The day of this year's Boston Marathon, Carl Guardino, co-founder of the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, awoke excited to see if his friends would hit their running goals. By day's end -- after news broke about the bombings, injuries and death there -- he was thinking about something else.
"Oh my word, this could be our event," Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said in a recent interview.
Like Guardino, other organizers of large, outdoor Bay Area events plan to tighten security after the horror in Boston, but they would only freely discuss one change. They will make participants and spectators part of the security strategy by broadcasting a slogan well known to New York subway riders: "If you see something, say something."
It's part of a shift in security for events that include the Oakland Running Festival and the Amgen Tour of California bike race, which starts Sunday in Southern California and zips into the Bay Area later this week.
Though no local event organizers hinted at specific plans to more highly restrict access for spectators or runners, Bay to Breakers planners have announced that backpacks will be banned at San Francisco's party race on May 19. But the idea of serious crowd-sourced vigilance, associated more with airports and al-Qaida, will now join the pink gorilla and giant banana costumes at wacky Bay Area events.
Organizers said they don't think that extra vigilance from the crowds will change the character of the events.
"We can still have fun," Bay to Breakers race director Angela Fang said. "I hope this event still goes off in the same irreverent way that it has for a 100 years."
Though not everyone is so sure. "It sucks," said Jenny Li, a San Francisco marathoner.
"See something, say something" is not as simple as the saying suggests. Matt Bettenhausen, vice president and chief security officer for AEG Worldwide, which runs the Amgen Tour of California, said it amounts to training your brain to notice things such things as a strange chemical smell, people taking pictures of things that aren't usually of interest -- like the underside of bleachers -- and, of course, the bag or backpack sitting by itself.
"We're not asking people to be spies," Bettenhausen said. "But don't be embarrassed by, 'Wait a second, this seems unusual. Why is that backpack unattended?' "
So instead of thinking "Huh, that's weird," spectators should tell a cop, organizer or someone working security at events.
Bettenhausen said AEG has stressed the idea at its events since 2011. Given the nature of the Tour of California, which spans about 750 miles from Escondido to Santa Rosa in eight days, drawing about 1 million spectators, it's impossible to have security staff watching every inch of the course.
It's a similar problem for Bay Area running events, where it's doubtful the thousands of runners and spectators could be tightly checked and controlled.
"We cannot have total safety," Marc Meyers, an explosives expert and UC San Diego professor, said of the difficulty of monitoring events like marathons. "It's 26 miles. How can you control this?"
Experts said the "see something, say something" slogan became common in public transit systems in major American cities after the 9/11 attacks, and variations have existed in such places as the metro system in Paris for years. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security even launched a national campaign in July 2010.
Several security experts said the slogan is an effective way to save lives. But Steven Weber, a security expert and political science professor at UC Berkeley, said the dark side is that the slogan could lead to a mob mentality, with some spectators likely to call in tips because of skin color or clothing alone.
"It's not illegal to be a racist," he said. "If I'm a 20-year-old Muslim-looking guy, I may think twice about going to one of these events."
But event organizers, including those planning Bay to Breakers, trying out the slogan for the first time in the wake of the Boston bombings are focusing on safety.
Lee Corrigan, who organizes the Oakland Running Festival, said the event has more than 300 officers on security and another nearly 20,000 spectators and runners. Asking those folks to be alert for threats makes for a 65-fold increase in the number of people who are keeping a close eye on their surroundings during a race or other public event.
"With the freedom we enjoy comes a certain level of vulnerability," said Corrigan, president of Corrigan Sports Enterprises. "We've got to do that now -- always keep our eyes peeled. It isn't fun. Nobody's enjoying it."
Especially not Li, the San Francisco marathoner, who sometimes runs with a group from A Runner's Mind store in Burlingame. The 37-year-old attorney worries that it could make runners, especially in the quirkiness of an event like Bay to Breakers, suspicious of each other. And that idea is anathema in the close knit world of racing.
A tighter security web, however, won't stop her from running, particularly not after what happened in Boston.
"It makes me even more determined just to show that I am not scared," she said. "Nothing is going to stop me from running."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.