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Researchers from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Program on Crisis Leadership (PCL) are intensively probing two recent, major — but quite different — emergency events to develop lessons about preparedness, crisis operations, and disaster recovery.
The Boston Marathon Bombing
This past April, the running of Boston’s iconic marathon was tragically interrupted by two bomb blasts at the finish line that left three people dead at the scene and dozens grievously injured.
With remarkable swiftness, the wounded were stabilized and transported to area trauma centers, where emergency medical workers saved the lives of every victim. The bombing also triggered a massive law enforcement effort — involving local, state, and federal agencies over five days — to collect evidence and identify the suspects. A shootout with the two suspects left one suspect dead, and the other in custody following an intensive manhunt. During the search, one million residents of the Boston area were voluntarily “locked down” in their homes, and businesses were closed at the request of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
Overall, the emergency medical response was highly effective, and while there were definite rough edges around the police response, the degree of cooperation among law enforcement agencies — and between emergency personnel and the public — was unprecedented.
PCL Co-Directors Dutch Leonard and Arnold Howitt, working with Christine Cole, execuive director of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, attribute these results to dramatic improvements over the past decade in the Boston region’s preparedness for large-scale emergencies at fixed events such as the marathon. Detailed planning, training, exercises, cross-organizational collaboration, and the experience of regularly running major events such as the Fourth of July celebration, national political conventions, and professional sports championships, all have fostered skills and cooperative relationships that paid off during the marathon crisis.
The Great East Japan Earthquake: The Triple Disaster of March 11, 2011
Immediately following a 9.0 earthquake off its eastern coast, Japan suffered a catastrophic tsunami. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the tsunami knocked out the reactor cooling system, which led to overheating of fuel rods and explosions, spewing radiation from the plant and into the sea. Eventually, residents were evacuated from their homes within a radius of 30 kilometers of the plant — areas that remain unoccupied to date.
A PCL team comprised of Arnold Howitt, Assistant Director David Giles, and Research Fellow Hiromi Akiyami spent two months in Japan each of the past two summers extensively interviewing officials in the national government, the three most hard-hit prefectures, and several cities along the coast that suffered from the tsunami. They have been learning how the emergency response was conducted in the harrowing days and weeks after the disaster — how survivors were rescued, sheltered, and cared for, and how the 20,000 dead were found and identified. In addition, the researchers have been studying the methods and effectiveness of the multilevel disaster recovery efforts in the stricken Tohoku region.
PCL expects to follow the recovery efforts in one more summer of research, ultimately writing a book that assesses the response and recovery process. Several papers are in preparation, as well as a teaching case study on the emergency operations.
Leonard and Howitt have published preliminary results of the marathon bombing study in two papers: “Boston Marathon Bombing Response” and “The Medical Response to the Boston Marathon Bombings.” Early results of the Japan project are also avail-able in “An Incident Management System for Japan?” and “Systems Failure.” These papers can be downloaded here.
Herman "Dutch" Leonard, George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Management
Photo Credit: Martha Stewart
"Overall, the emergency medical response [to the the Boston Marathon bombing] was highly effective; and, while there were definite rough edges around the police response, the degree of cooperation among law enforcement agencies — and between them and the public — was unprecedented," write PCL Co-Directors Dutch Leonard and Arnold Howitt.
Arnold M. Howitt, adjunct lecturer in public policy and Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation executive director
Photo Credit: Martha Stewart