SPOKANE, Wash – Nearly 50,000 people will cross the finish line in the 37th annual Lilac Bloomsday Run on Sunday, May 5th – and this year more than ever, in the wake of the attack in Boston, security issues are taking center stage.
"We're really heartbroken to see that happen at an event that's all about health and fitness," Bloomsday Founder & Race Director Don Kardong told KHQ. "Anytime there's an incident we like to review our procedures to make sure we're doing everything we can and if we need to we'll make changes."
Kardong has a good partner; head of race security Al Odenthal graduated from the FBI National Academy and spent 26 with Spokane Police before retiring as Assistant Chief. He's been helping with security for Bloomsday for nearly two decades.
"We've learned a lot in our 36 years [of running Bloomsday], and it's a changing world," Odenthal told KHQ.
With questions still lingering as to why Boston was attacked, he has to think about whether Spokane could be – and how just a few years ago, it almost was.
"The FBI was a big help in the MLK Day explosive device and getting things cranked up before Bloomsday of that year," he added.
Odenthal is working with Spokane Police – and federal partners – to make sure security plans are appropriate. The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is keeping watch over any threats or possible risks, Homeland Security and the TSA will be involved at the airport as thousand of people – and their luggage – fly into Spokane, and the ATF will be involved in helping protect against explosives. He says there will be changes to the race this year, although you may never see them.
"We have incorporated the prospect of a few security changes that are pretty much going to be invisible to participants and spectators," Odenthal said.
In years past, changes have already been made to the course – including a section of the race where an ambulance couldn't make it in. Now, every year a medical helicopter is stationed there in case people need to be flown out of the area for emergency care.
Odenthal told KHQ his two little grandkids will be at Bloomsday, and he doesn't have any reservations about their safety, which says a lot about yours.
Still, he asks that anyone near the event on May 5th keep a particularly watchful eye.
"When we put 55, 60 thousand people together in one place, that becomes a target for someone who wants to do a lot of damage," he added. "So if it doesn't belong there, if it calls your attention, if you see something, say something."