By Stephen E. Flynn, Co-Director, George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
Law enforcement leaders are often called upon to speak about local terrorist threats.
Presented here are talking points about the 2013 Boston Marathon attack.
he twin bombings at the Boston Marathon and the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers captivated the nation in the last weeks of April 2013. Nearly a dozen years after 9/11, a great U.S. city was once again under attack. Typical of U.S. citizens, the response by Bostonians was to care for the wounded, support efforts by law enforcement to identify and apprehend the culprits, and take back their lives.
Societal resilience can help deter future terror attacks. Embracing it is not an act of defeatism and resignation. Instead, it is a commitment to ensuring that communities and critical infrastructures are not soft and tempting targets for those who might consider pursuing terrorism as a means of warfare. If an attack ends up being a fizzle instead of a big bang, would-be terrorists have to reconsider the value of undertaking such attacks on U.S. soil. Terrorism as a weapon becomes far less potent and attractive when it fails to achieve its disruptive goals.
There are four lessons learned from the Boston attacks.
Not all acts of violence can be prevented: It is important to recognize that since every act of violence cannot be prevented, it is a good idea to be well prepared for when bad things do happen. Investments in drills and exercises at the local level pay off in saving lives. In the critical seconds and minutes after a disaster strikes, it is family members, neighbors, perfect strangers, and local public safety personnel that will often spell the difference between life and death. So channeling resources to enhance local capabilities makes sense.
The community is an indispensible asset: In the aftermath of an attack, it is vitally important to nimbly put together a clear picture that can distinguish real from perceived risk. This means that intelligence is as important immediately following an event as it is before. If risk feels unbounded as it did on 9/11, the impulse by security and elected officials is to shut things down until the threat can be sorted out. But grounding aviation, closing borders, and locking down cities have real costs and consequences including providing the motivation for future attacks. Getting answers quickly is key to tempering a kill-switch response. Law enforcement leaders are often called upon to speak about local terrorist threats. Presented here are talking points about the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. The United States is the melting pot of the world where many cultures, religions, and races come together in harmony. A terrorist attack against one is an attack against all. In the United States, the citizens, business community, and government join forces to hunt down terrorists, as so notably demonstrated April 2013 in Boston. As it has been demonstrated, the community will react and support officials in their decisions.
|The United States is the melting pot of the world where many cultures, religions, and races come together in harmony. A terrorist attack against one is an attack against all. In the United States, the citizens, business community, and government join forces to hunt down terrorists, as so notably demonstrated April 2013 in Boston.|
To this end, whether it is in supporting forensic activity or conducting a manhunt, the local community is an indispensible asset. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother were identified thanks in part to the ubiquity of social media. Dzhokhar was apprehended because of an observation by a homeowner who saw the plastic cover on the boat in his driveway flapping in the wind and went to investigate.
Quickly restore normalcy: Being prepared to respond to terrorist attacks is crucial, so too are having plans and conducting exercises for nimbly recovering from these events. This includes rapidly restoring public services and planning in advance a communication strategy for informing and engaging the public when the threat is still ongoing. It is actually easier to shutdown an area than it is to turn it back on. Unlike closing and opening highways for a blizzard that has a clear beginning and an end, managing a terrorism incident can be more open-ended. When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was still at large, elected officials faced the difficult decision of whether or not to continue the shelter-in-place request. Ultimately the request was lifted as it became clear that the consequences arising from shutting down a metropolitan area of one million people had to be balanced against the ongoing risk. To their credit, the people of Boston showed their grit by being willing to immediately return to the streets and gather in groups as soon as they were once again allowed to do so.
Highlight resiliency: Resilience needs to be documented and celebrated. The impulse of the mass media is to focus on the harm of an attack, who caused it, and why it was not prevented. As Boston demonstrated, there are equally compelling stories in how people respond to and bounce back after these events. Fear becomes disabling when people feel powerless in the face of danger. Much of the terror can be taken out of terrorism by bolstering capabilities, individually and collectively, for managing the many hazards posed by the 21st century.
Patriots Day commemorates the battle at Lexington and Concord—the opening skirmish in the American War of Independence. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, described the first shot fired in the battle by the patriots as the “shot heard ’round the world.” When this holiday comes around again in 2014, there will be an additional concept to reflect on and celebrate: American resilience in the face of terrorism. ♦
If You See Something, Say Something
| The nationwide If You See Something, Say Something public awareness campaign is a simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities.|| The If You See Something, Say Something campaign includes public service announcements that have been distributed to television and radio stations across the United States. The campaign continues to expand, and local departments can participate by contacting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.|
| This campaign underscores the concept that homeland security begins with hometown security. An alert public plays a critical role in keeping the United States safe. Strengthening hometown security involves creating partnerships across state and local governments as well as the private sector.|| For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-campaign.|
Please cite as:
Stephen E. Flynn, "Talking Points: Delivering the Message to Terrorists—The Boston Way," The Police Chief 80 (June 2013): 20–22.