July 4, 2016 Atlanta: A fan waves flags and cheers runners on Cardiac Hill during the AJC Peachtree Road Race on Monday morning July 4, 2016. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Police to install security checkpoints for July 4 AJC Peachtree Road Race

Spectators planning to cheer on runners at Tuesday’s AJC Peachtree Road Race can expect to come across new security checkpoints at the Piedmont Park finish line area and at several points along the route for the world’s largest 10K.

The checkpoints – new to the race this year – are in line with the “best practices” of races around the world, said Rich Kenah, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, which manages the race.

Anything fans are carrying in a bag before the checkpoints will be searched and put into a clear plastic bag before they can approach the curb or go inside the finish line area, so spectators are encouraged to be proactive and bring their belongings in a clear bag – or carry no bag at all.

“When you have an event like the Peachtree, we just want to make sure that we do everything in our power to ensure that safe experience,” Kenah said. “It really is a year-long planning process. I feel very good about the resources that we receive to ensure a fun and safe day for everyone.”

Around 60,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair racers will snake from Lenox Square to Piedmont Park on the morning of July 4 for the 48th running of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race, a cherished Atlanta tradition that can attract up to 100,000 enthusiastic spectators.

The Atlanta Police Department, the main law enforcement agency overseeing the race, will manage security for the event out of a joint operations center downtown, Deputy Chief Timothy Quiller said at a press conference Friday. “A number” of officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, will be on the streets monitoring the race, Quiller said, declining to name the specific number for security purposes.

Police will utilize thousands of cameras to oversee the course and watch for any threats, Quiller said.

“We just want everybody to be safe, and we know it’s going to be a very busy weekend,” he said. “We’re going to be out there, and we’re going to be very visible on the streets.”

Police will also employ barricades, such as fences and vehicles, to stop any potential threats, he said.

“As you know, people are using various tactics throughout the country to try to enter safety zones or disrupt parades, disrupt any types of festivities that we have,” Quiller said. “So we came up with some strategies.”

Those strategies, he said, have naturally evolved due to recent terrorist attacks across the globe, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Quiller said the department has learned from the attacks in order to hone security procedures.

“It has impacted everybody throughout the nation and world,” he said of the recent attacks. “And so, in light of everything that has happened, I think that we’re looking for best practices. We’re learning from other agencies.”

There are currently no credible threats to the race, according to the FBI’s Atlanta field office.

“The FBI continues to encourage vigilance and requests that anyone observing anything out of the ordinary to report it to their police department or to the FBI,” the agency said in a statement.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will support the APD’s bomb disposal unit and coordinate intelligence efforts with the APD and FBI, spokesman Bahan Rich said.

“It just reinforces that it takes every agency now to support the other ones,” Rich said. “People want their lives to go on and not have to not do things [out of] fear. We want to be there to make them feel secure.”

Runners will not be able to carry backpacks or other luggage on the course. Masks and costumes that are not form-fitting, as well as military equipment and drones, are also prohibited, according to the Track Club. Firearms are “discouraged.”

Kenah said he had noticed security checkpoint systems being used more and more by other successful road races, which is one of the reasons the Peachtree will institute them this year.

“I’m always looking to other [racing] events around the world to learn about their security practices so that we feel that we’re doing anything and everything that we can,” he said.

The race will continue deploying its “Event Alert System,” which consists of large signs along the course that inform runners of the current weather conditions and risks. Green indicates good weather, while yellow and red signal worsening and potentially dangerous conditions, respectively. A black sign means the conditions are extreme and the race is canceled.

While the weather for Tuesday morning is hard to precisely predict, nothing in the forecast looks particularly dicey, Kenah said.

“Being active, being outside, being involved in these sorts of events is what we do year-round,” said Kenah with the track club, “and the Fourth of July is no different.”

Quiller feels similarly — “We treat it the same way” as any smaller event, the deputy chief said. “There’s no difference. Small or large, we make sure that we provide adequate security.”

Police will feel relieved after the Fourth of July is over, since the road race is an event that can keep you up at night, Quiller said.

“July 5? Yeah, I will take a deep breath,” he said, “and then we will start preparing for the next event.”


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