The Boston Marathon Bombing: Are We Facing the “New Normal”?

 Boston Marathon Bombing: Are We Facing the “New Normal”?

By Kathryn Kavicky

On April 15th, the 3:00 p.m. news out of Boston on Patriots Day snapped us into the new normal of reality. Our vulnerabilities were once again exposed and our abilities to survive the assault were again challenged. The Boston Marathon Bombing was the next wake-up call reminding us that we need to expect the unexpected.

Two of our authors – Jim Burtles, expert on emergency evacuation planning, and Vali Hawkins Mitchell, a certified traumatologist, speak out today with their uniquely focused take on the events in Boston.

In her work as a counselor and expert on dealing with trauma, Vali Hawkins Mitchell realistically but optimistically sees the unfolding of yesterday’s event as “a means to turn the disaster into something meaningful. The alternative is to let it take us to hell. Because there will be another one for someone tomorrow and we need to prepare to be present for them also.”

Writing from London, Jim Burtles says, “There are echoes in my mind of the World Trade Centre, which triggered me to devote my time, skill, energy, and experience into trying to solve the problems of preparing to get people to safety whenever disaster strikes.

“Here in the UK, my family was sharing a mood of sympathy for the aches and pains of my daughter who had just completed her first marathon run in the quiet and peaceful seaside town of Brighton.

“A few hours later we were shaken out of our own rather self-centered concerns when we heard the appalling news of what had just happened in Boston. Our hearts went out to the competitors. We went through some mixed and difficult emotions as we tried to empathise with the crowds around the finish line; their worst nightmares had just come true.

“Rapidly the news channels made us aware of the impact on the people of Boston who had been expecting to celebrate Patriots Day. We wondered how on earth they would cope with the trauma unfolding in their midst. For most of them it would be depressing and for some it would be almost unbearable.

“Everybody seems to agree that we can, and should, plan for such unexpected, unpleasant and dangerous events. Some even go so far as making plans but very few practice them. I was very pleased to notice how well the local emergency services responded to this incident. Clearly, these guys had planned, trained and practiced to ensure that they were able to protect their community under the most harrowing of circumstances.

“It reminded me of an impromptu staging of ‘Hamlet’, tragic but moving. Such an excellent performance indicates to me that they had done rather more than just memorize the script. They had been through many and varied rehearsals. They were the heroes of the day.

“Emergency planning techniques and procedures proved their worth, minimizing the human costs on this tragic occasion.”

Vali Hawkins Mitchell speaks of the importance of good management and trained volunteers in her recent book, describing a scene that is eerily similar to the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon: “After a catastrophic event,  it is often the quiet, centered, and calm voice during the event that a victim remembers. A calm voice of compassion that is resonating with reason and security is the loudest guiding force when madness is swirling noisily about, chaos is ripping apart the fabric of the known, and cacophony is jumbling up signals and signs that have before this moment made sense.”

For us, the most heartening thing about the “new normal” of these unexpected terrorist attacks is the way, in any city or town or village, strangers create instant community to provide “the calm voice of compassion” that is needed.



Ten Signs of a Good Emergency Evacuation Program: A Checklist

By Jim Burtles

A good emergency evacuation program takes responsibility for people from the time the alarm goes off or the emergency occurs until they are back at their desks, in their homes, or being cared for in an emergency shelter, hospital, or some other place of safety.

  1. Single point of responsibility: Someone responsible and accountable for the safe evacuation of everybody who may be on the premises.
  2. Trained marshals in all areas: People can rely upon well trained helpers to guide them and assist them to leave the premises in safety.
  3. Well marked exit and escape routes:All exit routes, exits, and escape routes are clearly marked and indicated to suit the needs of the population.
  4. Multiple safe assembly areas:A number of alternate safe assembly areas are easily accessible for everybody who may be on the premises.
  5. Protected exit points: All exit points are protected by a stout canopy to protect evacuees from falling masonry and other debris as they leave the premises.
  6. Visitor awareness program: All visitors to the premises are properly informed about evacuation procedures and planned drills or exercises.
  7. Published regular exercise and testing program: A regular schedule of exercises, tests, and drills is in place to ensure all assistants are fully trained and that everyone is kept informed about and required to participate in the tests.
  8. Effective personnel accounting procedure: Tried and tested procedures are in place to ensure that everybody is properly accounted for in an emergency.
  9. Targeted emergency messaging systems: Messaging system ensures that all people on the premises are aware of an emergency situation and how they should respond.
  10. Post-incident support in place: Support and assistance will be available to all those who may have been affected mentally, physically, or spiritually.


Jim Burtles, KLJ, CMLJ, FBCI, is a well known leader in Business Continuity Management spanning 35+ years and 24 countries. He is a founding fellow of the Business Continuity Institute; received the Freedom of the City of London Award in 1992; and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by his peers in 2001. He is the author of EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLANNING FOR YOUR WORKPLACE: From Chaos to Life-Saving Solutions, to be published in May, 2013.


Vali J. Hawkins Mitchell, Ph.D., LMHC, holds a Doctorate in Health Education and Masters degree in Applied Psychology and is a Certified Traumatologist. She is considered a leading authority in the growing field of Emotional Continuity Management and a highly regarded public speaker, author, consultant, and educator. She is the author of The Cost of Emotions in the Workplace: The Bottom Line Value of Emotional Continuity Management.