It was just this past Monday that two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And while the authorities continue their investigation, we wait for some good news and keep those who were directly affected in our thoughts.
But for those of us who participate in runDisney events, a number of worrisome questions pass through our minds: Could something like this happen at a runDisney event? Is this something people should worry about? Could some people decide not to register for a runDisney event because of this?
The easy—and uneasy—answer is "yes." But is it fair to even ask these questions?
These same sorts of questions were asked after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Disney's response at the time included implementing stricter (or more visible) security measures at the theme parks, including mandatory bag checks at park entrances.
There are critics who say these bag checks wouldn't thwart a determined terrorist—for those who say there should be tighter security, the bag checks may seem ineffective because Disney doesn't use metal detectors. Others who feel that bag checks are an intrusion may feel also that they are ineffective, for the simple fact that it's mostly "security theater" (that is, an illusion of heightened security mostly for show to make people feel safer).
What could Disney actually do to change its security protocol without having them become such burdens on runners that it negatively affects participation? In one radio news interview earlier this week, a Boston Marathon runner criticized race organizers for lax security at the marathon expo, noting that nobody bothered to inspect her husband's backpack when they entered the expo area.
Can you imagine Disney (or any race organizer, for that matter) instituting metal detectors and bag checks at all the doors to a race expo? How realistic would this be? These expos are huge draws for runDisney participants, who see event souvenir shopping and browsing through vendor booths as an intrinsic part of their marathon weekend experience.
Many of the victims in Boston were spectators who chose to stay near the finish line well after the elite runners had already finished, because they were waiting for friends and family members who ran at a slower pace—"normal" runners. Ordinary runners. Runners from all walks of life for whom marathons are not their careers. Runners like the ones who participate in a runDisney event.
Could Disney rethink how it handles spectator areas in future events? Might they institute bag checks? Might they expand the current paid chEAR spectator offering, so that the only people allowed in crowded spectator areas are those who purchase tickets? Could they offer free tickets, but require an ID or bag check to get to a restricted area? What about other areas where crowds gather, like the family reunion tents? And really, how does this differ from the crowds Disney is already accustomed to handling in its theme parks?
...The Boston Marathon is the only open marathon in the country that requires qualifying times to register. For many runners, just being able to run fast enough to get a BQ (that is, to qualify for Boston) is a goal of a lifetime. And because of this, the Boston Marathon isn't just any marathon; the goal of one day being able to run it makes up some runners' hopes and dreams.
And while the Walt Disney World Marathon doesn't have qualifying times, it also isn't just any marathon. The WDW Marathon, because of the attraction of the Disney brand, serves for many as a once-in-a-lifetime goal, of hopes and dreams for many who might otherwise never find the motivation to run 26.2 miles. Knowing that Mickey Mouse waves you past the starting line and high-fives you at the finish line, that a dream family trip of a lifetime can be part of the runDisney experience, can be a huge motivator for the individual to whom a marathon might seem like just a dream.
In that sense, both the Boston and Disney marathons share some commonality: as hallmark events, people make special plans to travel there, to take their family members with them.
All runDisney events finish up on Disney property, where Disney security has far more control over the environment than a typical road race. But while Walt Disney World runDisney events stay entirely on Disney property, the courses at Disneyland traverse through parts of Anaheim. Should this be a concern to participants?
It's possible that some people will decide to stick with local, smaller events and avoid large races altogether. My guess though, is that what happened in Boston won't change the minds of most people. In fact, I suspect that runDisney (and other) races will continue to be popular.
Does that mean nothing will change? No. But I think the change will be twofold:
First, I think what security-related changes Disney makes in its runDisney events will be mostly invisible to the participant. Behind the scenes, Disney may assign more security guards (uniformed and not) to its events. They may assign more canine units to walk through the spectator areas, and even have the dogs sniff through all the runners' checked gear bags. They might review their security camera system and make sure they are positioned to capture images that normally might not need coverage except during runDisney events. They might (and this is a big "might") decide to conduct rudimentary bag checks for those going into the chEAR spectator area right in front of the finish line, although it would be relatively easy to incorporate this since admission to the area is already restricted by wristbands.
The second isn't what Disney does, but what we do.
Sure, we can keep our eyes out for suspicious behavior. We can minimize what we stuff in our gear check bags so as to make the work of Disney security easier. We could even use daypacks made with netting or transparent plastic like some schools require, so it's easy to see the contents.
But what I'm talking about is something else. It's reflected in the outpouring of generosity and unity we've seen by Bostonians and the general public alike. People coming together to grieve for the victims, but to also unite as a community.
Sandwiched between the news articles detailing the events of Monday and the articles profiling runners who were affected by the explosions, are stories of people around the country running together with friends in honor of those in Boston: Where they were merely runners, they are now a growing collective, standing up against what happened in Boston. Runners are a resilient lot, and rather than cowering and withdrawing from road races, they are instead taking back the streets.
So what kind of security do runners want? Based purely on unscientific observations, I think what we want is to offer a sense of security—running is irrepressible and runners make a great community, terrorists be damned.
The running community will never be quite the same. But I don't know that we'll be worse off.
The people at runDisney offered this message in their Facebook page yesterday:
"These past few days, it’s been inspiring to see the solidarity and compassion of the global running community. A runner’s spirit is strong in resolve and purposeful. May we find inspiration in those qualities as we move forward."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
...and now, I think it's time to lace up my shoes and go out for a run. Won't you join me?