Officers patrol the Boston Marathon course prior to the explosions Monday.

Officers patrol the Boston Marathon course prior to the explosions Monday.

Lessons learned from Boston bombings

North Okanagan corporal shares Boston experience and lessons

An officer’s first-hand experiences with terrorism could help prepare the North Okanagan for future disasters.

Cpl. Gerry Kovacs, who is responsible for emergency planning for the Vernon RCMP, was just one block away from the two explosions that killed three people and injured more than 170 others during the Boston Marathon Monday.

“I learned a tremendous amount,” he said of his observations at the scene and speaking to police there.

“I learned the value of proper access and egress routes in case of an emergency.”

Kovacs anticipates reviewing the local detachment’s emergency plan based on his knowledge.

“There are internal things we can look at. How did they deploy thousands of law enforcement officers in such a short time? Can we do that?” he said.

Kovacs was also impressed by the use of motorcycles.

“They got up on sidewalks and went against traffic.”

Kovacs’ wife Marnie ran the marathon and crossed the finish line 31 minutes before the first explosion.

They were about a block away when the initial blast struck.

“I could taste the explosives in the air and I knew something was wrong. I told her (wife), ‘We have to go get safe,’” he said.

It was then that the second explosion occurred.

“We could feel it in our bodies and there was a building between us. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew we had to go and go fast.

“It was mass hysteria. There were children running and screaming through the streets.”

As the roar of sirens escalated and helicopters filled the sky above, the couple eventually got to their hotel room five blocks away.

It was eventually part of the 15 blocks locked down by authorities and armed soldiers were stationed in the lobby.

Just eight hours before, Kovacs showed up at the finish line so he had a prime spot to watch his wife complete her first Boston Marathon.

Early morning security procedures were just getting underway.

“There were police officers every 30 or 40 feet and bomb sniffing dogs. They sniffed my feet,” he said.

At one point in the morning, a senior police officer approached the swelling crowd of fans to warn them of potential pickpockets.

“There was a genuine feeling that they were taking security seriously. We felt comfortable,” said Kovacs.

Among those running the 26.5 miles were U.S. soldiers in full uniform and packing 60 pounds.

“They did this and then they went to work on the biggest thing since 9/11,” said Kovacs of the soldiers who ripped down fences to help victims struck by the bombs.

As a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, he struggled with being  an observer and not an active participant.

“I’m usually the guy that helps and I couldn’t help. I was out of the game,” he said.

Kovacs spent much of Monday night outside of the hotel, observing the ensuing investigation.

But early Tuesday morning, Kovacs and his wife headed to Logan Airport to make the long trip home.

“Security was ramped up. You don’t have armed guards at the airport every day,” he said.

Officials stopped visitors and asked about photographs that may assist investigators in revealing a suspect.

“I am currently working with U.S. authorities and have photos of interest,” said Kovacs.

He has not been following media coverage since he got home.

“We’re trying to find some normal in our lives,” he said, adding that he continues to think about the spectators he spent eight hours with cheering on runners, and wondering what became of them.

“It’s not just another marathon. It’s an international event.”

Kovacs vows to keep attending races with his wife, but he admits that he will never look at large gatherings the same way again.

“I hope it doesn’t alter my life. That’s something I will work through but life is too short,” he said.