Why Was Boston Strong Initiative

Faculty and researchers from Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Crisis Leadership and Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, along with faculty representing Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, have undertaken a research initiative examining the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

New White Paper Examines Response to Boston Marathon Bombing Events

One year after two homemade bombs exploded along the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three, injuring dozens, and traumatizing an entire city, jurisdictions both here and abroad remain on high alert to the possibility of similar unexpected, complex, and potentially deadly events in their own backyard. A new White Paper co-authored by four scholars of emergency management and criminal justice at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Harvard Law School (HLS), and Harvard Business School (HBS) draws upon the marathon bombing events to provide responders with concrete and actionable steps to help improve their own emergency management planning efforts now and in the years to come.

This new White Paper dissects the myriad events that occurred in and around the City between April 15-19, 2013; it's authors – Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard (HKS/HBS); Christine M. Cole (HKS); Arnold M. Howitt (HKS); and Philip B. Heymann (HLS) – analyze in detail the 100 hours "of intense drama that riveted the attention of the nation" between the moment the first bomb exploded near the marathon finish line until the arrest of the lone surviving suspect more than four days later – identifying those critical moments when planning, preparation, and coordination paid off – as well as those occasions when performance left room for improvement...  

The White Paper

The team's final report, Why Was Boston Strong? Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing, was publicly released on April 3, 2014. The report emphasizes a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors recommend to:

  • Quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic, and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post – with dedicated space for strategic, tactical, and logistical teams – that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.
  • Provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.
  • Develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.
  • Critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.
  • Design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days. 
  • Consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.   

Research Process and Activities

Building on a foundation of expertise in the fields of emergency management, criminal justice, public management and leadership, and organizational behavior and design, the research team collected data through a series of interviews with command-level officials involved in the response to the Marathon bombings. Interviewees represented a range of agencies and organizations, jurisdictions, and levels of government. The interviews were recorded but were conducted on a not-for-attribution basis in order to facilitate as open a dialogue as possible.

After reviewing and synthesizing the data collected through these interviews – as well as information available through public sources  – the researchers authored a draft white paper on lessons learned from the response to the bombings. This draft was shared with interviewees, who provided feedback at a meeting held at Harvard Kennedy School in February 2014.

Why Was Boston Strong Conference

Organized by a team of Harvard University faculty and researchers, the Why Was Boston Strong Conference explored lessons learned from the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013. Featuring a series of panel presentations and group discussions, this invitation-only, off-the-record gathering provided participants with a unique opportunity to candidly discuss the challenges of planning and preparing for large-scale, high-profile events.

Approximately 100 people convened at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) on March 13 and 14,, 2014. This gathering featured a series of panel presentations and candid group discussions on issues related to preparing for and responding to preplanned, fixed events like the Marathon and sudden, no notice incidents like those that transpired in Watertown. An updated draft of the team's white paper served as the focal point of the proceedings; and group discussion served as an invaluable mechanism for refining the paper's content and shaping the recommendations included in the final report. 

Research Team

The Why Was Boston Strong? initiative is led by:

  • Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard, Faculty Co-Director, Program on Crisis Leadership, and George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School; and Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
  • Christine M. Cole, Executive Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Arnold M. Howitt, Faculty Co-Director, Program on Crisis Leadership, and Executive Director, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Philip B. Heymann, James Barr Ames Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

The Research Team is deeply grateful for the benefits of the expertise and assistance of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) in the development of our research and in the organization of the conference based on this work. 

The Team also gratefully acknowledges support for this initiative from the International Centre for Sport Security, from Harvard University's Provost Office, from the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government, Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Program on Crisis Leadership; as well as from Harvard Law School and from Harvard Business School.

Print print | Email email
Why Was Boston Strong Conference at HKS

Participants included local, state, & federal officials involved in the week-long response to the bombings; senior practitioners representing emergency management, public safety, and law enforcement; organizers of major fixed events (e.g., sporting contests, political conventions); and scholars of emergency management, criminal justice, and public management

Photo: Tony Rinaldo

Why Was Boston Strong Conference at HKS 2014

Photo: Tony Rinaldo