Boston Marathon Response Story

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Red Cross responds to Boston Marathon Bombings

Boston was forever changed April 15, 2013. Tragedy morphed an already resilient community into a stronger one. The American Red Cross has proudly played a part in that transformation.

The Red Cross already had a strong presence at the 117th B.A.A. Boston Marathon on April 15. With 400 volunteers stationed at 26 medical tents and 38 Team Red Cross runners on the pavement, the organization was well represented along the 26.2 mile stretch between Hopkinton and Boston.

As a precaution for any large event, the American Red Cross had volunteers on stand-by, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. The Disaster Operations Center was already opened in headquarters, a Red Cross staffer was in the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Bunker, public affairs was on call, and disaster staffers were in the office when the call came in: An explosion. Casualties at the Finish Line. We don’t know more. “Let’s immediately go down to the DOC.”

Quickly leadership took their places in the DOC, the Disaster Operations Center. The DOC remained open for weeks as Red Cross volunteers and staffers organized the relief effort.

Within the hour Red Cross volunteers were in trucks at the Westin Hotel, which quickly became Incident Command as the investigation formed around the bomb site. Eventually 47,000 meals and snacks would be served to people in affected areas, and those in the middle of the investigation were among those in need. Said one officer toward the tail end of the investigation, "The only hot meal I had the first week (after the bombings) was from the Red Cross.”

The Red Cross acted as a support not just to first responders stationed at the bomb site for days on end, but for those agencies for whom disaster response is not part of their DNA. Working with the Boston Athletic Association, the century-old organization hosting the race, the Red Cross fed runners redirected away from the blast site to Kenmore Square and the Boston Common on race day, helped runners reunite with their families and their belongings, and offered guidance and counseling as that organization stood up to face the biggest crisis of its existence.

The Red Cross supported the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in its founding of the One Fund to directly aid those touched by this disaster, staffing meetings with Disaster Mental Health volunteers who checked in on officials, families of the affected and even members of the public.

With the Boston Public Health Commission, the Red Cross supported the Family Assistance Center that became the one necessary stop for the families of the recovering – mental health counseling, financial assistance, toys, handicap placards, disaster spiritual care, help planning the next steps – all these were available in one location. Upon arrival, a Red Cross volunteer became the escort to the families of the injured and the deceased as they learned what the future holds. Red Crossers remain in contact with these families, providing emergency funds for travel and food while they sit at the bedsides of recovering family members, talking them through the first few days at home, and offering a shoulder upon request.

But this response has been about a region, too. Those blasts shook a city, but the ensuing days as the suspects were hunted put a region on edge. More than 300 volunteers responded to various Boston locations, talking to mourners in the Back Bay, offering disaster spiritual care to people seeking answers at vigils in the Boston Public Gardens. Volunteers have graciously provided more than 3,000 relief items like tissues and blankets and made over 4,000 mental health contacts since April 15.

The events of April 18 put the region in lockdown. MIT officer Sean Collier was shot and killed two blocks from the Cambridge headquarters of the Red Cross, allegedly by the bombing suspects. Within a mile of those headquarters, a carjacking victim escaped to a gas station, helped police locate the suspects with a tracker in his car, leading to an early-morning shootout occurred on a quiet side street in Watertown. One suspect dead, the other escaped as officers treated one of their own clinging to life. As an Incident Command Center was set up in Watertown, the Red Cross was called in to support. Under Massachusetts State Police escort, volunteers brought coffee, water … eventually dinner to the hundreds of officers sweeping door-to-door for the second suspect. As homes were evacuated, the Red Cross set up reception centers for those displaced in Watertown and in Cambridge, near the home of the now-known suspects. All the while the Red Cross, via social media channels, was directly engaging with members of the public now under a “shelter in place” order who were scared and seeking information under what was a very unusual situation.

Once the second suspect was caught, attention turned to the officer who was killed. Thousands of first responders from around the world descended upon Massachusetts to honor Officer Collier. Starting at 4 a.m. at two staging areas, the Red Cross mobilized volunteers in 11 response vehicles from around the region, and our partners at Dunkin Donuts, to feed officers. At the memorial itself, 45 Disaster Mental Health workers were launched from Red Cross headquarters to meet with officers and members of the public offering their final tribute.

In the first two weeks after the bombing, people all over our region of Eastern Massachusetts took action by starting the process of becoming a Red Cross volunteer. Almost 500 in those first two weeks sought out the Red Cross as an opportunity to make the region stronger.

The story of the Boston Marathon Bombing response cannot be told without mentioning those who supported the Red Cross. The Red Cross had all it needed to support operations financially, and an adequate blood supply to support rescue efforts.

But much needed support arrived in the form of morale boosters. Lizzy’s Ice Cream of Harvard Square came with gallons of ice cream for volunteers, and ticket holders to the Boston Red Sox gave long-working volunteers tickets to games. The Red Sox also offered blocks of tickets to volunteers.

Additional support came in the form of relief. The City of Cambridge allowed Red Cross vehicles to park in any legal spot for free during the first weeks of the response, allowing volunteers to move trucks and supplies in and out of headquarters quickly.

Other support was already in place, in the form of in-kind donations that helped us respond immediately, and vendors who acted quickly to help us get what we needed in the hands of those who needed it.

Nearly 25,000 cards with Red Cross Disaster Mental Health information that were quickly printed for those attending vigils, memorials and services. There were 200 vests identifying Red Cross volunteers to the public which needed to be brought to Massachusetts quickly as more volunteers came in to support the region. There were 18 trucks helping to feed crowds – 9 from outside our region -- mobilized in the effort. And not least, there were 200 burgers, 600 hot dogs, 600 plates and 500 napkins purchased to quickly feed the first responders at Incident Command in Watertown as a manhunt for a suspected bomber was under way.

The donated meals, the cheers and thank yous, the high-fives to Red Cross volunteers along the way were an immense support to this relief effort.

This response is not over. The Red Cross is still supporting the community at vigils, is still working with affected families, and remains part of the recovery effort -- because Boston is still recovering. It still feels pain, loss and anguish. But it stands tall, and with the support of its residents, the Red Cross and others willing to help, it will remain strong. Boston Strong.