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


“Intelligence sharing has been also highlighted as an area of focus for improvement.  There was a revelation that law enforcement  had been warned about the threat of religious extremist Tamerlan Tsarnaev and should have been alerted. The problem is that it is difficult and involves many resources to track and continually monitor every potential threat, especially that of the Lone Wolf,” said Brooks. “We are a nation of soft targets and openness. New technologies such as data analytics, license plate reading, and facial recognition cameras can be employed for intelligence and forensic purposes but there is always an issue to consider regarding the balance of security with freedom and privacy.”

Perhaps no one is more seasoned at understanding the challenges of large venue special events than William Rathburn, who served as the Los Angeles Police Department’s Planning Coordinator for the 1984 Olympic Games when he was LAPD’s Deputy Chief; then as the Director of Security for the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 – which at the time was the largest Olympic security undertaking in the Games’ history, with budget of $100 million and staff of 17,224 security personnel. Rathburn also was Chief of Police for the City of Dallas, the seventh largest police department in the nation.

Rathburn admitted that protecting Olympic venues may have been a bit easier than open events like a Marathon for the simple reason that defined security perimeters could be established and protected. Putting in a secured screening process and vetting the credentials of everyone associated with an Olympics provided safeguards his colleagues in Boston did not enjoy.

That being said, Rathburn firmly believed that a breakdown in the intelligence gathering process contributed greatly to the Boston tragedy.

“Intelligence is the one thing that is important in any event. Intelligence is the key element in your pre-planning and during the event. It takes on even more importance in an open venue event like the Marathon. It is impossible to provide security for a 26-mile course. If you harden portions of it – the most vulnerable areas -- you can either discourage them or move them further out. That magnifies the importance of solid intelligence,” said Rathburn.

Rathburn added that protocols have changed over the years with a greater focus on inter-agency communication than ever before. “I grew up in a professional environment where you had an inter-agency coordination center during a major event and that was a first responder’s main point of contact between agencies. We didn’t really see a need for direct communication from officer to officer unless it was task force operation or something similar.

“I think, to some extent, when you try to provide everyone immediate communication, it can lead to a slowdown in the communication process because so many people are trying to communicate.  Unfortunately, that may have happened during the Boston bombing incident. Having immediate communication is a great thing until you overload the system or fail to have a designate point of contact,” Rathburn surmised. “In my opinion it was not the fact the backpacks were allowed into the Marathon venue that caused the bombing. It was a failure to assess credible information that potential threats were imminent.”

Despite all the planning and cooperative partnerships among agencies in the Boston area, even Michelman admitted the process could have been refined when it came to intelligence and communications in previous year. She said everyone learned a painful lesson.

“From the perspective of public-private partnerships and synergies, we in Boston have been in a very different place compared to other cities around the country. We have worked very hard in making relationships between public, private and government agencies -- and the intelligence gathering process -- better. We learned a lot from the Democratic National Convention several years ago, when we set up a Multi-Agency Command Center (the MAC) that had representatives from every public agency, and also from large private organizations like mine,” said Michelman.

“There has been a lot of talk resulting from last year’s horrific event surrounding command and control and unity of command. There is no secret that law enforcement said there was no one person in charge. And maybe that’s okay in some events because there just couldn’t be, but that didn’t lessen the scrutiny around that issue. We have all worked diligently to rectify any shortcomings in that area,” she concluded.

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