EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 21, 2013

Police rethink security at outdoor events, amid obstacles

Fleets of airborne drones may peer into crowds from a mile high, relaying live images sharp enough to identify the contents of a curbside trash can.

Mailboxes, newspaper vending machines and anything else that could hold explosives may be unbolted from streets and hauled away.

And Porta Potties — an icon of comfort and convenience at large outdoor gatherings for generations — may disappear as police and other law enforcement officials rethink the way they protect crowds at public events following the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon last week.

Some security upgrades under consideration would go mostly unnoticed, including the drones overhead and, underfoot, the manholes that would be bolted closed.

But some would be painfully obvious, including the hours-long lines at gates and metal detectors in places where they never used to be, and the rows of portable toilets that would go missing after decades of providing reliable relief to the masses.

“You have to leave or wear a diaper — and some people do,” said Lt. John Grimpel, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, referring to the stark choice tens of thousands of New Year’s Eve revelers have faced since Dec. 31, 2001, four months after the 9/11 attacks, when portable toilets were removed for good from the celebration in Times Square.

The pledge President Obama delivered at a service for the victims of the marathon bombings that Boston “will run again” was an affirming message for a wounded city. But for the people whose job it is to secure the marathons, parades, sporting events, rallies and similar outdoor events around the country, the president’s pledge was as much of a back-to-the-drawing-board work order as a soothing consolation.

Emerging technology is changing the domestic war on terror on both sides: terrorists now detonate bombs remotely by cell phone. The recent profusion of surveillance cameras, and soon possibly drones, aid in their identity and capture.

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