Protecting the World's Biggest Marathon, How New York City Got It Right

A runner I am not. You would not have found me among the 53,000 extraordinary athletes and regular folks from every corner of the globe who came to participate in the recent 2014 New York City Marathon. But I was there, at the finish line, where the city -- along with the New York Road Runners -- stood up an extraordinary command center and the largest of 38 medical stations along the route. The conditions for the run - generally windy and cold - were not ideal, but the mood was upbeat and enthusiastic.

Thousands made it across the finish line, exhausted, though elated. And behind the scenes was an incredible demonstration of how a city like New York was able to deter acts of aggression and protect the runners, the spectators and the thousands of workers who helped pull off this major event without serious mishap.

Since the New York City Marathon is widely recognized as one of the prime targets of terror mongers, who are now encouraging and instructing disparate lone wolf jihadists to take action on their own, people have asked me how mayhem at the Marathon was avoided.

It starts and ends with leadership, professionalism and dedication to getting a tough job done flawlessly. And it depends on learning from past experiences, ours and those of others, like the tragedy at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

I am not taken to frivolous praise, being notorious for my generally "half-empty glass" view of life. And, I don't expect that we won't have tragedies and slippage, even as we attempt to get better at deterrence and response to increasingly innovative terrorism. Just think about the recent attack by an ax wielding extremist attacking an NYPD officer. Or the events in Canada involving an active shooter in the Parliament building and deliberately mowing down pedestrians using a car as a weapon.

But I will say this: the work of New York's police department, coordinated with highly professional and capable city agencies like the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and others, proved to be highly effective -- and reassuring.

A few days before the race, I attended what's referred to as a "table-top exercise" where a series of hypothetical scenarios are rattled off and participants respond as if they are in real time.

Counter Intelligence Chief, Jim Waters led exercises to practice responses to these scenarios, joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, First Deputy Tony Shorris and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, as well as Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism and Intelligence, John Miller, who organized this table-top. While the specific kind of preparations that took place can't be detailed for obvious reasons, it was quite clear that city leaders had a timely, well-focused plan that addressed a wide-range of threats an event like a marathon could attract.

You don't become this competent through a single exercise, of course. You don't get the nuanced strategies for an event like this by simply assigning some 4,000 officers to "cover the race." This happens because critical agencies are thinking and planning for this kind of situation every day. They are coordinating with federal and state agencies long before and after the Marathon; understanding what it takes to make sure nobody who might pose a threat gets near the race or the participants.

As put to me by Sargent John Schoppmann, Counterterrorism instructor, "Protecting civilians is our first priority. It's our job."

And, seeing Bill de Blasio in action, the Mayor and his upper echelon feel the very same way. It's their job. And for that, New Yorkers should be genuinely reassured that we live in one of the safest large cities in the world.