Transcript: Testimony of MA Undersecretary of Public Safety Kurt Schwartz on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security – May 9, 2013
Partial transcript of testimony of Kurt Schwartz, Undersecretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, on the Boston Marathon bombings before the House Committee on Homeland Security on May 9, 2013:
…On behalf of Gov. [Deval] Patrick, I thank you for this opportunity to share thoughts and insights as you take your first look at the tragic events related to the Boston Marathon bombings.
The week of April 15th in and around Boston demonstrated the value of our investments of money, time, and resources in our local, state, and federal homeland security enterprise.
Within seconds of the bomb blasts at the finish line of the marathon, an array of personnel, resources, and capabilities – many of which were funded with homeland security grant dollars – were brought to bear to triage, to care for the wounded, communicate with the public, and provide situational awareness for decision-makers to ensure the safety and security of the public, critical infrastructure, set up a joint command center, and ultimately identify and apprehend the suspected terrorist.
The speed with which Boston responded, supported by the State Police, the National Guard, the transit police, and dozens of local, regional, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and other first responders is a testament to the homeland security spending and investments in preparedness, training and exercises, effective mutual aid systems, coordinated response systems, and outstanding leadership.
I speak with first-hand knowledge of the heroic work done by our public safety team on April 15th and in the following days.
I arrived on Boylston Street only minutes after the blast where I joined city and state public safety officials, including Commissioner [Ed] Davis and Col. [Tim] Alben of the Massachusetts State Police. And I was…privileged to be with this team four days later when the last of the suspected terrorist was captured in Watertown.
I commend Gov. Patrick and members of his administration, including Secretary of Public Safety [Andrea] Cabral, the State Police, the transit police, the National Guard. I also commend Commissioner Davis, the men and women he commands, and the first responders of the Boston Fire Department, Boston EMS, and the many other local, state, and federal public safety agencies that responded into Boston for their extraordinary performance under horrific circumstances.
As you all know, April 15th marked the 117th running of the Boston Marathon – one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. In Massachusetts, quite simply, the marathon is a big deal.
And public safety for the marathon also is a big deal. For local, regional, and state public safety officials, the Boston Marathon is one of our largest annual events that we appropriately dedicate substantial planning and operational resources to protect as best we can the runners and spectators in the eight cities and towns that host the race.
On April15, the public safety community was prepared. As done in the past, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) brought together a multi-agency, a multi-discipline team last January and spent three months developing the operational plans, the coordination plans for this year’s marathon.
On race day, an 80-person multi-agency coordination center was operational at MEMA. Representatives from Boston’s police, fire, and EMS services and public safety personnel from the other 7 cities and towns along the 26-mile course were present in the center along with key state and federal agencies, such as the Massachusetts State Police, the Department of Fire Services, Office of Emergency Medical Services, Public Health, National Guard, the Commonwealth Fusion Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the FAA, the Coast Guard and our partners Boston Athletic Association.
And along the 26-mile course, local, regional, and state tactical teams, hazardous material response teams, EOD teams, the National Guard civil support teams, mobil command post and State Police helicopters were deployed as part of an all-hazards operational plan.
In short, when the 27,000 runners started the race in Hopkinton, as a community, we were prepared from the starting line to the finish line in Boston.
As we well know, at 2:50 p.m. April 15th, two powerful bombs were intentionally detonated 12 seconds apart on Boylston Street within a short distance of the finish line. The results were catastrophic: Three people killed and over 250 injured, dozens of them seriously.
The response by the public – bystanders, witnesses, and volunteers – in those moments after the blast was nothing short of remarkable. And the public safety response was equally incredible.
The response that I witnessed speaks volumes about the investments that we have made in the Commonwealth to enhance our homeland security.
From a high-level systemic view, several common themes, key factors, stand out as we assess the massive swift and effective public safety response…
There’s a clear correlation as others have said between the effectiveness of response operations in the aftermath of the bombings and our homeland security investments. The response to the bombings relied heavily on specialized capabilities that have been built and sustained through our homeland security programs.
The response to the bombings was augmented through pre-existing inter and intra state mutual agreements that have been built on regional response strategies and plans.
Interoperability was a huge success story. Over the years, the millions of dollars that we have invested under local, regional, and state interoperability plans ensures that the responders and command personnel were able to effectively communicate between agencies, between disciplines, and between jurisdictions.
We benefited from our history of using pre-planned events like the marathon as real-life opportunities to exercise and utilize our command posts, our emergency operation centers to test our plans and mutual aid systems, to activate our specialized response teams, to stay familiar with the technology systems that we rely on during emergencies, and to strengthen personal and professional relationships amongst people, agencies, disciplines, and jurisdictions that otherwise may not have opportunities to work together.
We benefited from our investments in regional exercise programs that allowed first responders to hone specialized skills and gain familiarity with responders from other areas, who may be called in to support mutual aid agreements.
The cooperation and collaboration across agencies, disciplines, and jurisdictions was immediate and extraordinary. There was unity of focus and unity of purpose at the command level and through the ranks all the way down to the first responders on Boylston Street on April 15th and to the thousand plus police officers participated in the state’s largest manhunt on April 18th and 19th.
Relationship between public safety leaders and public officials at all times was open, positive, and constructive. Gov. Patrick and Mayor Menino regularly communicated with each other and consulted with and were briefed by the public safety leaders such as Commissioner Davis and Col. Alben of the State Police. Their decisions were informed by and reflected public safety concerns, needs, and objectives, and this fostered constructive decision-making and opportunities for bold, out-of-the box decisions.
The support from the federal government, as you have heard from others, was immediate and effective. I need to personally thank FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services – all of whom were on the ground and with us and supported us throughout this weeklong event.
And finally, local and state public safety and emergency management agencies effectively communicated with the public through social media, reverse 9-1-1 systems, smart phone apps, and for the first time in Massachusetts we pushed an emergency notification through the new wireless emergency alert service.
The response by the public to the bombings and ensuing hunt for the suspected terrorists was nothing short of incredible. On April 15th and in the following days, people did not panic or act out of a sense of anger or frustration. Rather, these shocking and tragic events brought out the best in our communities. They supported our first responders and heeded requests and directions from Gov. Patrick and Mayor Menino and public safety leaders, including the unprecedented request on April 19th that residents of Boston, Watertown and four other surrounding cities remain indoors. The community, as you’ve heard, has responded to these tragic events with compassion, with strength, and with support for the survivors of the bombings, the families of our victims, our first responders, and the impacting communities.
Boston, Watertown, and all of our active communities have shown us what it means to be resilient.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we will conduct a comprehensive local, regional, and state after-action review of the bombings and their aftermath, including our pre-bombing prevention, protection, and mitigation strategies and actions and our response and recovery efforts. We will engage in this formal review not because we have a basis to believe that the system did not work but because no matter how well it did work an event of this magnitude and tragedy requires that we gather and analyze all of the facts and determine what worked, what might not have worked, and if there are areas for improvement.
And finally, it’s important to end by stating that Gov. Patrick and I have tremendous pride in our community of public safety professionals who demonstrated so well its commitment to public safety even under the most difficult of circumstances. These are trying times, and we’re able to look back upon them with admiration for the collaboration and the partnerships that truly made a difference.
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