Flexible leadership helped save Boston Marathon bombing victims

2 min read

On the afternoon of April 13, 2013, after two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, scores of severely injured people were rushed to hospitals across the city. Although three people died at the scene and many had life-threatening injuries, everyone who was transported to a hospital lived.

How was it that so many people were able to survive?

A new study outlines some of the challenges that arose in Boston hospitals in the wake of the bombing, as well as successes. One of the key reasons why so many lives were saved, the researchers found, was the high level of flexibility and autonomous decision-making among physician leaders.

The study involved experts from the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI)—a joint venture of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership—and colleagues from Boston hospitals and several Israeli institutions. Since the bombing, NPLI—which focuses on equipping leaders for crises—has been studying the tragedy, hoping to draw useful lessons.

“We study crises and we teach leaders for times of crises,” said Leonard Marcus, lecturer on public health practice at Harvard Chan School, co-director of NPLI, and a study author. “This was one of many events we follow. The difference here was that this was in our own backyard.”