Before Serena Williams hits her first forehand winner or the first fans step onto the grounds of the Family Circle Tennis Center, bomb-sniffing dogs spend two hours scouring the facility for danger.
With the bombings at Monday’s Boston Marathon that killed three people still fresh on their minds, local sporting officials spent much of Tuesday revisiting their security procedures.
Since moving the Family Circle Cup from Hilton Head to Daniel Island in 2001, the tennis tournament has had tight security measures in place.
This year the Women’s Tennis Association added another level of security, hiring a full-time specialist to protect against attack. The Family Circle Cup was the first WTA tournament reviewed by the security specialist. Along with the bomb-sniffing dogs, the area directly in front of the Family Circle Stadium is closed to vehicles for at least a block to prevent an attack.
“The dogs would get here at 6 a.m. every morning and go through the entire facility — the clubhouse, the stadiums, the offices, everything,” said Bob Moran, the tournament director. “The first thing we talked about (Tuesday) in our staff meeting was our security procedures. The guy that the WTA hired is very thorough, and he actually called us to go over everything again. We’ve got a very good plan in place.”
Charleston Battery soccer team president Andrew Bell and RiverDogs baseball general manager Dave Echols lean heavily on the Charleston Police Department for their security during events.
The Battery and RiverDogs attract between 3,000 and 4,000 fans on any given night, and feel the security measures in place are sufficient.
“It’s not something you like to think about,” said Echols, whose minor league team plays at Riley Park. “You want to think that something like that couldn’t happen in Charleston, but it’s a precaution you have to take. We’re constantly updating everything about our fan experience, including our security measures.”
Officials with the Cooper River Bridge Run said they will be expanding security measures for next year’s run.
The Bridge Run’s safety procedures already had been increased and had evolved since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This year’s Bridge Run had 31,449 participants, about 10,000 more than the Boston Marathon.
“Safety is our top priority,” Julian Smith, the run’s executive director, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “We will be reviewing our security measures to ensure that we have the best possible plan in place and will make the necessary enhancements.”
Local hospitals routinely train for attacks. Each year, local emergency preparedness officials test response times to different situations, including simulating fires, mass burn casualties and weapons of mass destruction.
The last bomb training came in 2006 as six fake bombs went off in Summerville — three fake bombs during a fake high school football game and three more as emergency responders arrived on the scene.
It was all part of a regional training exercise, one of the annual scenarios that first responders around the Lowcountry have practiced over the years.
The scenarios are intended to mimic real disasters, said Brian Fletcher, the disaster preparedness program manager at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Nearly 10,000 people participated in the 2006 bomb exercise, with 800 of them treated for fake casualties, he said. Hospital emergency rooms practiced lockdown mode.
It’s important to practice, he said, because you never know when real disaster will strike.
“We’re certainly watching the events from Boston unfold,” Fletcher said.
“At first it’s shock and chaos because you never really expect anything like that, but we’re certainly prepared to respond to receive patients from an incident like that, at any time, 24 hours a day.”
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control convenes a meeting of emergency responders around the Lowcountry once a month. In the meeting before this year’s Cooper River Bridge Run, they discussed a coordinated response to a potential disaster, Fletcher said.
Each hospital also follows its own tailored emergency preparedness plan.
Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm that struck the Charleston area in 1989, offered valuable emergency-management lessons, said Jerry Flury, director of emergency management at Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
“Our region is as prepared as it can be for a mass-casualty incident,” she said.
Lauren Sausser contributed to this report.
“We’re running to show The Citadel supports the victims and their families for what they’re going through,” said Austin Gray (red shirt), commander of the college’s Golf Company. About 20 cadets ran downtown Tuesday, the day after deadly explosions rocked the Boston Marathon.×
Charleston police provide security to Venus Williams as she is swarmed by fans to sign autographs at the Family Circle Cup. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)×