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

Massachusetts has been the recipient of more than $1 billion from 22 DHS grant programs since 2002, including $370 million for the Boston urban area. DHS grants issued to local law enforcement helped prepare for a quick response to the bombing and identification of the suspects. According to the report, “DHS grants, training and workshops as well as drills and exercises throughout the Northeast region, and specifically in Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, built preparedness capabilities to enhance responses to complex, catastrophic attacks. Participants credited these investments for the coordinated and effective response to the bombings by law enforcement, medical, and other public safety personnel.”

Learning from past mistakes and creating workable solutions has been a couple of the key elements Chuck Brooks thinks sets Boston and the surrounding area apart when it comes to assessing its emergency management needs and implementing strategic plans that work. Brooks, Vice President, Client Executive for DHS at Xerox said the most significant development has been the federal, sate, and local first responder communities recognizing past shortfalls in national emergencies and closely examining successes and failures from Boston, especially in the areas of planning, coordination and inter-operable communications.

“One outcome of reviewing the incident discovered that the pre-positioning of medical first responders for the marathon greatly helped in the triage efforts for victims on the scene. In the past as a matter of EMS (emergency medical services) protocols, medical first responders waited for law enforcement to clear arrival before they responded. The pre-staged medical services on the scene may become more standardized for security planning at future public events,” said Brooks.

He added that another big development has seen federal, state and local communities have become even more engaged in learning how to improve working in “relationship preparedness” to be able to better respond and be more resilient in a future emergency. Brooks also cited the just released report commissioned by then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, noting “that funds were used to “equip and train tactical and specialized response teams specifically in in IED (improvised Explosive Device) detection, prevention, response, and recovery, including SWAT teams and Explosive Ordinance Disposal canine detection teams among other law enforcement units.”

Knowing how to scramble through the federal funding maze and asking the right questions is a crucial aspect of properly ramping up emergency preparedness planning. Brooks stressed that   DHS, and particularly FEMA, have been active in promoting the availability for training.

“From the defense draw-down overseas, a great deal of equipment is being made available to state and local public safety professionals. In most states the governor operates a homeland security committee to evaluate and prioritize needs in various state municipalities. There is a lot of paperwork involved in grant making applications, but and DHS officials are accessible and willing to help,” Brooks pointed out. “My recommendation for state and local officials is to also look to private firms that specialize in securing grants under the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorates’ Federal Protective Service (FPS). Each program has their own requirements, processes and timing.”

While most experts praised the preparation and the actions of Boston’s first responders and healthcare facilities in the aftermath of last year’s Marathon bombings, the most glaring weakness proved to be the lack of shared intelligence. Reports from ABC News immediately after the bombing said U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) National Targeting Center “re-vetted” all flights that departed earlier in the day from Boston, New York, and Newark airports to identify potential suspects.

When a review of DHS’s “name-matching capabilities” was completed, it discovered a misspelling of “Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” the older suspect of the two accused Boston bombers. This mistake apparently allowed him to return unnoticed to the United States after a trip to Russia, despite previous alerts from Russian intelligence. DHS has now improved its ability to detect variations of names derived from a wide range of languages.

It was also reported that Boston Police Chief Ed Davis said he was not notified about Tsarnaev before the attacks despite previous FBI investigations of Tsarnaev, but now DHS has improved its system of sharing information with local officials about potential threats.