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Boston Marathon Bombing: Quick Analysis

Threat of terror act is constant because there are unwavering and motivated desires to terrorize societies and governments from several known and unknown individuals and groups worldwide.  At any given time and place there is someone designing a better weapon, planning, and rehearsing an attack.  The terrorist and any threat groups have the luxury of choosing the time and place to execute their plans.

The tragic explosive attack on the world-famous Boston Marathon that killed three people has far reaching impact not only on the casualties but on the entire global athletics and sports world. The oldest marathon in the world becomes the latest victim of acts of terrorism.

Two improvised explosive devices were detonated as the runners approached the finish line at around 2:50 p.m. of Monday (Massachusetts time), killing two of the three fatalities on the spot and injuring more than 140 others. An eight-year-old boy was one of the fatalities. His death punctuated the tragic event for his family as his six-year-old sister lost a leg and their mother remained in critical condition.

As of this writing, no individual or organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. US President Barack Obama, in his two presidential statements, made no accusation yet. He has not blamed anyone or any organization yet but made a strong commitment to solve the case. It took time for him to use the word “terror.” He used “act of terrorism” only when he made his second press appearance. Obama practically subdued speculations from all fronts.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the lead agency in this case, does not have anyone in custody yet. None was even considered as a person of interest. All security agencies in US declared that there was no threat detected against the event or the city itself. No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the bombing. A Pakistani Taliban group publicly declared their ambition to attack American but categorically denied responsibility for the Boston blasts.

As investigations are ongoing, a quick look of the incident may give those in corporate and government some valuable insights in critical incident management and risk assessment.

US Response:

Due to paranoia as a constant target by global and domestic terror groups, the responses to the Boston Marathon incident have been better than expected. There were lockdowns, shut downs, and clampdowns at the ground level. The objective was to contain the situation first. One of the first security responses was to restrict and monitor movements of persons and ongoing events. The safety first responses were quicker than in other incidents because there are normally more first responders on standby at the finish lines.

At the top level, the responses have been unified as it can be. The US President is in control of the situation. He cited the efforts of all involved agencies indicating that he has consulted the various concerned agencies. There was public appointment of the lead agencies in charge of investigation, incident management, prosecution, and welfare of the victims. The speculations from the traditional media showed more responsible control, constraint, and self-regulation. The new media and social networking provided the unprecedented support to cascade the offers of humanitarian and Samaritan aid, information sharing, and passing of critical and pertinent information to help the FBI. Google started its People Finder and dedicated a YouTube section for the incident, while Twitter supported the deluge of support via “hashtagged” messages.

Boston declared a no-fly zone immediately and set up a hotline dedicated for information and queries related to the incident. They are executing what seems to be in their response manuals.

Global Response:

As expected, countries that are identified with the United States, will feel threatened also with the same mode of attack. The UK government announced that they would review the security measures of their forthcoming London Marathon. Russia expressed sympathy and offered the services of their investigators. Middle East countries also sympathized with the Bostonians as they recognize the significance of sports as a unifying factor even in times of global conflicts.

Each country and event organizer will have varying degree of reaction and security measures. In the Philippines, there will be perfunctory statements from mayors and police officers to assure the public. The public should take note that these mayors and police officers maybe out of office after the election this May or will eventually forget such commitment just like other political campaign promises.

Suspect profile:

Based on the prevailing information, I may profile the suspect as someone with a deep hatred against the normal American way of life. He could be someone that is a lone wolf, doesn’t belong to a pack or a group of similarly motivated individuals. Motivated by revenge perhaps. Being a lone operator, the bomber didn’t use any electronic communication devices.  He wasn’t into emails, text messaging, tweeting, or posting comments or his thoughts online. He may not even be using a phone to express his sentiments. Otherwise, Big Brother could have picked up his transmitted intentions and red flagged him. If he did lots of research online on how to build a rudimentary bomb made from a pressure cooker with nails and pellets as additional shrapnel, then he could be identified as soon as US authorities use its necessary resources and full force of the law to get the perpetrator.

The investigation team may include profilers, forensic experts, photographers and digital image experts, medical examiners, structural engineers, bomb disposal technicians, and explosive analysts, sketch artists, and even data and evidence sorters. This team may sort and study the streaming number of tips from hotline and social media that include hundreds of photos and video footages.

Targeting a crowd means getting a crowd of eyewitnesses. Terror attacks love media mileage but such also provide investigators information from photographers, CCTV, news cameras, and camera phones even if they need to piece thousands of puzzle pieces to an image they don’t know of beforehand. Very soon, with meticulous process, a suspect will be in custody.

Impact to Travel and Public Events

The Boston Marathon is not just a simple running event. It is a global tourism activity that attracts tourists (and runners) worldwide. Thus, tourism components such as hotels and airlines should benefit from this activity. However, since the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers attack in New York, all acts of terrorism are quickly associated with aircrafts and airlines. The hotels and restaurants along the marathon route are affected. The security and safety team of Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston quickly accounted for their staff and guests. Domestic and international flights were cancelled or re-routed. British Airways even allowed free rerouting of flights for three days.

What should be the response of the governments and event organizers?

Is there a need for sports and event organizers to improve their sports event security? Yes, definitely. In the context of the Philippine environment, there should be proper sports event security plan that is based on risk assessment and holistic approach. It is not only having security guards and burly bouncers. Or submitting security plans to MMDA, local government, or to the police. Event organizers, and the general public, should understand the challenges of security in an event like marathons that are held in public areas. Security plans for events held in sports complexes and arenas should be different from those for marathons and parades. Palarong Pambansa security plan for enclosed venues is far different from those for street events.

Just to emphasize, security measures for sports activities are imperative, even without this Boston incident. All event security plans should be based on credible risk assessment in order to calibrate the implementation of security and safety measures. There is no harm in overacting but there is always a better way than draining the pockets of the organizers for unnecessary security measures.

For countries and venues without the traditional threat groups like Abu Sayyaf or Al-Qaeda, the emergence of potential copycats should be considered but should not hinder the staging of sports events.

A good and effective security plan should strike a balance between lockdown and public convenience. It should even consider the commercial and reputational factors. We have to learn from the forthcoming London Marathon this Sunday.

Government police and military will announce expected perfunctory measures of increased intelligence efforts and assure the public that public events are secured.

How will society react to terror acts?

Continue with the normal way of life as much as possible. Otherwise, the terrorists win. What do you think?