GAZETTE: Is the caliber of crisis response better now than a decade ago?
KAYYEM: Oh, yeah. There’s no question about it. I think that there’s a commitment to unity of effort. The Boston Marathon response, as a case study, as a teaching tool, is one of the best. We can dwell on the intelligence gaps or the things that went wrong as the week progressed, but if we focus on Monday, then it continues to provide valuable lessons even 10 years later.
GAZETTE: What still needs improvement?
KAYYEM: One of the challenges is the politics of these mega disasters. We had a really unified political apparatus here even with the mayor in the hospital. You had Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, who was viewed as the representative of Mayor [Tom] Menino; you had Gov. Patrick, all in the same party, all of them knowing each other. And then you had a White House that was very well-partnered with the state just given its political leadership. We saw that fall apart during COVID with mayors and governors going after each other, governors and the White House going after each other, and vice versa. That has operational consequences, and we don’t have a good way of either managing it better or being able to work through it. We tend not to train first responders and first reactors in politics — they covet that they are not political. “We’re just here to save lives.” But the problem is, in our divided society, that’s really hard to maintain.
GAZETTE: In hindsight, what ended up being the smartest decisions you made that week?
PATRICK: There were three very smart, or I should say, very effective decisions, and they weren’t all mine alone. One was to get the many law enforcement agencies — federal, state, and local — to agree that while everybody had a role, one agency would be in charge of the criminal investigation. That’s a call I made right after the first press conference because I’d had an experience in D.C. with a multi-agency criminal investigation that was made more difficult because the agencies involved were competing with and sometimes even stumbling over each other. We got that sorted early and agreed the FBI should be in charge. And on the whole, they stuck by that. I think that’s one of the reasons why the investigation was so phenomenally efficient.
A second important decision was to create the One Fund, which was a terrific way to aggregate all the financial generosity that was pouring into the city from all over the world. I think that was Mayor Menino’s idea. And then appointing [attorney] Ken Feinberg to manage it was terrific because he’d managed well similar kinds of imperfect processes in the past.
The third decision was the result of a suggestion from my chief of staff at the time. He reminded me that every time we dealt with an emergency — a snowstorm or tornado or whatever it was — I would always ask people to check on each other, to look out for each other, and where we could, lift up those stories.
He said, “Do that now. When you talk about the casualties and people in hospital, also talk about the ways people have shown kindness to each other.” When the race was stopped, people went out of their homes and brought indoors runners who were confused and exhausted, warmed them up and got them hydrated, and helped them find their way back to their families, to their friends, and possessions back at the end of the race. There were lots and lots of those kinds of gestures by ordinary people showing extraordinary grace. We told those stories, and as we talked about them, they multiplied. I think that had as much or more to do with “Boston Strong” as anything else.
GAZETTE: Not every training and operational insight from the 2013 marathon bombing has been adopted by law enforcement or other first-response agencies across the country. Why not? Is it cost?
KAYYEM: Some of it is financial. There’s always something else in the inbox; there’s always something else going on. We had COVID; mayors are thinking about housing, education, and all sorts of other things and other issues that might seem more pressing in the moment. Resources are hard to come by.
There’s also a concept known as the “preparedness paradox,” which explains the challenge of being prepared. The more prepared you are, the better the consequences are, and therefore, the harder it is to justify how successful you were, because people will say, “Well, what were you freaking out about? That wasn’t a big deal.” Y2K was the perfect example of that. It’s hard to prove success because for however many people survived the Boston Marathon bombing, there were still three people dead and intelligence failures.
GAZETTE: You now teach students at HKS about leadership. What did you learn from the Boston Marathon bombing about what goes into effective leadership?
PATRICK: For me, I think it’s important to get comfortable with just how inevitable it is that you will be making lots of decisions with imperfect or incomplete information — and yet how important it is to go on and make them. Timing and scope of such decisions has to be appropriate to the moment, of course, but sometimes delay or avoidance is a bigger problem. Of course, preparation is key. I urge new governors, including my successor, even before his inauguration, to meet the emergency response officials and start tabletop exercises right off. Leadership takes practice.
Some of it can be taught from examples and theories, but an awful lot of it is just learning from practice and experience the importance of mental discipline and how to ask questions, how to be a servant leader, which is to say, not to pretend that you have all the answers or that you’re in charge of every detail or decision, but that you have really good people around you who will raise, if you ask them and give them the space, the concerns they may have and the needs that must be met to be able to perform. Addressing those concerns or eliminating whatever obstacles or barriers they may have is enormously important and it’s something I’ve tried to do.
It’s also important to take a minute and step back from the chaos of it all to get some perspective, to take a deep breath. To realize you’re talking about human lives and loss and families in fear — not just statistics or data — and to acknowledge that and be a source of comfort. We could have easily descended into panic. And at times like that, people are not always at their best. And so, leaders asking people to turn to each other rather than on each other is critically important. Our citizens, our families, friends, and neighbors came together after those bombs went off. We all solved that crime; we all helped the city and the commonwealth recover. We all recommitted to our civic faith, and I think that was an important takeaway from the experience we all had.