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Thursday
Apr102014

Boston Marathon Bombing: Homeland Security’s ‘Lessons Learned’

The Boston Globe via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday revealed what it has learned in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, just a week shy of the deadly attack’s first anniversary.

In a 19-page report, written in response to a “hot wash” review ordered by then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and titled “Boston One Year Later: DHS’s Lessons Learned,” the department outlines three areas of focus: the “importance of partnerships,” the “need for effective and reliable communications” and the need to further boost anti-radicalization efforts.

The report also revealed that immediately after the attack, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center went back and “re-vetted” all flights that had departed earlier in the day from Boston, New York and Newark to identify any potential suspects.

Tucked into a single line in the report is a reference to the DHS’s review of its “name-matching capabilities, [which led] to improvements in its ability to detect variations of names derived from a wide range of languages.” Last month another report on the Boston Marathon bombing, this from the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the name of the older of the accused Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was misspelled in a security database, allowing him to reenter the country from a trip to Russia unnoticed, despite previous warnings from Russian intelligence.

The DHS report also noted that federal agencies have “expanded our ability to share information with state and local officials about potential threats.” Boston police chief Ed Davis has previously said he was not notified about Tamerlan Tsarnaev before the attacks, even though the FBI had investigated him in 2011.

Read some more highlights on each point below and check out the full report by clicking here (PDF).

Security Money Well Spent

The DHS report notes that Homeland Security grants to local law enforcement in the Boston area and the relationships built up over time boosted everyone’s ability to respond to the attack.

The report says, “Early, Sustained Engagement and the Relationship to Preparedness: DHS grants, training and workshops as well as drills and exercises throughout the Northeast region, and specifically in Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, built preparedness capabilities to enhance responses to complex, catastrophic attacks. Participants credited these investments for the coordinated and effective response to the bombings by law enforcement, medical, and other public safety personnel.”

Since 2002, the report says, Massachusetts has received nearly $1 billion through 22 DHS grant programs -- “including nearly $370 million for the Boston urban area.”

“This funding has been used to equip and train tactical and specialized response teams specifically in IED [Improvised Explosive Device] detection, prevention, response, and recovery, including SWAT teams and Explosive Ordinance Disposal canine detection teams among other local law enforcement units. …During the review, multiple component officials and field personnel credited these activities for preparing the coordinated response to Boston.”

“Due to the investments DHS has made over the past ten years, the City of Boston had greater capabilities to respond to the Boston Marathon attack and had exercised its citywide response plans,” the report said.

Secret Service Had Radio Trouble

While after the Boston bombing responders “were generally able to achieve interoperability,” ICE and Secret Service agents “reported a limited ability to transmit messages via radio to State and local law enforcement.”

ICE and Secret Service personnel “reported discrete episodes of commercial wireless network saturation and incompatibility of certain radio communications between law enforcement organizations and State and local responders.”

“The wireless network status immediately after the bombings was congested for four hours, but neither damaged nor shutdown,” the report said.

Emergency Responders Reconsider Tactics After Boston ‘Success’

“The Boston attack also highlighted a potential paradigm shift in EMS [emergency medical services] protocols during a mass casualty event,” the report said. “Under widely used protocols, EMS is generally instructed to wait until a scene is safe and secure before entering to treat victims. However, because EMS members and medical staff were pre-staged and on scene for the Marathon, they were able to attend to victims immediately following the bombings. FEMA personnel noted that the EMS success in Boston is leading the first responder community to rethink the utility of securing a perimeter before EMS can enter and instead move to a system in which they can begin treating victims immediately.”

Immediate Security Reaction to the Attacks

The report says that in addition to re-vetting passengers on flights from key airports that day, American security agencies responded in a myriad of ways to combat any potential further threat.

The DHS established “an extended perimeter to intercept potential suspects and interview witnesses,” CBP helped deploy air assets and other forms of transportation support over the area, DHS provided briefings to State and local law enforcement and homeland security officials, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and faith-based organizations, “TSA heightened security throughout the Northeast region airports with increased explosive trace detection, canine deployment, gate checks and behavior detection activities,” the Coast Guard “immediately raised and coordinated its on-water security presence with increased patrols 24/7 in the inner harbor and along ferry routes,” and the Secret Service “utilized its New England Electronic Crimes Task Force to collect and review business surveillance videos in proximity to the bombing site for evidence related to investigation.”

Three people, including an 8-year-old boy were killed in the Boston Marathon bombing April 15, 2013. Bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police four days after the bombing. His little brother and alleged co-conspirator Dzhokhar was arrested and has been charged with 30 counts related to the bombing and the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier. Dzhokhar has pleaded not guilty. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

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