Years of preparation helped Boston respond to Marathon tragedy

The April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and injured 264—20 critically—but every patient who was transported to a hospital survived the tragedy. One reason is that Boston is a “medical mecca,” with an unusually high number of teaching hospitals and trauma centers. But another crucial reason is that the Boston medical community worked hard over the past decade to build emergency-preparedness programs—and to practice for mass casualty events in exercises and drills.

Details about how Boston prepared are outlined in a May 1, 2013 Perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Paul Biddinger, associate director of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Center for Public Health Preparedness, assistant professor in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management, and medical director for emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital was a co-author of the article.

“It’s important to remember that the response in Boston generally followed a very carefully crafted and much-practiced set of plans and that those plans owe much to the lessons of others in the unfortunate fraternity of cities that have experienced mass casualties from intentional attacks,” wrote the authors. “We must sustain our efforts as a nation to examine experiences together, plan together, and train together if we are to truly say that we’re learning the lessons of others and improving our ability to respond.”

Another NEJM Perspective article about the Marathon bombing, also published May 1, was co-authored by HSPH student Eric Goralnick, associate clinical director and medical director of emergency preparedness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Goralnick will earn a master’s in health care management in 2014. The article, titled “We Fight Like We Train,” described how Brigham and Women’s extensive preparations for emergencies helped their personnel respond quickly and efficiently in treating 39 people with serious injuries.

Read the NEJM article co-authored by Paul Biddinger

Read the NEJM article co-authored by Eric Goralnick

Learn more

The Boston Marathon bombings: lessons learned for saving lives (Forum at HSPH video)

Disaster response: A decade of lessons learned post-9/11 (Forum at HSPH video)

Crisis responders seek to bridge gaps in emergency response (HSPH feature)