Massachusetts Public Safety Officials Recap Boston Marathon Bombing Response During Initial Consultation Meeting

March 30, 2015
More than 45 representatives from Massachusetts’ public safety community participated in the state's consultation meeting.
More than 45 representatives from Massachusetts’ public safety community participated in the state's consultation meeting.
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By Dave Buchanan, Director of State Consultation

The April 2013 Boston Marathon (“Marathon”) bombing served as a backdrop to our consultation meeting with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on March 12. Prior to the meeting, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety Services provided the FirstNet team with incident accounts, user survey results, and after action reports about the bombing and other events regarding the use of mobile data and devices in Massachusetts. Their analysis pinpointed over 70 recommendations for improvements to public safety communications, which was valuable information in our discussions about how the nationwide public safety broadband network can assist with future events, both large and small.

During the consultation meeting, much of the discussion focused on communications before, during, and after the Marathon bombing. More than 45 representatives from Massachusetts’ public safety community participated in the consultation meeting. This included a panel of officials who provided their perspectives on communications and coordination at the 2013 event.

Kurt Schwartz, Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, discussed the extensive public safety planning and communications coordination that takes place before the Marathon every year. The race passes through eight cities and towns, which means eight separate incident commands. He said each town conducts some degree of its own planning, but that the incident commands are connected through a multiagency coordinating center run by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety Services. Including the City of Boston and federal partners, approximately 15-18 command centers and 700 police officers, EMTs, paramedics, and fire fighters support the race. In addition, the Boston Athletic Association manages the volunteers and provides services to race participants, such as medical tents, food, and support.

Peter Clifford, Superintendent of Boston Fire Department, explained how fire teams assisted EMS with triage and getting the injured out of the blast zone. He estimated there were more than 300 people who needed help. The Copley Square command center personnel stopped using cell phones because of congestion on commercial networks. Every injured person was seen, triaged, and those that needed additional medical care were moved to an appropriate facility within an hour.

James Hooley, Chief, Boston EMS, discussed how many of the area hospitals had to activate their mass casualty plans. He said that on a typical day in Boston, EMS performs 340 clinical responses and 200 medical transports. To keep from filling up the local hospitals, EMS tries to treat the runners on the Marathon course. Many of those wounded at the Marathon, however, needed surgery and trauma care, so it quickly changed from an athletic event to a mass casualty event.

John Daley, Deputy Superintendent of Boston Police, said that as the manhunt unfolded, officers used non-traditional means to communicate, including texting. Major Dermot Quinn of the Massachusetts Fusion Center, added that while the police were pursuing the bombing suspects, radio frequencies were very crowded. The force on the ground in Watertown went from about 60 sworn officers to over 1800, many of which were self-deployed.

Curtis Wood, Massachusetts Single Point of Contact (SPOC), believed that preparedness for, and communications during, the Marathon bombing incident were, by and large, very good. But he also said he believed that having access to a broadband network would have further helped Massachusetts’s public safety community with responding to the bombings and conducting and coordinating the manhunt.

I would like to thank Curtis and all of the participants at the consultation meeting for sharing their stories and exchanging in a robust dialogue with FirstNet. My colleagues from FirstNet and I are grateful for their insights from the front line at the Marathon bombing and look forward to continuing to work with Massachusetts to deploy a broadband network dedicated to public safety.

-Dave

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