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, are researching the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Findings from this initiative are presented in a white paper, Why Was Boston Strong? Lessons Learned from the Boston Marathon Bombing, which was released on April 3, 2014.

Why Was Boston Strong? identifies strengths of the response as well as areas for improvement. Based on this work, the research team has produced a set of actionable recommendations to increase preparedness, improve response capabilities, and develop resiliency for preplanned "fixed" events -- like the Marathon -- and sudden "no notice" events -- such as those that played out in Watertown, MA on April 18/19, 2013.


Why Was Boston Strong? Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing, highlights factors that contributed to a largely successful response, emphasizing what 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 urge responders 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.

Click on the hyperlinks to view the final report, the executive summary, and the press release for "Why Was Boston Strong?"

Media inquiries should be directed to: Doug Gavel (617) 495-1115 and Daniel Harsha (617) 495-4347


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


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.

On March 13 and 14, 2014, approximately 100 people convened at the Kennedy School to participate in the Why Was Boston Strong? conference. 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.
Participants included local, state, and 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.

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.

For details on the conference, click here.

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We are deeply grateful for the benefit 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.

We also gratefully acknowledge support for this initiative from the International Centre for Sport Security, from Harvard University's Provost Office, from the 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, from Harvard Law School, and from Harvard Business School.

Gov. Patrick speaks following the Boston Marathon bombing. He is joined by Sen. Warren, Boston Police Commissioner Davis, and senior law enforcement officials.

Photo Credit: Getty/McCollester