Boston Strong: Analyzing the Response to the Marathon Bombings Two Years Later

On April 15, 2013, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev set off two explosives near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The explosions resulted in three fatalities and over 250 injured. Three days later, the FBI identified the Tsarnaevs as suspects and released their photos to the press. When the brothers were confronted by the police, a firefight ensued resulting in the death of Tamerlan and a local law enforcement officer. Dzhokhar fled and was able to evade capture for over 24 hours before finally being apprehended in Watertown, MA.

As the two year anniversary approaches, Dzhokhar is still on trial. If convicted of all charges, Dzhokhar will likely be sentenced with the death penalty.

The After Action Report for the Response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings was released a few months ago on the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security website. The report is the result of a joint effort from several Massachusetts law enforcement agencies and public safety departments. It is divided into three sections: (1) A detailed timeline of pertinent events. The time line covers from 7AM April 15 (marathon preparations), and ends at noon on April 24 (the memorial service for the fallen law enforcement officer); (2) An “Overview of Incidents” ranging from the day of the marathon to recovery efforts; and (3) “Analysis of Capabilities” which assesses the “Best Practices” and “Areas Needing Improvement” of responders across five focus areas. These focus areas and their analysis are summarized below.

  1. Preparedness: The report commends a number of actions taken before the marathon that contributed to a strong collaborative response effort from multiple agencies. The safety planning exercises and the robust medical support at the marathon helped to minimize casualties/damages. Preparedness areas that require improvement are the implementation of a multi-agency emergency plan, and enhanced security along the marathon course.
  2. Initial Response to Explosions: According to the report, authorities near the explosion site were able to quickly and efficiently secure the area, determine that there was no chemical nor radiological component to the explosion, and facilitate the transport of a large number of victims to the appropriate medical care. The report cites that Boston’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC) was not activated at the time of the marathon. This made coordination among agencies difficult until the EOC became operational. The EOC will be operational throughout future marathons.
  3. Ongoing Response to Explosions: Medical services performed especially well in the response effort, as they were able to coordinate the appropriate services for victims, families of victims, and survivors. The ability to keep the public informed about the closure of facilities and services is also touted as one of the response effort’s strengths. Many of the weaknesses include the availability of medical resources on hand during the crisis. According to the report, not all first responders were equipped with tourniquets. The mental health team assigned to the area also lacked logistical support, which wasted critical time that could have been devoted to assisting victims.
  4. Apprehension of Suspects: Watertown residents were told to remain indoors while law enforcement pursued the suspects. This decision to “shelter-in-place” possibly saved lives, as the confrontation between the Tsarnevs and law enforcement resulted in a firefight. However, law enforcement’s pursuit of the suspects could have been done differently. The report emphasizes the “lack of a clearly identified in-field command,” under-utilization of local authorities’ knowledge of their jurisdiction, and weapons discipline as facets of the pursuit that could’ve been carried out more effectively.
  5. Recovery: In the aftermath of the bombing, local businesses have rebounded with assistance from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). MEMA was able to work side-by-side with FEMA to help get businesses approved for emergency relief loans. In the future, MEMA will strive to be better educated on all funding opportunities by communicating with FEMA on a regular basis.


UPDATE: On the morning of April 8, 2015, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of all charges.


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