Different Evaluations of Boston Strong
The Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 was a horrific act of terrorism that shocked the United States, but it also inspired heroic action and proved emergency preparedness training is so important. Over a year after the attacks, it’s time to evaluate lessons learned, potential improvements, and why Boston was Strong.
Several government entities issued evaluative reports including the House of Representative Homeland Security Committee’s The Road to Boston: Counterterrorism Challenges and Lessons from the Marathon Bombings. This report addressed the lack of information sharing between different law enforcement entities, failure to update records, and lack of outbound travel screening. While we were somewhat aware of the threat Tamerlan Tsarnaev posed following communications with Russia and the creation of a TECS record to monitor his travel, Tsarnaev evaded detection.
Despite the retroactive critiques, the planning, preparation, and response of Boston officials is commendable. FEMA’s report to Congress outlines the many ways FEMA’s disaster planning played a large role in the successful use of the National Preparedness System (NPS). Boston is a leader in emergency preparedness, aiding their response ability. In 2003, they founded the DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness, which trains tens of thousands of first responders.
The Boston bombing prompted several new ideas for emergency response including a pilot course on psychological first aid for emergency responders and reevaluating the emergency assessment model to consider the benefits of having Emergency Medical Services (EMS) on hand immediately. Since the Boston Marathon was Special Event Assessment Rating 2 (SEAR 2), EMS presence at the blast scene made it possible to clear everyone within 18 minutes.
Beyond tactical response plans and presence of trained emergency personnel, Boston’s strength came from the command and coordination structures present within the different law enforcement entities. Focusing on maintaining “micro-command” structures empowers individual decisions on site without acting outside of a disciplined unit. It also allows superiors to stay at the strategic planning level of the crisis and coordinate with other officials rather than get caught up in the tactical weeds. One resonating recommendation in this Harvard Report titled Why Was Boston Strong? is that “community resilience should be systematically developed and celebrated.”
Boston’s strength, resilience, and preparedness from field exercises made them ready to handle the attack.
Boston must now focus on recommendations for the future and how to prepare for future attacks. Using national events like ceremonies, speeches, or sporting events to practice agency coordination and response is helpful in identifying protocol and response tactics. Preparing law enforcement and local communities for the unimaginable makes our emergency responses more efficient and prepares every community to be strong in its response to any type of attack.