Attack at the Boston Marathon and the Value of Emergency Planning

Special event planning requires emergency planners to work extensively with local, state and federal partners to plan for mass causality contingencies.

by Anthony Mangeri, American Military University / April 16, 2013
Photo courtesy of Flickr CC/hahatango

Just more than four hours into the Boston Marathon there were two explosions within a few blocks of the finish line. Federal officials believe both devices were small and at least one device was placed in a trash container. The explosions killed three and wounded more than 180.

More than a terrorist incident, this attack was one of many mass casualty incidents that have occurred this year. Today’s special event contingency planning requires emergency planners to work extensively with local, state and federal emergency professionals to plan for mass causality contingencies. Hospitals were already on standby for marathon runners. Doctors, nurses and emergency medical staff were also onsite to address the needs of the runners and spectators. 

According to the Massachusetts Standing Committee on Multiple Casualty Incident Planning and Evaluation’s Emergency Medical Care Advisory Board, a multiple casualty incident (MCI) is defined as “one in which the number of people killed or injured in a single incident is large enough to strain or overwhelm the resources of local EMS providers.” In urban areas, such as Boston, there are significant resources to address the day-to-day pre-hospital needs of the city. However, special events like the Boston Marathon can strain resources and personnel.

Contingency planning is essential for the worst-case scenario. All indications are that the response in Boston appeared well planned and well executed.  Police, fire, EMS and even the Massachusetts National Guard responded to and stabilized the incident quickly and decisively. This does not occur without well developed policy, operational plans and exercises to ensure that responders understand their role and that agencies have the resources needed to execute plans quickly. 

Each community must have an MCI plan that defines: incident leadership, the role and responsibilities of all first responders, the community’s capabilities, and mutual aid systems to address potential threats. Special permitted events must also be required to work with local officials to ensure that there are contingency plans in place to meet the potential needs based on a comprehensive risk analysis of the event, venue and host community.  

It needs to also be noted that an overwhelming number of those who responded to the injured were spectators and bystanders. This attack reminds all in emergency management that large-scale incidents can occur anywhere at any time. Emergency planning must address the community’s needs based on available resources and work to integrate regional and state resources to address large-scale incidents.

Anthony Mangeri has more than 30 years of experience in emergency management, response and recovery operations. During the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mangeri served as the operations chief at the New Jersey EOC. Currently, Mangeri is the manager of Fire and Emergency Service Initiatives at American Public University System. He is also an assistant professor in the American Military University School of Public Service and Health.