Lessons learned from the Boston bombings

By Kristin Callahan -- Medill News Service  |  July 11, 2013 at 4:50 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 11 -- Since 9/11, the federal government has worked to promote effective emergency response systems to help cities and states cope with a terrorist attack, and the law enforcement response in the Boston Marathon bombings showed it paid off, a top Federal Emergency Management Agency official said Wednesday. Since 2000, more than 5,500 Boston-area responders have received training through FEMA partners, including the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and Continuing Training Grantees, FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Serino, who was in Boston the day of the attack, said exercising and planning are extremely valuable to prepare for real-world incidents. “They help teach new skills, promote continuous improvement and develop relationships before they are relied upon in a crisis,” said Serino. Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said the preparations paid off. “By all accounts, Boston had many of these elements in place on April 15th,” Carper said. “Lives were saved as a result.” For years, responders in Boston, as in other cities, have used large public events as an opportunity to train, anticipating and preparing for mass casualties in case something goes wrong. According to Serino, it was no accident that the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed with patients; it was no accident that victims were appropriately triaged; and it was no accident that a medical intelligence center was fully staffed and operating on race day. Bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured within 102 hours of the initial explosions. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the bombing; his brother was shot and later died before the capture. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said one lesson to take away from the quick capture is communication. And not radio communication. Davis said communicating with the community through social media was essential moments after the blast, and throughout the week. Employing the Boston Police Department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts allowed authorities to share vital information, such as where people could find loved ones. Additionally, the police department reached out to the community to provide clues, videos and photos of the bombers. While many at the hearing applauded the response to the attack, others think there is still room to worry.

“We cannot assume, based on Boston’s performance, that other U.S. cities are prepared to manage an event of similar or substantially greater magnitude,” said Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. “We cannot continue to make our policy decisions based on the latest disaster.”
With that in mind, FEMA now is focused on further strengthening its collective preparedness to meet evolving threats, including how it responds to active shooters and mass casualty events. It has requested more than $2 million in the fiscal 2014 budget for state and local programs to conduct more courses and exercises.

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