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Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Page updated at 07:30 a.m.

Security intensifies for local events, but there are no guarantees

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

Will people be safe at tonight’s Mariners game at Safeco Field, next month’s Bloomsday run in Spokane, or summer’s annual Bumbershoot festival in Seattle?

The short answer is likely — but there are no guarantees.

Even in a post-9/11 America with heightened security measures and awareness of terrorism, experts say no large gatherings can ever be rendered 100 percent safe.

Nevertheless, many government officials, law-enforcement agencies and event organizers throughout the Puget Sound region said they are taking additional measures.

“One-hundred percent security is unattainable,” said David Gomez, a retired FBI agent who now runs a private security consulting firm. “You have to think about prevention, prediction and resilience. No matter how careful you are, something is going to happen eventually, and you have to be resilient.”

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, said police have increased the number of officers and K-9 units patrolling neighborhoods and city buildings even though there has been no information to indicate that the city is at any greater risk than it was before the attack in Boston.

That heightened level of security was evident Tuesday morning in the police response to an unattended backpack at Third Avenue and Yesler Way.

Police spokeswoman Renee Witt said an officer and the bomb-sniffing dog were on a patrol that was ordered in the wake of Monday’s explosions in Boston when they spotted the suspicious backpack.

“After (Monday), we have to act with an abundance of caution,” said Witt.

Police used a pair of remote-controlled robots to examine the backpack, which contained a hair dryer.

The State Patrol has also increased its presence at the ferry terminals and conducted more random checks on vehicles and passengers, according to the Washington State Ferries.

Gomez, who was senior assistant special agent-in-charge for counterterrorism and intelligence at the FBI’s Seattle field office, said large public events such as parades, festivals and marathons are much more difficult to secure than private events, such as Mariners games.

“Any large event needs to be treated as a terrorist target, but it’s a big challenge and a major headache with all the entrances and egresses and people walking around with backpacks,” he said.

He said that the biggest deterrent to terrorist activity is active and visible security.

Seattle police also remind citizens to be vigilant and report any unusual activity.

In Spokane, a plot eerily similar to the Boston Marathon blasts was foiled when three cleanup workers found a backpack containing a poison-laced bomb about an hour before the scheduled start of the Jan. 17, 2011, Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. White supremacist Kevin Harpham was convicted of planting the bomb and sentenced to 32 years in federal prison.

Rebecca Hale, the director of public information for the Mariners, said she could not talk about security measures for Safeco Field. She did say the organization has been checking backpacks since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We are using this as an opportunity to review our practices and procedures to make sure we are doing everything we need to be doing to keep fan safety at the forefront,” Hale said.

Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub says that there will be a heightened police presence during the city’s annual 12-kilometer Bloomsday run May 5, which typically draws tens of thousands of participants.

Louise Long, executive director of the Seattle Marathon Association and the race director for the Dec. 1 Seattle Marathon, said it is too early to tell what additional measures will be required.

Like the Boston Marathon, the Seattle race poses some logistical problems as the course is 26.2 miles and participants bring backpacks with a change of clothes.

But Long said race organizers will comply with whatever measures are required by the city.

She said her family would still be at the finish line.

Whitcomb, the Seattle Police Department spokesman, said that’s the right attitude.

“This summer is going to be packed with activities. We think people should go and enjoy,” he said. “Just do not be surprised or alarmed to see more police.”

Christine Clarridge can be reached or 206-464-8983.

Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this report.


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