Over a decade after 9/11, many of our communities have become more prepared to deal with the threat of a terrorist attack or crisis situation like the Boston Marathon bombing last week. While the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts, evidently, have improved their emergency response capacities, others have not.
The key question that leaders in every community must ask themselves is whether they are doing everything they can to be prepared. The following "core capacities" are ones that more prepared communities have chosen to invest in and develop:
(1) Interoperable communications for first responders. This allows first responders both to a) communicate across disciplines -- so that, for example, firefighters can communicate with police officers -- and b) communicate across jurisdictional lines, so that officials from different cities, counties, and states can all communicate with each other.
(2) Technology like closed circuit television (CCTV) networks, cellphone tracking, and improved forensics, which proved critical in identifying those responsible for the Boston Marathon Attacks. Many cities and states have constructed CCTV systems and deployed license plate readers to protect critical transit hubs, aid response, and provide forensic information.
(3) Mass casualty and hospital surge capacity, which allowed the city of Boston and medical personnel to deal effectively with more than 175 patients and ensure that health care professionals could minimize the loss of life.
(4) More robust bomb, tactical and hazmat teams. In 2001 the nation experienced a surge in calls for suspicious packages related to anthrax mailings; in 2013 new and better equipped bomb and hazmat teams enabled responders to safely deal with the large number of suspicious package responses required by the Boston and D.C. incidents. The manhunt for the Marathon attackers leveraged the tactical personnel and vehicles required to conduct a city-wide search for dangerous subjects.
In addition to the capacities highlighted above, many of our communities have also worked (a) to ensure better public communication; (b) to utilize social media effectively to raise public awareness and conduct outreach; and (c) to adopt the Incident Command System (ICS), which allows responders from different agencies, cities, states, and even levels of governments to work together seamlessly under a single organizational system and with a unity of effort.
This progress was only possible because of the investments that some cities and states made together with the federal government -- investments that make Americans and their communities safer in the face of new threats. We can never completely prevent another tragedy like the Boston Marathon attacks from happening. But every American should ask themselves if their community is as prepared as it could be.
Some things we can only do together -- and protecting the homeland is one of them.