WASHINGTON -- Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chair of the Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee, and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, today led a U.S. Senate hearing focused on the Boston Marathon bombing and its impacts on emergency preparedness and homeland security.
“The Boston Marathon bombing was a senseless act of violence that claimed the lives of three civilians and two law enforcement officers, and injured hundreds more. And it turned a worldwide sporting event, and local celebration of patriotism and pride, into a scene of carnage and mayhem,” said Senator Hassan in her opening statement. “It was a stark reminder of the ongoing threat of terrorism and the importance of being prepared to respond to emergencies of all kinds. The attack also highlighted the resilience and strength of the Boston and New England community, and the bravery and dedication of our emergency responders and law enforcement officials… Today's hearing is an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made over the past ten years and identify areas where further improvements can be made.”
The hearing, titled “Lessons Learned: 10 Years Since the Boston Marathon Bombings,” featured Edward Davis, former Boston Police Commissioner; Rich Serino, former Deputy FEMA Administrator and former Chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services; and Kerry Sleeper, a former Deputy Assistant Director at the FBI – all of whom held these positions at the time of the 2013 bombing. Senator Hassan asked the witnesses about Boston’s emergency preparedness, the importance of information sharing, and emerging threats to events ranging from religious gatherings to sporting events.
Senator Hassan first asked Mr. Serino about how planning and preparation saved lives at the marathon. Mr. Serino discussed efforts in 2009 – long before the bombing – to bring together hundreds of first responders, hospital personnel, and international partners to discuss how to prepare for any potential attacks, and then they conducted drills. “Practicing and preparing paid off,” said Mr. Serino.
Mr. Serino also shared that Boston’s handling of the bombing has informed communities’ preparation efforts throughout the country and even throughout the world; officials responding to the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 had learned from what Boston did.
Senator Hassan then raised the issue of information sharing: “Prior to the Boston Marathon attack, the FBI had information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev that the Boston Police Department did not have. Some have argued that the Boston Police Department could have done more to prevent this attack if the FBI had provided the information to them. How did the Boston Marathon attack impact information sharing between federal and state and local agencies? And are there other aspects of information sharing that you think still need improvement?”
“It had a profound effect on the FBI, it had a profound effect on how federal government shares information with its state and local partners,” said Mr. Sleeper. He discussed new protocols and practices to increase information sharing.
In discussing effective collaboration that did occur following the attack to identify the bombers, Mr. Davis pointed to the importance of pre-existing relationships among federal, state, and local partners. He shared that his first two calls were to the FBI and Massachusetts State Police – and he knew to do this because of prior planning for any potential attacks.
Senator Hassan and Mr. Davis also discussed emerging threats to mass gatherings and “soft targets,” which can be anything ranging from the Boston Marathon to worship services. Mr. Davis raised the increasing threat of harmful uses of artificial intelligence, as well as the need for more information sharing with social media companies in order to address potential threats.