Organizing an open-access event comes with plenty of challenges. There’s coordinating the logistics, finding sponsors, and of course, organizing security to keep participants and fans safe.
On top of that, this weekend’s 37th annual Chicago Marathon comes with an additional threat: Ebola.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s latest update on October 3rd, 3,439 people have died worldwide due to the disease. It is the largest Ebola epidemic in history. As the Chicago Tribune reports, Chicago Marathon officials say they’re prepared for anything, including Ebola.
Dr. George Champas, head marathon physician, said a staff of 1,500 volunteer medical personnel along with the Chicago Fire Department and emergency medical services personnel are prepared to deal with communicable diseases — just as they have been in the past.
“Our message to all of our runners has always been if they develop any sort of symptoms, whether prior to arriving to the United States, or prior to coming to Chicago or while they’re here, is if they see any viral sort of symptoms to seek some medical advice,” Champas told reporters Tuesday. “So that message is something that we’ll continue to communicate.”
Champas said runners represent all 50 states and 132 countries but none hail from West Africa, where the most severe outbreak of Ebola has occurred. He said some runners are coming from East Africa.
The city has experience dealing with diseases and other issues. Race officials will practice the same guidelines they have with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle Ease Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus), and influenza.
In 2007, the Chicago Marathon was halted about halfway through due to excessive heat. As AB's Paul Steinbach wrote then:
The overarching complaint, though, was the seeming lack of preparation by race organizers for the unseasonable weather conditions - which, frustrated runners were quick to point out, had been forecast days in advance. Race materials had assured participants of ample support in the form of water and calories along the course, but many considered that an empty promise shortly after they had embarked.
Fortunately this weekend's forecast calls for temperatures in the 50's.
As for the safety of both runners and spectators at this year's event, Steve Georgas, acting chief of special functions for the Police Department, tells the Chicago Tribune there have been no credible threats to the race. Canine units will be on the scene as well as uniformed and undercover police officers who will conduct random searches.
But as AB’s Dennis Van Milligen wrote in this feature story based around the 2014 Boston Marathon, it’s impossible to prepare for everything.
"The difficulty that comes with open-access events is the vulnerability for something to happen is greater because it's harder to manage the preparedness there," says Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"You can never let your guard down, no matter when it is in the race,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told AB prior to the 2014 Boston Marathon. “We'll have to be on our toes for the entire six and a half hours."
And you can bet the officials at this weekend’s Chicago Marathon will be too.