In 2013, the United States Park Police (USPP) invited DomPrep to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the planning process and trainings that help secure thousands of special events each year. On 3 April 2014, the USPP held a first-of-its-kind tabletop exercise with event organizers of the 42nd Annual Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. DomPrep was there as the organizers, USPP officers, and other agencies discussed “what-if” scenarios, exchanged ideas, and gained a better understanding of the role that each stakeholder would play before, during, and after the event.
As the “Masters of Collaboration,” the USPP has a long history of planning and executing special events with multiple law enforcement agencies to build partnerships and understanding. Unlike many other tabletop exercises the USPP has coordinated, Lt. James Murphy saw an opportunity to bring external partners into the planning process for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.
A Mutual Understanding
To help event organizers understand the planning process from a law enforcement perspective, the USPP invited the organizers of that event to the USPP Anacostia Operations Facility for an open dialogue, discussion, and tabletop exercise. The annual Cherry Blossom foot race is different from most of the other events that the USPP protects because it takes place entirely on National Park Service property. As the host agency, the USPP has the main responsibility to ensure road closures – by using emergency vehicles and barricades to stop vehicular traffic – as well as minimize and mitigate threats. The USPP and the National Park Service play key roles in setting up, planning, and breaking down events that occur in their primary jurisdiction. However, during other multijurisdictional events, there is a greater collaborative effort with various agencies.
To ensure that race planners understood the purpose of the meeting, officers from the USPP began the discussion by explaining the reasons for and objectives of a tabletop exercise. All participants had an opportunity to address topics such as attendance expectations, the race route schedule, race maps, and alternate routes. Similar to the information provided to law enforcement officers during the 4th of July multiagency communication center exercise in 2013, the Cherry Blossom tabletop shared information about the current intelligence and threat assessment: terror propaganda and ideology; recent terrorist tactics; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) incidents; weapons of mass destruction; unique weapons trends such as synthetic plastic 3D-printed weapons; and lone-wolf ideology.
After outlining information about the event itself, the USPP presented four scenarios to address the “what ifs” and to identify plans, policies, and gaps in a low-stress environment. Although the scenarios presented actually occurred at various locations, they each could potentially occur in the D.C. area at the time of this event:
- Scenario 1 – A severe weather event begins the day before the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run;
- Scenario 2 – A possible explosive device is found on the National Mall the morning of the race;
- Scenario 3 – A mass-casualty incident involving contaminated drinking water occurs during the event; and
- Scenario 4 – An Amber alert for a missing child.
In all of these scenarios, communication and rapid dissemination of information are critical. However, the first and third scenarios exposed gaps in the planning process that the tabletop participants were able to discuss.
In the first scenario, severe weather, flood watches, inaccessible roads, power outages, and downed trees would cause many problems for both race planners and law enforcement officers. Exercise participants acknowledged the need to secure tents, provide overnight security, organize telephone contacts, listen to the National Weather Service, and relay messages to participants. The planners shared information with the USPP about the mobile application that they created for race participants to receive valuable information. The USPP in turn shared information about the Nixle system that the USPP uses in order to share information and alerts with the public. After the exercise, race organizers encouraged participants to sign up for the Nixle alerts.
Communication is critical, especially when redirecting runners or cancelling the event. This scenario exposed potential gaps in terminology and decisions related to cancelling or postponing the event. USPP officers emphasized the need to protect runners and spectators when environmental conditions threaten their safety and security. Race planners explained that, when designing a message, the terms “cancelled,” “suspended,” and “altered” have very different meanings to the race participants – especially when $80,000 in prizes is at stake.
In the third scenario, runners received contaminated drinking water during the race, which resulted in hundreds requiring emergency medical services and hospitals quickly becoming overwhelmed. Careful consideration for placement of ambulances and triage areas would help reduce response times and improve access to the course. Continuing the race without water could put more runners in danger, especially as the temperature rises throughout the day.
Lessons Still Being Learned After 42 Years
Although this race has taken place on USPP property for the past 42 years, the new tabletop exercise helped race planners and the USPP identify and discuss potential risks and possible solutions in a collaborative environment:
- Changing or cancelling the event, especially after the start of the race, would be difficult without careful planning of alternate routes, contingency plans, and means of communication.
- Water captains at the five water stations along the 10-mile course play a key role in protecting the water supply and communicating with race organizers.
- Bib switching during a race can be an issue when there is an emergency because the bib numbers identify the runners, who normally do not carry additional identification.
- Race participants often bring an extra change of clothes and shoes to such events. This means more bags, which may require more K-9 units to search those who enter the area.
At the end of the exercise, the USPP officers reassured race organizers about their extensive experience with egress management plans if something were to occur. In addition, by working directly with the USPP for an event confined to National Park Service property, race planners are able to eliminate delays that may occur when external security companies are not familiar with the location and ingress/egress routes. Good water management, effective security measures, and a great route are just a few of many ways suggested for ensuring safety and security during the event. However, Captain Dennis C. Bosak, Assistant Commander of the USPP Training Branch, reminded the tabletop participants that the exercise that day was just the beginning, “It’s a paper exercise, but should not stay on paper.”
On 29 April 2013, Captain Philip Beck and Lieutenant James Murphy from the USPP joined Deputy Race Director Becky Lambros of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run once again for follow-up discussion. Listen to their podcast to hear an after-action report on the exercise and how it will affect future planning for similar events. For this event, the race organizers embraced the collaborative effort offered by the USPP and helped spur further growth in their public-private partnership.
Catherine L. Feinman
Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.