City leaders gather at Marathon bombings symposium

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino makes closing remarks concerning the city’s disaster preparedness at the Leading Cities Through Crisis: Lessons from the Boston Marathon conference Monday afternoon. PHOTO BY MIKE DESOCIO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino makes closing remarks concerning the city’s disaster preparedness at the Leading Cities Through Crisis: Lessons from the Boston Marathon conference Monday afternoon. PHOTO BY MIKE DESOCIO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Top city officials agreed that communication and preparedness are essential to responding effectively to emergencies such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings at a leadership summit held Monday by co-directors of Boston University’s Initiative on Cities, former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Political Science Department Chair Graham Wilson.

“This year the eyes of the world will be upon us because of the anniversary,” Menino said. “When those world-class athletes sprint down Boylston Street, when we applaud the athletes who couldn’t finish last year who finally get a chance to cross the finish line, people will see why Boston is the best city in the world … Those moments of triumph will show that Boston just keeps getting stronger.”

Entitled “Leading Cities Through Crisis: Lessons from the Boston Marathon,” the daylong summit sought to consider the community’s response to the bombings, analyze the aftermath of the bombings and develop ideal reactions to future crises both in Boston and other cities, Wilson said.

“The purpose of the Initiative on Cities is to bring cities together with each other and with experts from Boston University to learn lessons that will help dynamic, urban leadership in the future,” he said.

The summit highlighted three key criteria to addressing future crises similar to the marathon bombings in other cities as well as in Boston, Wilson said.

“Need for communication, need for planning and need for a relationship of trust between government and citizen,” he said. “Those are the three things that stick [out] in my mind as critical to success.”

Attendees of the leadership summit included political leaders from the New England region, people directly involved in the aftermath of the marathon bombings and members of the BU academic community, said Initiative on Cities Executive Director Katharine Lusk.

As a community deeply affected by the tragedies of the marathon bombings, BU is an appropriate venue to hold the summit, Lusk said.

“It’s incredibly meaningful that the Marathon Conference to take place here at BU, as the host of the Initiative on Cities, the host of Mayor Menino, as a community that was deeply impacted by the effects of the marathon both personally and as a wider community,” Lusk said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for the academic community here to learn about lessons of resiliency.”

BU President Robert Brown, who delivered opening remarks at the summit, said the events of the bombing last April were particularly horrific for the BU community.

“It is still painful for us at Boston University to talk about last April because members of our community staffed the emergency room at Boston Medical Center because so many of the volunteers at the finish line were BU students, and most of all because our wonderful, promising student Lu Lingzi lost her life at the finish line bombing.”

Brown said the ramifications of the bombing for the BU community should move members to honor those who lost their lives by learning lessons from the tragedy.

“For us, this conference is very personal,” Brown said. “We know firsthand how lives have been lost, shattered and changed forever by a senseless, horrific event. We can honor Lu Lingzi and the others who died on Marathon Monday by thoughtfully examining what we have learned from those dreadful days last April.”

The summit featured four panels throughout the day: “Caring Amid Crisis: External Response and Internal Recovery,” “Crisis Reporting: The Media’s Role in Making Sense of Tragedy,” “Revitalizing Business: Getting ‘Back to Boylston’” and “Healing a City: Lessons from the Survivor Community.”

Panelists included members of the emergency response community, medical community, business community, survivor community and media.

Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who spoke at the summit, said while the Boston Police Department was forced to make tough decisions in response to the marathon bombings, BPD’s reactions ultimately saved lives.

“These are terrible things and nothing goes according to planned, but there were really good decisions made by people in the police field,” Davis said. “… Innovation requires people feeling empowered to change, and in some way, to go against policy to make decisions that save lives. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Davis said the leadership summit was essential to keeping community leaders vigilant of potential tragedies such as the Marathon in their own cities.

“It’s really important to the future, so that people who have to face the potential of this happening are vigilant in understanding that this could happen anywhere at anytime,” Davis said. “BU is doing a great service to this community and other communities to give us a chance to talk about it.”

Chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services and panelist Jim Hooley said preparing for crises is essential to being equipped to address them.

“Planning, exercising and training sometimes seems a little boring and repetitious until you see what happens in the real world,” Hooley said. “Then you see the value of the well thought out plans that you have exercised and that you can then execute.”

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, who also served as a panelist, said Boston’s operation system was ideal for reacting to a crisis such as the Marathon.

“Boston has treated special issues as a planned disaster for many years,” Serino said. “This was 20 plus years of preparedness. Not every city integrates hospitals and public health, emergency medical services, law enforcement, the fire department … in addition to bringing together the business community. This was key in both in the response and the preparation for recovery.”

Panelist and Boston Public Health Commission Executive Director Barbara Ferrer said Menino was essential to providing aid and understanding to the survivor community as a long-term commitment.

“[Menino] said to us [BPHC], ‘I don’t want anybody who was affected by this to have their needs go unanswered, for as long as it takes,’” Ferrer said. “In the midst of this crisis, Menino insisted that we understand that we were not being tasked with something for the next 24, 48, 72 hours … but for however long the recovery period was defined by the survivors.”

Executive Director of the Boston Athletic Association Thomas Grilk said the courageous responses from Boston community leaders allowed citizens to feel more comfortable amidst the crisis.

“The kind of response that we saw last [year] … it requires leadership, leaders with courage to make decisions while the rest of us want to pull the blanket over our heads and hide,” Grilk said. “… Doing something when there is a problem is the easy part. The hard part is having the plain courage to make decisions when you know you’re going to get criticized. All of us at the BAA thank you.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said one of Boston’s strengths in reacting to the crisis was remaining united as a community throughout the most difficult times.

“The mayor often talks about the importance of working together, and in so many ways what we saw through the success of that experience was the power in working together,” Patrick said. “The thing that lasts most for me is the extraordinary and consistent acts of grace we saw at a time when people frequently can and sometimes do turn to their darker side.”

Menino said that this year on Marathon Monday the entire world will understand why Boston is such a special city, and everyone will see that Boston is even stronger now than it was before.

“On Marathon Monday I will be out there with the crowds,” he said. “I will stand with them and thank them for what they’ve done and what they do every day. I will cheer for the runners and their families and their friends because Boston is even stronger now because its people are the kindest, most generous citizens I have ever known.”

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