Thursday, April 24, 2008

Every Special Event Is A Disaster

And no, I'm not talking about the upcoming wedding season.

I'm talking about the fact that Boston used this year's marathon as an opportunity to test elements of its disaster preparedness system. It only makes sense to do so, as the marathon brings in large numbers of people and creates an inherently complicated environment for a disaster response. Large gatherings also provide tempting targets for potential terrorists, as we have seen before in other places.

According to Boston Emergency Medical Service (BEMS) chief Richard Serino, his department considers events like the marathon and the Fourth of July celebration as "planned disasters" - safe, controlled environments that present "an opportunity to test some things you would never want to test in a real disaster."

Although the principal goal during such events remains the safety of everyone involved, organizers have realized that these annual gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people present the perfect opportunity to evaluate new technologies, exercise disaster plans, and build vital relationships between public safety agencies and the private sector.

That last bit, public-private sector partnerships, is especially important, as I've argued before. But let's give credit where it's due. The fact that Massachusetts is focusing on public-private sector collaboration is not much of a surprise, considering that public-private sector engagement is one of the three major goals of the state's homeland security strategy. (Also see this post.)

Preparedness involves casting a wide net for potentially beneficial relationships. It's all about the network:
To successfully manage the marathon, BEMS and other public safety agencies must have relationships not just with the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the race, but also with a diverse set of private organizations. These include, but are not limited to, private ambulance services that back up BEMS, and hotels and other businesses along the route that help make the behind-the-scenes operation of the marathon run smoothly. When a real disaster strikes, these contacts can be called upon to lend needed supplies and other assistance.
With the summer schedule full of activities in towns and cities nationwide, this is an idea that any community could employ.

(h/t W. David Stephenson)

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