Boston’s Response to the Marathon Bombing Wowed the Olympic Committee (Maybe)

A 3D computer model which is being developed to help plan the city's bid for the 2024 Olympics.
A 3D computer model which is being developed to help plan the city's bid for the 2024 Olympics. –The Boston Globe

History, culture, walkability! These are the features of Boston that local Olympics supporters are using to sell the city’s bid for the 2024 Games.

One facet they aren’t speaking about very much is the city’s security infrastructure, but that may play a role all the same. According to a recent report, the International Olympic Committee has taken a shine to Boston’s security capabilities. The Nation’s Dave Zirin, who covers the politics of sports, writes:

I spoke with someone connected to the International Olympic Committee who told me that Boston has rocketed to the top of their consideration list because of how the city was able to shut itself down after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Greater Boston’s shutdown the Friday following the Marathon bombings is a controversial topic, with competing perspectives on whether it was a public safety necessity or a chill on civil liberties. According to Zirin, though, it was a very good move for Boston’s Olympics aspirations.

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Zirin is citing a single anonymous source, so take it for what it’s worth. The IOC did not respond to a request for comment from Boston.com. Security, to note, is always considered a key part in the host city selection process.

And bear in mind, the IOC is not who is currently deciding on whether to move forward with the Boston bid—nor is it even interacting with Boston 2024, the group behind the bid. The bid’s fate is in the hands of the United States Olympic Committee, which is weighing proposals out of Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The IOC, where Zirin says his information is coming from, would only consider Boston if the USOC selects it as its representative bid later this winter. (Then again, if there’s any indication that the IOC would be partial to the Boston bid, for reasons of security or anything else, it may put the city at the top of the USOC’s list, too.)

This isn’t the first time the post-Marathon response has been referenced in relation to an Olympics bid. A report released earlier this year from state officials about the prospect of hosting the Games delved into the topic, wrapping up by saying: “We believe the experience gained from the Marathon response would prove very useful in preparing to maximize the safety and security of a Boston 2024 Summer Olympics.’’

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Regardless of whether the post-bombing response is affecting the evaluation of Boston’s bid, security is a massive element—and cost—in the Olympic planning process. Security costs were greater than $1.5 billion for the London Summer Games in 2012, doubling the original projections, despite London already having fairly advanced security infrastructure.

For all that, NBC News reported at the time, here’s what London got:

A simple glance at the main Olympic Park in East London confirms this will be the most security-conscious Games in history: More than 11 miles of razor-wire-topped electric fencing separates the site from its surroundings, every entrance is guarded by soldiers and the surrounding streets and shopping malls are patrolled by police carrying 9mm semi-automatic weapons–an unusual sight in Britain, where armed patrols are normally found only at airports.

The Boston 2024 group has estimated that the bid could be supported with $4.5 billion in privately-funded construction costs and another $5 billion in publicly funded infrastructure costs. (Opponents of the bid have estimated a higher total cost figure.) There hasn’t been much mention of a projected security price tag for the 2024 games, but “the federal government would be responsible for security costs,’’ a Boston 2024 spokesperson told Boston.com. The event would all but certainly be designated as a National Special Security Event (as was another high-profile and high-security Boston event, the 2004 Democratic National Convention). Such events are coordinated and funded by the feds, with local and state aid available either in the form of grants or in specially-allocated money for some. The last Olympics held in the United States—the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games—was also a National Special Security Event, for which the federal goverment committed at least $225 million.

Boston 2024 Executive Vice President Erin Murphy released the following statement to Boston.com about security efforts for the city’s bid:

The safety of the Games is of primary importance and our security planning has always been focused on providing the most secure and welcoming Olympics for a global audience. Our plans for security include working with local, state and federal partners as we did for the Democratic National Convention in 2004, which was another National Special Security Event. Our top advisors on security, (former Massachusetts Homeland Security Undersecretary) Juliette Kayem and (former Boston Police Commissioner) Ed Davis, will continue to be on hand as we develop our plans. As we continue to move forward, we will work with all our partners, recognizing that security is fluid, risks will change and technology will give us greater opportunities. And we are always aware that the safety and security of the city and its residents, the athletes, and the visitors is our obligation.

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