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Scuba divers, bomb-sniffing dogs safeguard route at NYC Marathon

A security guard and bomb sniffing dog patrol the area near the finish line of the New York City Marathon in New York's Central park Novembe
A security guard and bomb sniffing dog patrol the area near the finish line of the New York City Marathon in New York's Central park Novembe

By Elizabeth Dilts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In addition to cheering supporters, runners in this Sunday's New York City Marathon will also be monitored by bomb-sniffing dogs, police scuba divers and surveillance helicopters to prevent an attack similar to the one at the Boston race earlier this year.

The New York Police Department started planning its extra precautions a day after the deadly April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured 264, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

"We are well equipped and well deployed," said Kelly.

Taking a lesson from Boston authorities who identified two brothers suspected of setting off the bombs through footage from private security cameras, New York is using 1,400 private sector surveillance cameras at locations ranging from dry cleaners to art museums in addition to the 6,000 city-owned cameras police already monitor.

Nearly every inch of the 26.2-mile (42.2-km) route will be covered, with police helicopters filming from above and vans from the street, he said.

As Kelly spoke to reporters, live feeds from cameras focused from the race start on the Verrazano Bridge to the finish line near Columbus Circle flashed on hundreds of screens stacked from floor to ceiling on the headquarters' joint command center's walls.

At the 43rd annual New York City Marathon on Sunday, several thousand police officers patrolling the route will carry handheld radiation scanners, Kelly said.

Forty-three bomb sniffing dogs will be stationed at start and finish lines, NYPD Chief of the Counterterrorism Bureau James Waters said.

And since Friday, scuba divers have been scouring the seabed for any sign of explosives beneath the five bridges that 48,000 runners will cross.

The New York Road Runners, which organizes the race, spent $1 million on security consultants to strengthen its policies for athletes. For the first time, runners aren't allowed to wear masks, backpacks, vests with large pockets or CamelBaks, water-filled backpacks with an over-the-shoulder drinking tube.

Tightened security at the finish line - where the bombs at the Boston race were planted - means large packages are banned and rolled up blankets must be carried unfurled.

STORM CANCELED RACE LAST YEAR

Last year, for the first time in the history of the New York City Marathon, the race was canceled in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated areas of New York on October 29, 2012.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially pushed for the race to go on, but ultimately bowed to public outcry and pulled the plug about 36 hours before the race - although thousands of runners from around the globe had already traveled to New York. The episode still haunts Road Runner President Mary Wittenberg, who this year vowed to increase communication with runners.

Runners registered for the 2012 race were allowed to get a refund or roll over their entry fees with guaranteed admission to the 2013, 2014 or 2015 races. After paying out refunds and donating $1 million to Sandy relief efforts, the Road Runners went into $4 million debt this year. The group said it used cash reserves to cover the deficit, but would not comment on the revenues it expects to earn this year.

The marathon generated $340 million for the city in 2010, the most recent figures available, according to a report commissioned by the group.

Joe Bencivenga of Long Island, a four-time New York City Marathon runner who was registered to run last year, said he was disappointed when he first heard the 2012 event was canceled.

"But then we saw the devastation, especially on Staten Island, and we understood - it wouldn't have been the right thing to do," said Bencivenga.

Last year's letdown, this year's Boston Marathon bombings and his rigorous six months of training for this year's marathon felt like a "roller coaster," he said.

"Now we're just ecstatic for Sunday," Bencivenga said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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