Boston Marathon a case study in lessons learned following last year's bombing tragedy

Tighter security and attention to intelligence gathering strengthens prepardedness for storied event


Things were different at the Boston Marathon this year. Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 and the second oldest runner to ever take the crown.  And unlike past races where it was a virtually open venue for both spectators and participants alike, strict physical security measures and a robust police presence made for long security lines, barricaded race routes, random searches, bans on backpacks and a zero tolerance for rogue runners who used to be part of the Marathon’s charm – remember Rosie Ruiz? The Marathon also accommodated more than 9,000 additional runners who failed to cross the finish line in 2013 because of the horrific terrorist bombing at the finish line of last April’s Marathon.

This year’s race also figured to be a lot different for Bonnie Michelman, the Director of Police, Security and Outside Services at Mass General Hospital. The devastating attack put Michelman and her entire facility on the frontline in 2013, as Mass General was the designated primary hospital for the race. Her facility wound up treating close to 300 casualties as a result of the bomb attacks.

“The preparations for last year’s event were prudent and appropriate for both the city and my facility. No one could have ever anticipated the unforeseeable nature and horror of this event. You can never plan for every contingency, for every event, and this was by far a startling example of that,” said Michelman, who pointed out that the situation was made even more difficult due to the longitudinal nature of the event.

“This was an extremely disruptive disaster for many organizations, including mine. It wasn’t a four or five hour disaster – it was a multi-day disaster. We went into to Tuesday still gathering evidence, looking for the suspects, trying to reunite families, trying to identify comatose patients; and then on Thursday we had to ramp up for a Presidential visit,” she continued. “So we had a huge emergency preparedness response to those dignitary visits. Then Friday, we had an unprecedented city lockdown that created all sorts of issues for the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I have 8,500 employees here at Mass General that takes public transportation to work, which was completely shut down.”

Michelman has been a long-time key player in the region’s disaster preparedness efforts. The city of Boston regularly conducts disaster and emergency preparedness exercises throughout the year, with a major training event each May. There are also numerous table-top exercises conducted among the public-private partners, MEMA and FEMA.

“The endless drills and preparedness training took what was an extremely bad event to a level that was manageable in many aspects. The fact that we had 281 people who were severely injured and they all survived, showcased the fact that this city was extremely well prepared,” Michelman added. “The response and result was a tribute to all involved – from police and fire to our EMS and medical teams that were at the race, plus the Boston Athletic Association that coordinated the race, down to our hospitals. Everyone was unbelievable in the level of response.”   

Michelman’s comments certainly seem to reflect the report released last week by the Department of Homeland Security titled “Boston One Year Later: DHS’s Lessons Learned,”  detailing three topics which were a focus of attention in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. The report discussed the “importance of partnerships,” the “need for effective and reliable communications,” and the need to further boost anti-radicalization efforts.

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