It's 40,000 to 80,000 people a day — many with medical issues, bad judgment or evil intent — jammed in by closed streets and barricades, surrounded by speeding cars and volatile fuel, all just a week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
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"Given the proximity of downtown, and the number of stakeholders it affects, logistics and pre-planning, it's the biggest thing we've ever tackled," said Robert Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Preparedness.
The only other Baltimore events that might compare, said Fire Department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright, are the two-day visit of Pope John Paul II in 1995, this summer's July 4 crowd and President-elect Barack Obama's stop just before his inauguration in January 2009.
Police will be out in force this weekend. Officials wouldn't provide a specific number, but said hundreds of officers from the city and neighboring localities will be both inside and outside the track.
"You'll see a very large number of uniformed police officers on the corners," said city police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "What you're not going to see is several hundred — literally — plainclothes officers. They'll be wearing Orioles shirts or Ravens jerseys. You might think they're a regular spectator, but they're there to make sure the fans are safe."
There will also be a private security firm working the race. And the increased police presence will continue at night, after the races, when tourists are enjoying Baltimore's night life.
Guglielmi said the rest of the city won't be left short of officers. "It's going to be an all-hands-on-deck approach."
Some 175 Baltimore firefighters and medics will be on the job, too, according to the International Association of Firefighters Local 734. They'll include 30 "pit groups" along Pit Lane, and a team ready to respond to any collapsed stages or grandstands.
Planners have also prepared for the possibility of mass casualties, either because of a race-related accident or a terrorist incident.
There have been no terrorist threats, officials said, but race planners and Homeland Security officials recognized that a huge, tightly packed crowd, gathered just a week before the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, might be an attractive target.
"We're utilizing this as an opportunity to integrate all the closed-circuit TV — 300 cameras, private, state and city — into one platform we can watch and manipulate," Maloney said. "We've also done a tremendous amount of additional planning with Homeland Security."
Without disclosing specifics, Maloney said race planners have worked with the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Maryland State Police and the U.S. Marshal's Office, to prepare. They've established unified command centers in several positions around the harbor area, including the 17th floor of the World Trade Center, which offers a panoramic view of the area.
The command centers began operating at 5 p.m. Sunday, and will continue until 5 p.m. Wednesday, he said.
A key issue was the recognition that spectators and race crews — not to mention guests in three hotels — will be inside the race course, cut off by speeding cars and barricades from easy access to the city's hospitals.
Here's how a medical emergency might play out if a spectator is struck by crash debris, or if someone within the track perimeter begins to have chest pains:
A call to 911 would be relayed through the city call center to the Fire Department's Mobile Command Center. It's a large van parked near the main entrance to Oriole Park on Russell Street, said Alex Perricone, deputy chief for emergency medical services.
Commanders there will dispatch one of five, two-person paramedic bike teams.