Under a cold and hard-driving rain, about 30,000 determined runners gathered Monday morning in Hopkinton, Massachusetts at the start of the 122nd Boston Marathon. The race, held since 1897, is one of Boston’s most cherished events. It’s also the most logistically complicated day on the calendar for the area’s emergency agencies and first responders.
Despite Monday’s miserable conditions, including wind gusts of 25 mph and race-time temperatures in the 30s, race organizers and emergency agencies were prepared for as many as a million fans to line the mostly unsecured 26.2-mile course, which winds through eight Massachusetts towns before concluding in Boston’s Back Bay. Keeping an eye on things were thousands of uniformed and plain-clothed emergency personnel, including law enforcement, fire departments, emergency medical services, and a host of federal and state agencies. All worked for months on collaborative inter-agency tabletop exercises to hone their plans to be ready for whatever arose come Marathon Monday.
Many of the procedures in place were borne from the hard lessons learned in the aftermath of the Marathon’s worst day— Monday, April 15, 2013—when two domestic terrorists planted homemade bombs at the finish line, killing three people and wounding nearly 300 others. Despite the carnage, emergency professionals still marvel that more people weren’t killed in the blasts, and herald the response as extraordinary.
On this, the five-year anniversary of the bombing, I wanted to share with you a couple of NFPA Journal articles that highlight the amazing efforts of these responders as well as the work the city and state did in the event's aftermath to strengthen their Marathon preparedness.
Three years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Schwartz, who in 2013 was the director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the agency that oversaw the state’s response to the bombings. He was near the finish line when the bombs went off, and was candid during our talk about what he felt and saw in those first few moments, as well as what went right and what didn't.
“I certainly suffered from tunnel vision, it was very hard to take a step back and have a broad view when you were seeing what you saw,” he told me. “The first person I encountered when I came onto Boylston Street was a person who had lost both of their legs. It’s hard to focus, I think we all had tunnel vision.”
Additionally, last May, NFPA Journal ran an article by Stephanie Schorow detailing what Boston has done to adapt its emergency procedures and planning for the marathon and other events since the 2013 bombing. The lessons learned were illuminating, and provide powerful insight for other communities hosting big events.
In addition to the feature, which also quoted Schwartz extensively, Schorow compiled a list of 10 takeaways from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, communicated to her by a number of emergency experts who were on the ground that day.
Especially in this challenging weather, my hat is off to all of those determined runners, and of course also to all of the countless professionals out there keeping everything running smoothly.