Boston Strong: Marathon Bombings Test Hospitals’ Disaster Response Capabilities

Here’s how the Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital were able to secure their campuses, help FBI investigators, host VIPs and save the lives of victims from April’s terrorist attack.


<p>President Barack Obama visited the patients and staff at Massachusetts General Hospital only a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing.</p>

“Our special investigations unit got very involved with that and helped identify five of them through a lot of source traces,” says Michelman.

MGH’s investigations unit also helped the Boston Police Department and FBI interview victims and gather evidence. The clothing and shrapnel recovered helped the FBI identify the type of bombs used in the attack.

Additionally, because no one knew if there were more bombs planted around the city or if any had been mailed, the investigations unit had to sort through the tons of mail and packages sent to the victims from well-wishers.

To make matters worse, at around 5 p.m. on the first day of the ordeal, MGH security received calls about a suspicious package in one of the large garages. The front of the hospital had to be evacuated for 90 minutes until the Rhode Island State Police bomb squad arrived and determined the package didn’t contain anything harmful.

VIPs Visit Victims, Thank Hospital Staff

In addition to all of this activity, MGH, BMC and the other hospitals treating the bombing survivors received a whole host of high-profile guests, including President Obama, the governor, the mayor, famous actors and sports figures wanting to visit patients and thank the staff. Some of them showed up unannounced, while others gave minimal notice. For example, the Secret Service normally lets campuses or organizations know five to seven days ahead of time that the president will be visiting. After the bombing, MGH was provided with 19 hours’ notice.

Upon hearing about the president’s upcoming visit, Michelman and her employees worked closely with the FBI, State Police, Boston Police Department and Secret Service so that the employees working in the areas where Obama would visit were screened.

Related A
rticle: Lessons Learned by Hospitals After the Boston Marathon Bombings

Routes where he would travel needed to be planned carefully. Streets were closed so the president’s 30-vehicle motorcade could safely proceed. Elevators were commandeered so unscreened individuals would not come out onto the floor that Obama was visiting. Floors were scrubbed, and walls were painted… sometimes at 4 a.m. MGH’s video surveillance system also had to be taken offline, just in case someone tried to hack into the network.

BMC had its fair share of high profile visitors as well. Fortunately, most of the politicians had advance teams to help with logistics. Some VIPs, however, showed up unannounced.

“Once they told us who they were, we’d have them take a seat until someone was available to be with them,” says Packard. “When someone recognized who they were, then it got a little complicated. Public safety would take them out to a different room until we could coordinate mostly the sports figures and a couple of the actors.”

City-Wide Lockdown Declared on Friday

While all of this was going on, the search for the bombing suspects continued. Early in the evening on Thursday, April 18, the FBI released to the public video surveillance footage and photos of the two suspects. Later that night, authorities say the suspects ambushed and killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Police Officer Sean Collier, prompting a massive showdown between the suspects and police. Sometime before 8 a.m. the following morning, the entire city of Boston and its adjacent communities were on lockdown. Everyone was ordered to shelter in place, including the hospitals.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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