. "To stay away from it is to say the terrorists win."


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