Urgent Matters

Boston Marathon bombings a reminder of what’s at stake with public-safety initiatives

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In the wake of yesterday's successful running of the Boston Marathon, we remember the tragic bombing at the event last year and need for first responders to have access to the information they need as quickly as possible through a variety of technological platforms.

Yesterday, more than 36,000 runners participated in the Boston Marathon, just a year after the tragic bombings near the finish line resulted in three deaths, more than 200 injuries and an unprecedented manhunt for the two suspected perpetrators of the attack.

Scenes and stories from yesterday’s marathon were inspiring, and they punctuated a year-long “Boston Strong” initiative that has showcased the resolve of those living in one the most historical U.S. cities. Seemingly all elements of the Boston community united in recognition of the terrorist attack and the determination not to let last year’s event prevent them from living their lives, regardless of circumstances.

This sentiment was helped by the knowledge that the suspected perpetrators were identified and no longer a threat just four days after the bombings occurred, thanks to the efforts of federal and Boston-area first responders that conducted the manhunt with unique cooperation from transit authorities and many building owners to essentially shut down significant portions of the region to isolate the suspects.

Technology played a role, as well. The suspects were identified first through surveillance video and photos from the scene. Social media was leveraged as investigators sought information. Cell-phone tracking of a device inadvertently left in a vehicle that was carjacked by the suspects led authorities to their location in Watertown.

There were numerous examples of interoperable communications throughout this episode, and all first responders participating in this effort should be proud and deserve our thanks. But I’m sure some gnawing questions remain, such as whether earlier identification of the suspects might have put them in custody sooner, preventing their alleged fatal shooting of Sean Collier, a 27-year-old officer for the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) police department.

This is why it is imperative that initiatives to enhance public-safety communications continue to progress. This includes all initiatives, from FirstNet to next-generation 911 to the establishment of real-time crime centers and fusion centers, where seemingly disparate data can be put together in a manner to help first responders do their jobs as efficiently as possible. And efficiency is critical, because every second counts in emergency situations.

In each of these examples, there are significant technical and financial challenges to be overcome. There also are operational and policy questions that need to be considered.

But none of these issues are insurmountable, if key policymakers exhibit the will to make them happen. Given the importance of ensuring the safety of our first responders and the citizens they protect, hopefully there will be more than enough support to transform the vision of first responders having the necessary technological tools available to them into a reality.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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