This year’s running of the Boston Marathon was marked by tragedy, as runners and spectators fled from the explosions of two bombs set off nearly simultaneously around 3:00 p.m. along Boylston Street just yards from the finish line. Three were killed and at least 176 are injured from the explosions. One suspect is dead and the other is in serious condition at a Boston hospital after being caught by authorities. And, as details still surface, this tragic event reminds us of the importance of emergency operations and security planning as well as the need for the public to remain vigilant after tragedy.
“We’ve prevented many attempts,” said Dr. Greg Moore, director of the Center for Intelligence Studies at Notre Dame College. “Far more attempts have been thwarted – sometimes by luck and sometimes by great investigation – than have been successful.” However, Dr. Moore says it can be almost impossible to stop an individual determined to cause chaos. “If an individual is determined to make something happen, it is almost impossible to stop especially when the target is something like the Boston Marathon where you have people all over the place and it is hard to monitor,” said Dr. Moore.
The logistics and size of the Boston Marathon illustrate the complexity of Homeland Security emergency planning and security efforts in preventing an attack of this nature and at this scale. Nearly 30,000 runners took off from the starting line to traverse the 26.2 mile course that ran through Boston and surrounding communities, and an estimated 500,000 spectators lined the course during the 117th running of this storied race, making it difficult for authorities to secure the event without curbing the spirit and accessibility it has become known for.
“You can lock down anything you want, but it prevents people from accomplishing anything,” said Dr. John Hartzadony, director of the graduate program in security policy studies at Notre Dame College. “It’s a balancing act between trying to keep people secure and still allowing commerce and events like this to take place.” Before coming to Notre Dame College, Dr. Hartzadony worked as an intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Domestic attacks of this nature have a lasting impact on the country as well as on the continued efforts of Homeland Security officials in preventing acts of terror.
“It’s no joke when you say they only have to be right once, and we have to be right every time,” said Dr. Hatzadony.
Moving forward in the aftermath of the tragedy, Dr. Moore recommends the public remain vigilant and alert police of any suspicious behavior or objects that appear to be out of place.
“Be aware of things that are totally out of the ordinary,” said Dr. Moore. “If someone came up to you and said they were interested in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and started asking specific questions like getting in and getting out, times of day when a lot of people are there, transportation routes – those are all indications of potential surveillance and potential plotting.” And, while the vast majority of odd behaviors and incidences turn out to be false alarms, it is important to remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100 it is probably nothing, but if you see something, say something,” said Dr. Moore.
Our prayers are with the victims, families and Boston community as they recover from this tragic event.