Yesterday I glimpsed heroism — and preparedness

In one single video, you can see senseless horror and sublime heroism.

I have lived in Boston my entire life and the terrorist bombing at the finish line of the Marathon stuck me particularly hard. I wasn’t there, nor was anyone I know personally, but that was merely chance. Just about everyone I know has been among the supporters lining the route in one year or another, so it was particularly harrowing to see video of the bombing.

But in the same video, I glimpsed something else: heroism.

It takes extraordinary heroism and bravery to run TOWARD the site of the bombing when everyone else is running away in fear. Yet, dozens, if not hundreds, of police, medical personnel and ordinary citizens did precisely that without even the slightest hesitation. The professionals, and perhaps some of the ordinary individuals, recognized that where one bomb has detonated, another might soon explode. Nonetheless, they ran to help, ripping down fencing and barriers in their eagerness to reach the victims.

In addition to their bravery and selflessness, their extraordinarily heroic response owes a great deal to something else: preparedness. Every single one of the professional first responders have drilled for just this eventuality. That training was reflected in the way that they immediately took control of the situation, summoned an army of medical personnel, a fleet of ambulances, and a battalion of police and SWAT teams.

What is truly remarkable in the chaos of the immediate aftermath is that there wasn’t much chaos. In only moments, victims who could be moved were ferried to further medical assistance and those who couldn’t be moved were treated on the spot. Ambulances pulled up and raced away in an orderly fashion. Hospitals called in their trauma teams; operating rooms were thrown open and surgeries were started. Race officials stopped the race in an orderly fashion and began ferrying runners away from the site. Political officials opened help lines to reunite people with loved ones and to solicit tips in solving the crime. Some early responders had the presence of mind to immediately begin testing air quality to be sure that no radioactivity or biologic agents had been released in the bombing.

It was a tribute to heroism and to training.

What were the chances that there would be a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon? Very, very low, yet thousands of people had trained for thousands of hours for an event that was extremely unlikely to happen, just in case it did. Why? Because in emergencies, minutes count. They make the difference between saving a life and watching someone bleed to death on the ground.

Imagine if instead race officials had trusted that a rare event would never happen. Imagine if race officials had made no plans beyond calling 911 in the event of a disaster and summoning medical help then. Imagine if police and EMTs had not been trained in responding to rare crises. It’s not difficult to imagine that the carnage would have been far worse.

Up until the moment the crisis occurred, everyone on the scene was concentrating on creating the best possible experience for the runners, the family and friends, and the ordinary spectators. But they pivoted on a dime into crisis mode and because they did, even greater carnage was averted.

There’s a lesson here for anyone who purports to care for other people: It’s not enough to create a great experience when everything goes right. It’s not enough to call 911 when things go wrong. It’s not acceptable to pretend that there’s no point in preparing for rare disasters or that the people who do prepare and train relentless for these rare disasters are fear mongering.

Lives were lost yesterday in Boston, but lives were also saved because of the heroism of individuals … and because they were prepared.