Enough time has passed to identify some important, early lessons from the tragic events surrounding the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Here are a few things that, even now, are evident:
- Practice does make perfect. The response to the Boston tragedy was exemplary. First responders were able to effectively and rapidly identify victims, respond to injuries, clear the scene, and begin an investigation. That success doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the product of 10 years of planning, preparation, and exercises. America is remarkably better prepared today for a response to catastrophic incidents than it was in September 2001. We should recognize and applaud that development.
- It’s not a federal job. The initial response and recovery efforts in Boston were handled almost exclusively by state and local actors. The federal role came into focus only with the investigative phase of the response. That is as it should be. We need to remind ourselves over and over again that not everything is a federal responsibility.
- We cannot be 100 percent safe. The tragic events in Boston also remind us that no system of defense is perfect. We cannot protect everyone, everywhere all the time. One of the other lessons from Boston is that the American people have come to understand that truth. The public response to Boston has been measured, thoughtful, and mature.
- Forensics matter. It is too early to say whether the investigation of the Boston bombing will be successful in identifying the culprit. But already we are seeing indications that the comprehensive system of investigation and analysis that has been developed in America since 9/11 is paying dividends. While there are many who decry these developments as the growth of a “surveillance state,” Boston reminds us that counterterrorism tools do have value. The right answer, as always, is to use oversight and audit mechanisms to ensure that these tools are used for good purposes—like tracking down the Boston murderers—and not for inappropriate political purposes.
- Humanity matters even more. Perhaps, however, the greatest lesson is this: Americans (and, most especially today, Bostonians) are a resilient people. Even when tragedy strikes, we respond with an open hand and an open heart. Whether it is the runners who kept running to the hospital to give blood, or the thousands who have volunteered time and energy to respond, we know that Boston will survive and prosper. Next year I hope we see twice as many people at the Marathon.