East Providence Police officer adds perspective to Boston Marathon tragedy

EAST PROVIDENCE — East Providence Police Lieutenant Raymond Blinn has an intricate knowledge of attempting to contend with incidents such as the tragic bombings Monday afternoon, April 15, during the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.

Lieutenant Blinn, a 22-year veteran of the force, is currently authoring the city’s updated response protocols to violence in East Providence Schools, something deemed necessary by the previous act of domestic terror in Newtown, Conn. and an alleged gun-related incident that occurred at East Providence High School days later.

More to the point, as a civilian, Lieutenant Blinn has a 25-year track record of working in the security industry, specifically in the sports arena for the last 10 years in the golf world as an event operations manager and consultant for PGA Tour events around the country.

So when two bomb blasts injured nearly 200 people, many severely, and killed three in Boston Monday, Lieutenant Blinn knew how agencies like the Boston Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation initiate their response.

“When you’re dealing what we call ‘Special Events’ like the marathon, the first thing you have to understand and realize is there’s no way you can prevent something like that from happening,” Lieutenant Blinn solemnly acknowledged.

“The marathon takes place over 26 miles in the city the size of Boston,” he continued. “There’s no way you can search everybody. We all understand that. You can search. You can do sweeps. But if someone wants to do something like what happened Monday, there’s still plenty of places to do it.”

Lieutenant Blinn said Boston’s history of putting on the marathon certainly played a role its ability to respond to a crisis like the one faced Monday.

“They have plans for things like this in place. They made their initial assessment and went into action. You could see there was continuity between all the departments — the Boston Police, EMS, the hospitals,” Lieutenant Blinn said. “I give them a ton of credit. The preparedness they had in place definitely saved a lot of lives.”

Much like the Boston Marathon, golf tournaments are conducted over large swathes of land with several thousands people on the grounds. In that setting, Lieutenant Blinn and his colleagues, likewise, take on the unenviable task of attempting to mitigate a similar occurrence.

“The first thing you have to realize is things like this can happen even if we do everything to try to minimize it. It’s the same thing we’re trying to do at the schools. Of course, we’re trying to prevent it, but we’re also trying to delay the progress of the incident,” Lieutenant Blinn explained.

He continued, “I’ve worked multiple PGA events around the country where we have 25,000 people a day attending. We do some screening, but we also stress educating the staff. You do a lot of training with the staff and the volunteers. We call it pre-incident identifiers. You try to identify suspicious people, behavior, suspicious packages, vehicles. You try to train and educate. And you also attempt to maintain high visibility.

“But the biggest factor we tell staff is if you see it, report it. Even if it’s a matter of us investigating the situation and nothing becomes of it, it’s worth it. We’d rather investigate and it turn out to be nothing rather than someone not wanting to bother us and then something catastrophic happens.”

A catastrophic event, of course, is what made us aware of our vulnerabilities and helped shaped the way law enforcement and the security industry views terror incidents.

“Since 9-11 the world has changed. Our life in this country has changed. We’ve come close to having something like this happen, but we were fortunate. A couple of years back (2010), the car bomber in New York, Times Square, he was almost able to do it, but it failed due to operator error. What you have to realize is IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are a very real possibility,” Lieutenant Blinn said.

“The threat from Al Qaeda is there and you also have to worry about the ‘lone wolf,’ someone who is sympathetic to the cause. And in our own country you have to be just as concerned with how the anti-government sentiment has grown. It started with the likes the Timothy McViegh and we’ve seen it more recently with the killings of officials in Texas and Colorado.”

The unfortunate reality of life in the United States in 2013 cannot be overlooked in any aspect of society. And now, for the first time, sports venues have been targeted successfully.

“The cost of trying to secure something like the marathon is astronomic,” Lieutenant Blinn said. “For something like golf tournaments, you’d have to charge people so much for the tickets, it really isn’t sustainable. And even if you try it, there’s still no guarantee something like this won’t happen.”

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