The tragic events during the Boston Marathon on April 15 shocked the world and everyone here at Living Ready. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those affected now and during the long road to recovery.
It highlighted why having a plan in place for what to do if you’re in a crowd when disaster strikes is important.
When disaster strikes at crowded event
Living Ready tapped disaster expert Paul Purcell, author of Disaster Prep 101 and someone who helped plan medical responses during a G-8 summit in 2004, to provide insights about what happened in Boston and what to do in crowds during a disaster.
Q: If it’s revealed this was a bombing, was the April 15 event a “typical” attack?
A: The primary device is tragic enough, but in many cases there is a secondary device. In this instance it seems as though the primary device was “double-primed,” or in shooting parlance, it was a double-tap.
In many cases there may be a secondary device set up to go off for the purpose of disrupting emergency response. Locations for these types of devices are chosen based on a guess where arriving responders would park and gather for a temporary Command Post.
Q: Should there be concerns about more explosions in Boston?
A: Though there may be a secondary device, there are very few organizations on the planet that have the resources to set numerous working bombs. So, chances are good that, in the case of something as massive as the Boston Marathon, most people there, mathematically speaking, will be safe from other devices.
However, people should keep their eyes open for odd unattended packages, suspicious behavior (i.e. someone skulking about trying to hide identity when others running for safety, etc.).
Q: What should a person do when inside a crowd that panics?
A: When in crowds, the worst thing is a stampede. Try to stay out of the main flow if possible, and be ready to sidestep into alleys, stores, etc. if need be.
Q: What are some things to consider when a city is on lockdown?
A: A city on lockdown is a major pain. Your best asset at this point is patience, and thinking ahead.
First thought: Get some water. Duck into a restaurant or store to get a bottle or two of water before they’re bought up by the crowd. Then pick a comfy spot to wait. Eventually, they’ll put mass transit to work as much as possible and get people out of the area. It’ll take a while, but that’s always emergency management’s game plan.
Q: Why are cell phone networks sometimes shut down in an emergency like this one?
A: With cell phones, many emergency management agencies will have trunk priority [Living Ready says: Think of trunks like channels] so they shut down civilian calls to allow them plenty of emergency response access.
One thing to try is texting and then multi-media messaging [i.e. sending a picture from your phone to another phone]. Those services use different trunks and you can sometimes get a message out. Also try a long-distance call which uses yet another trunk (which is one reason everyone should have an out-of-town emergency contact person).
The thing to do with multimedia is to take a picture of yourself or a picture of a handwritten note saying you’re okay and what you’ll do and/or where you’ll go.
Q: What should people do if their cell phones stop working?
A: You should ALWAYS have a set of “standing orders” or a set reaction plan that you will follow WHEN all communication goes down. Cell phones are great, but the foundation is standing orders.
Q: Although it doesn’t appear the Boston incident was one, are there special considerations if an attack is also biological?
A: One other consideration in bombings in crowds is that it may be a form of a “dirty” bomb, either with radioactive materials, biochem components, poisons (there was a container of cyanide in the truck bomb in WTC ’93), or simple irritants. So, in a situation like this, you should protect your breathing as much as possible with even simple methods like covering your mouth with your shirt, tie, or other tightly-woven cloth.
On the next page, don’t fall victim to panic.