Emergency Preparedness in American Cities Since 9/11

The World

SWAT officers stand guard after two explosions interrupted the running of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2013. Two bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing two people and injuring dozens in what a White House official said would be handled as an "act of terror." REUTERS/Dominick Reuter (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS CRIME LAW) - RTXYN3D

� Dominick Reuter / Reuters

The police response to Monday's bomb attacks in Boston was a sign that cities across the US are far better prepared for random attacks than they once were. Anecdotally, at least, the police and emergency response in Boston Monday was efficient and effective, says Bruce Hoffman, an expert in terrorism studies at Georgetown University. "At least from what we know about it, it was even more organized than the response to the July 7th, 2005 bombings in London. "Certainly in the decade since 9/11 in the United States, the training, the instruction, the knowledge, [and] the rehearsals that federal, state and especially local law enforcement and emergency responders have engaged in left them well prepared to deal with completely unexpected and tragic developments like yesterday's." NYC as 'Exemplar and Model' After the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the 9/11 Commission made many recommendations to mitigate the threat from terrorism. But American cities didn't wait for that report to get going. "There's a complete cross-fertilization across the United States with, in many respects, the New York City Police Department serving as the exemplar and model," says Hoffman. "Very impressive inroads [have been] made in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago—all major cities." In New York, at least, private businesses have strengthened security since September 11th, too, with many buildings installing advanced access systems and surveillance. Greg Cintron, an EMT in New York since 1993, teaches preparedness classes in the city. Many companies require that workers complete such courses as a condition of employment. Cintron says that post-9/11 people started signing up for themselves too. "The mindset is there now," he says. "It wasn't so much in the past: in the past it was pretty much, 'well it happened, but it won't happen to me, it won't happen in my backyard'. People now want to know." Time to Move On? But elsewhere in the United States, many people want to move on. With Osama Bin Laden dead, there's been a sense that the country could finally attend to other things: the economy, gun control, or immigration. But, says Bruce Hoffman at Georgetown, we can't wish the terrorism threat away, be it foreign or domestic. "As much as we may want to believe that we've turned a decisive corner, this is a threat that is probably more cyclical than perennial—but it's probably both. "And it's precisely when we lower our guard that the shock of these events is so much greater." Now debates in Washington about the appropriate scope and size of federal counter-terrorism programs will start up again. Still, Hoffman rejects that idea the American should simply accept terrorism in American cities as a permanent state of affairs: it's not a matter of resilience, he says. Only that it's a very hard problem, one that, as New York City EMT Greg Cintron reminds me, everyone has a part to play in solving. "As the old saying goes, if you see something, say something."