LEWISTON, Maine — Officials plan tighter security for this weekend’s fifth annual Dempsey Challenge — scheduled to include about 3,800 participants and crowds of spectators likely to surpass 3,000 — but don’t expect bomb-sniffing dogs, Jersey barriers or metal detectors.
“The phrase we’re using is ‘intelligent vigilance,’” said Aimee Arsenault, the challenge’s event manager. “We have pieces in place, should something happen. We have a mobile command unit from the state police on site. We have a couple people working for us who used to work with Homeland Security.”
The changes likely will be invisible to folks who will be cycling, running, walking or cheering on friends.
“We’re asking people to be aware of their surroundings,” Arsenault said. “We don’t want to encourage any unnecessary paranoia or hysteria.”
The changes are due in part to the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
“There’s greater awareness, obviously,” said James Minkowsky, Lewiston’s deputy chief of police. “The Boston event was not far from here.”
He said police agencies and challenge officials created a security plan before the first challenge. With each subsequent event, the security plan was re-examined and changed, if necessary.
“We are definitely trying to keep staging areas and private events just a little tighter,” Arsenault said.
The challenge’s namesake and founder, TV and movie star Patrick Dempsey, will also feel added protection.
“We are tightening security around Patrick just because wherever he is, there is greater risk,” Arsenault said.
Dempsey is still scheduled to appear in public. Plans call for him to help open the event at 7 a.m. Saturday at Simard/Payne Memorial Park and to address the crowd at 10:30 a.m. that morning, following the cancer survivors’ walk. Likewise, he is scheduled to help kick off Sunday’s cycling events at 6:45 a.m. and to participate in the closing ceremony at 3:30 p.m.
He also is slated to ride the challenge’s 50-mile course on Sunday.
Arsenault said officials will do all they can to aid people for each of the courses, including the 100-mile route. But there’s only so much that can be done.
The long trek passes through 11 towns, mostly in rural areas.
“We cannot ensure that on 100 miles of roadway, nothing will happen,” Arsenault said. The goal is to have safety people nearby. “We have volunteer course marshals throughout the route. We have emergency response people out on (support and gear) vehicles.”
People should feel safe and, as much as reasonably possible, protected. But people who attend or participate are asked to keep an eye out. If they see something wrong, they should tell an officer.
“We want people to have a good time (and) pay attention to their surroundings,” Minkowsky said. “We don’t want them to be paranoid.”
Despite added security, Patrick Dempsey is scheduled to make four appearances this weekend.
7 a.m. Opening ceremony
10:30 a.m. Following the cancer survivors’ walk
6:45 a.m. Opening ceremony
3:30 p.m. Closing ceremony
All four events are scheduled for Simard/Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston.