published Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Chattanooga officials: Security on track for championship cycling race


Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd speaks at a news conference. Standing with the chief are, from left, Officer Nathan Hartwig and Assistant Chief Kirk Eidson.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd speaks at a news conference. Standing with the chief are, from left, Officer Nathan Hartwig and Assistant Chief Kirk Eidson.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

For more than half a year, local authorities have planned how to handle next month's national championship cycling race. After the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday, Chattanooga police say nothing has changed their approach.

"We already plan for just about every type of scenario you can imagine," said Sgt. Austin Garrett, supervisor of the department's special events unit, which works about 120 affairs each year.

After talking about the USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships off and on for around five months, about 40 people from local agencies have met at the police department every Monday for the last two months to discuss the event and how to handle different emergencies. This could mean anything from a house fire along the race's planned route to a major crash on the highway to an act of terrorism.

"Without going into specific details of our operations and security plans, we want to assure you that the number one priority of the Chattanooga Police Department is the safety of our citizens," chief Bobby Dodd said in a statement.

During the event next month, a communications team with members of every involved agency will gather inside a bus that serves as a command center. There, they will coordinate any necessary action, said Chris Aronhalt, a managing partner with Medalist Sports, the group operating the event.

Chattanooga police will be in charge of the security unit. Among other groups, this will consist of members from the sheriff's office, emergency services, the fire department, the department of transportation and homeland security units on the state and federal level.

The race will be May 25 and 27 and include about 150 cyclists. It will end at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Market Street. On Monday in Boston, the first bomb exploded near the finish line.

Several people with ties to next month's race said that, while the bombs in Boston raise public awareness about potential tragedies, it does not change how the city should plan for its events. They already take terrorist attacks into account.

Aronhalt said he has worked at cycling races throughout the country and has seen different police departments handle security. He hasn't, however, seen a threat, one presenting itself here and now with lives at stake instead of in theory.

"We've never experienced anything like [Monday]," he said. "And that's the hard part."

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