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Civil Support Teams Bolster Safety at the Boston Marathon

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By Eric Randolph, Master of Public Health Student and Dr. Jennifer Sedillo, Faculty Member, Public Health

The Boston Marathon is an iconic annual event. Over 30,000 runners compete through a 26.2-mile course that weaves through eight towns and is witnessed by an estimated 1 million spectators.

Media coverage for this event stokes worldwide interest. More than 200 media outlets cover the event in addition to all of the major U.S. radio and TV stations.

Unfortunately, public events like the Boston Marathon are vulnerable to attack. Terrorists often choose such events due to the large area that needs to be secured, the huge amount of public attention the event receives and the great many participants.

Massachusetts Uses Lessons of 2013 Bombing to Increase Marathon’s Safety

After the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon, Massachusetts increased security for this event. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) continues to create innovations to address all security areas that need improvement and ensure that best practices are met. The bombs exposed the event’s vulnerabilities, including the lack of an integrated public safety plan and the need for increased security.

On this year’s race day (April 16), over 250 representatives from more than 70 local, state, federal, private and volunteer agencies responsible for the safety of the thousands of runners and spectators coordinated operations at MEMA Headquarters. The inclusion of all agencies involved in the response and preparedness planning was critical to the emergency response successes in 2013, and they continue to be a part of planning and preparedness for the annual event.

Civil Support Team Provides Additional Support for First Responders

The Army National Guard Civil Support Team (CST) is an integral part of the planning and response of the Boston Marathon each year. The CST does not replace the local emergency services; instead, it supports local first responders by providing resources and expertise.

A CST is comprised of 22 active duty Army and Air Force servicemembers, all trained as HAZMAT technicians. Their training includes chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) defense and identification.

CST members are trained in sampling techniques for CBRNE agents that threaten public safety. These CBRNE disease-carrier agents include nerve and blister gases, gamma radiation and various biological agents such as anthrax. The CST also has a mobile analytical laboratory system (ALS) that utilizes modern techniques for initial identification of select biological agent threats in real time.

There are 57 CSTs located across all 50 states as well as some U.S. territories. In addition, there is a European team stationed in Germany. All teams are ready to deploy within a few hours’ notice, 365 days of the year.

These Civil Support Teams are deployed to over 2,500 events annually. National Guard regulations stipulate that their mission is “to support civil authorities at the direction of the Governor, at domestic CBRN incident sites by identifying CBRN agents/substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with requests for additional support.”

The teams identify and assess threats during potential CRBNE events. They also advise and assist emergency response officials.

Large Events Need First Responders to Identify All Possible Threats

Because of its size, the Boston Marathon must be able to rapidly identify all potential threats. This requirement was illustrated during the 2013 race when two bombs exploded at the finish line where a large crowd had gathered. A Joint Hazard Assessment Team – including the Boston Fire Department, Massachusetts State Police and the Massachusetts National Guard Civil Support Team – worked together to ensure that the bombs were not “dirty” and contained no poisonous gasses.

However, the failure to make the team’s finding known to the other law enforcement agencies on the scene resulted in confusion and apprehension among other first responders. This highlights the need for a CBRNE response at major events, even when there is no such threat. As a result, first responders and medical staff will be reassured that they can do their jobs without the need for special equipment.

Fortunately, the CST was not needed at this year’s Boston Marathon; the race went on without incident. However, having CSTs throughout the nation is indeed worthwhile.

CSTs allow local officials to utilize resources that may not otherwise be available to them. The presence of CSTs at major events that draw large crowds can ensure a rapid response to any potential threat.

About the Authors   

Eric Randolph is a current Master of Public Health student at American Military University. He brings a unique perspective from working in medical research and domestic operations. He has served in the United States Army National Guard since 2010. Initially serving part-time in the 754th Chemical Company, Eric then served full-time on the 72nd Civil Support Team as a chemical specialist and analytical laboratory operator.

Dr. Jennifer Sedillo is an associate professor of public health at APUS. She has held this position since receiving her doctorate in Public Health in 2014. Her expertise is in infectious disease research and microbiology.




Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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