In the wake of recent bombings at the Boston Marathon, ensuring security for the tens of thousands who stream into Seaside during the summer months for events like the Hood to Coast Relay, the beach volleyball tournament and Fourth of July celebration, has taken on greater significance.
Vigilance and intelligence are the two keys for securing those major events, according to Seaside Police Chief Bob Gross.
For every major event, Seaside’s Police Department has an operations plan that helps the officers prepare for and execute security. Gross said the planning for many of these major events has already happened or is currently underway, but the impact of Boston is playing into discussions with event organizers.
“Every year we take a look at that plan and tweak it to meet any of the things we ran into the year before that we hadn’t anticipated, or things that have popped up that we haven’t seen in the past,” Gross said.
Intelligence from area agencies also plays a critical role for Seaside making sure events stay safe.
“We will continue to count on intelligence information we get from various sources, including the Portland Police Bureau and other law enforcement agencies,” Gross said.
For example, during spring break, Gross said the department got a call from an off-duty gang officer from Portland who alerted them to several known gang members in the area. The individuals left town, but Gross said information like that is incredibly valuable for the department to provide the best security.
For every major event, Gross said the department’s officers are required to be on duty or available. He said typically they have 12-to 14-hour shifts. When necessary, other law enforcement agencies are called in.
Seaside’s biggest annual event is Hood to Coast. The 195-mile relay, which begins on Mt. Hood and ends on the beach at Seaside’s turnaround, brings between 50,000 and 60,000 people into town over a 24-hour period.
In addition to the influx of people into the area, the event also features a large finishing area on the beach.
This year, a newly reconfigured finish line will improve the participants’ experience. In addition to working with the Seaside Police Department and other interested agencies in changing that part of the race, the new design allows them to rethink the security and emergency plans for the area, said Hood to Coast Chief Operating Officer Dan Floyd.
“As a whole, we’re evaluating our emergency plan,” he said “We’re going to work with law enforcement along the whole course and find what we can do.”
Floyd said the organization works with 27 law enforcement and emergency services agencies along the full route of the course. He said they work most closely with the agencies in the major stop and start points, including Seaside, where the relay ends.
The organization is working with the police department to improve security, if necessary, in preparation for this year’s Aug. 23 and 24 event. Floyd said they will follow Gross’s advice.
Hood to Coast also provides private security along the route and in the finish line area in Seaside. Gross said the police department is primarily concerned with traffic control, patrolling the perimeter of the event area and providing backup in the event the security needs it.
This year, the relay has a new security team in place. Gross said they would be having a face-to-face meeting soon.
“We are going to meet with those folks and talk about the changes that were made and just kind of get to know each other and know what the expectations are,” Gross said. “During that conversation, I will bring up the Boston possibilities and working with their security company to ensure that they’re more vigilant than they normally would be for unattended items and items that look suspicious.”
Cooperation between the relay and the police department is important, said Gross and Floyd. Hood to Coast keeps Seaside’s police department regularly up-to-date and provides the department with an operational plan that includes a list of personnel and organizers.
“It allows us, if we have issues, to quickly make contact with representatives from Hood to Coast or the security personnel with Hood to Coast,” Gross said.
Floyd said the organization’s staff spends all year preparing for the race. Still, Floyd said, “It’s extremely difficult to predict and fill every hole.”
Doug Barker, event coordinator with the Seaside Chamber of Commerce, said they work hand-in-hand with the Seaside Police Department to provide the safest possible experience for visitors.
The chamber organizes some of Seaside’s iconic events. The Fourth of July is its largest, with the beach volleyball tournament and beach soccer tournaments not far behind.
Although the Hood to Coast relay is the city’s biggest event, in terms of people, Gross said the Fourth of July celebration is the most challenging.
“They not only have the numbers, but they’ve been on the beach all day,” Gross said. “Many of them consuming alcohol.”
The chamber provides private security to work in conjunction with the police and fire departments, as well as public works, Barker said. The hired security provides a calming presence and will do security checks, he said.
“That’s what you’re looking for, and the other stuff is just in the back of your mind,” Barker added. “Hopefully, it never happens.”
All of their security personnel are required to undergo training by the Oregon Department of Public Safety and Standards Training.
The chamber still relies heavily on the Seaside Police Department. If there is something the security officers don’t feel they can handle, they call 911.
“We’re a small event on a rather anonymous beach out in left field, but we’re not ignorant to the fact,” Barker said. “Drunks are the big problem, and you just hope you don’t have a terrorist.”
Despite all of the advance preparation, Gross said that Boston provides a lesson that, even with thousands of law enforcement officers and regular security checks, all it takes is one determined person.
“You can prepare for everything you can possibly prepare for, but they only have to be successful once,” Gross said. “We have to be successful every time.”
This story originally appeared in Seaside Signal.