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Honolulu Mayor Pledges Robust Marathon Security

America's third-largest marathon takes place this weekend.

America’s third-largest marathon takes place this weekend.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Key city officials, led by Mayor Kirk Caldwell, gathered before the media on Wednesday to announce that security for Sunday’s Honolulu Marathon would be at the highest levels while still allowing the 30,000 registered runners to enjoy the race and its famed warm welcome, or “aloha spirit.” The Honolulu Marathon will be America’s third-largest marathon this year based on finishers after New York and Chicago.

“We want to make sure that this marathon continues to be both fun and safe,” said Caldwell, 61, who took office on Jan. 2. “As you know, we live in a new world where sometimes realities are such that people are worried about participating, concerned about their personal safety, wanting to make sure that when they come out everything has been done to make sure it is a fun and safe event. We’re standing here today with the men and women who are working very hard to make sure that’s accomplished.”

Caldwell, who was born and raised in Hawaii and has never run the marathon, spoke to reporters in the City of Honolulu Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Fasi Municipal Building. That center, Caldwell said, would be fully staffed from midnight before the marathon begins at 5 a.m., until at least 6 p.m. on Sunday, the first time the center has ever been opened for the marathon here. The center has video displays connected to the city’s network of security cameras, and 13 additional cameras have been added to help officials monitor the course and keep runners safe.

The bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line last April has forced race organizers to balance the competing interests of making their events safe while still promoting them as fun and celebratory. Dr. Jim Barahal, the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, feels that his team, working with city, state and federal authorities, have struck that balance for Sunday’s race.

“Clearly, that changed the playing field for every major marathon and, really, every major sporting event and large public gathering,” Barahal said of the Boston bombing. “I’m tremendously proud to have been part of this effort to work closely, collaboratively, behind the scenes to ensure the safest and most secure event on Sunday, while at the same time — very importantly — continuing the aloha spirit of the event. We’re confident that we’ve accomplished that.”

In addition to the new security cameras, police chief Louis M. Kealoha said that his department would deploy a more than adequate number of officers on the street, including many working undercover.

“Basically, what we’re doing is we’re taking the heightened security posture for the Honolulu Marathon,” said Chief Kealoha, flanked by several of his top officers. “To that extent, what we’re doing is providing uniformed as well as plainclothes assets. We’re going to spread out throughout the route.  We’re also going to bring up our department [emergency] operations center … and also having a partnership with other law enforcement agencies, both federal as well as state agencies. Our No. 1 priority here is public safety. We want to make this a safe event for all of the people who are involved, including the participants and the spectators.”

City officials have also had to be sensitive to criticisms that the installation of so many security cameras can lead to excessive government monitoring of the activities of ordinary citizens. To that end, 10 of the 13 new cameras will be removed after the race. City council member Stanley Chang said that removing the cameras was the right thing to do; most of the marathon route goes through Chang’s district.

“The city council approved recently the use of 13 security cameras to use as a security measure,” explained Chang. “Ten of them will be removed immediately after the marathon to accommodate some reasonable civil liberties concerns. We don’t want constant surveillance of people around the city.”

The Boston bombings have done little to deter runners from participating in marathons and other road races. Entry and finisher numbers continue to be strong, evidenced by both the 50,304 finishers recorded at the New York City Marathon last month, making it the largest marathon in world history, and the decision by the Boston Athletic Association to expand the field of the Boston Marathon next year by 9,000 runners to 36,000.