The Boston Marathon: In preparedness, the old is new again
The Power & Policy Fellows’ Forum
By Arnold Bogis
Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
This month the Obama Administration released Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 8 on National Preparedness. While arguments can be made both in favor and against this seeming reboot of the national effort to increase preparedness for natural disasters and terrorist attacks, what particularly puzzles me is the lack of attention, given existing homeland security models that include vigorous cooperation among jurisdictions and participation of non-traditional homeland security actors. These efforts can be models for the rest of the nation and often have been ongoing long before PDD-8 called for “facilitating an integrated, all-of-Nation, capabilities-based approach to preparedness.”
For example today, in addition to being Tax Day, is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and the day on which the Boston Marathon is run. Why is this relevant to homeland security? As I wrote in an op-ed in the Boston Globe a few years ago:
Today thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators are unwittingly taking part in a planned disaster. Yet, they are not just safe from harm (except for the variety brought on by running 26.2 miles), they also are participants in an event that will make the citizens of Greater Boston safer in case of a natural catastrophe or terrorist attack.
What is important to note is the long standing, ongoing work towards what PPD-8 identifies as required in that the “national preparedness system shall be designed to help guide the domestic efforts of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public to build and sustain the capabilities outlined in the national preparedness goal. The national preparedness system shall include guidance for planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises to build and maintain domestic capabilities.”
Although the principal goal during such events remains the safety of everyone involved, organizers have realized that these annual gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people present the perfect opportunity to evaluate new technologies, exercise disaster plans, and build vital relationships between public safety agencies and the private sector.
Treating these large, annual events as opportunities to test the disaster response system accomplishes exactly that. Personnel from public safety and health departments meet regularly during the year to plan these events. New officials will quickly meet their counterparts in other agencies. As described in a recent Globe story about how close the 2007 race came to being cancelled due to weather, a unified command is established where all the relevant organizations can monitor the event and react together if something goes wrong.
This is not something that concerns only the City of Boston or events that can be dealt with by local authorities:
This cooperation extends beyond Boston. Thousands of runners pass through eight different towns on their way to the finish line. Coordinating medical care and security for the runners and spectators strengthens connections that will be relied upon when Boston requires mutual aid to deal with a crisis such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
In line with the new guidance calling for “a comprehensive campaign to build and sustain national preparedness, including public outreach and community-based and private-sector programs to enhance national resilience:”
To successfully manage the marathon, BEMS and other public safety agencies must have relationships not just with the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the race, but also with a diverse set of private organizations. These include, but are not limited to, private ambulance services that back up BEMS, and hotels and other businesses along the route that help make the behind-the-scenes operation of the marathon run smoothly. When a real disaster strikes, these contacts can be called upon to lend needed supplies and other assistance.
Sometimes the best, new big ideas can be informed by older, smaller ones.
You can read the entire 2008 piece here.