Boston: A Civilian Response

The attacks on Boston last week, and the EOD managed detonations that followed, marked a chilling event in American history: the first major domestic attack since 9/11. Worryingly though, FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers noted that early examinations conducted by investigators suggested the devices had a ‘pressure cooker shell’.

One would be correct to assume that IEDs of this type are more commonly seen on the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than on those of a major U.S. metropolis. Interestingly though, the Pentagon actually highlighted the likelihood of an attack on domestic targets last year.

The warning came from the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), formed in 2006, published their concerns in the Counter-IED Strategic Plan, suggesting that devices of the type seen in operational theatres would eventually be used in attacks on CONUS cities. And considering that in 2011 there were almost 7000 IED attacks globally — outside of Iraq and Afghanistan — the warning was based on a very real threat.

However the paper also contained another very stark message; ‘In the event of an IED-related domestic incident, the lead federal agency will require DoD support.’

After the explosions ripped through the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon many commentators who are familiar with the JIEDDO strategic plan speculated that the Pentagon would be called upon to offer assistance. But they weren’t. At least not in any significant way. Federal agencies didn’t require major DoD support. Neither did State or city authorities.

The only Department of Defense support deployed after the explosions consisted of three EOD technicians based at Naval Station Newport, who on Monday evening made their way to Boston to aid the clearance of suspicious packages. The three technicians then returned to their unit on Tuesday morning after the packages were determined to be nothing more than luggage abandoned after the evacuation of Boylston Street.

Granted, images broadcast from the attacks did show military personnel assisting at the incident scenes, and during the resulting manhunt. But in reality these military personnel comprised of over 800 National Guard members, most of whom being deployed prior to the attacks to aid with security sweeping.

Lt. Col. James Sahady, spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard said:

“Civilian authorities have requested the Guard to provide armoured vehicles, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and aviation support.”

This support came in the form of nearly 200 Guardsmen who were on duty by Tuesday morning, taking Guard numbers to around 1000. Importantly though, Lt. Col. Sahady stressed that these National Guardsmen remained under State control and were not federalized either during or after the attack.

No combat sorties were flown. No Active Duty search teams deployed. No unmanned aircraft in the search for suspects or other devices. In fact there was not much for the DoD or JIEDDO to do, apart from offer assistance should it be needed.

Why didn’t the civilian response need DoD support?

It is far from the case that the Director of JIEDDO, Lieutenant General Michael D. Barbero, overplayed his organisation’s role in responding to a domestic IED incident. Rather that in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, civilian authorities have increased their capabilities to respond to alternative attacks, such as those posed by the pressure cooker devices in Boston, to a level where military support is just not needed.

This plays down the assumption that large security incidents are characteristically the military’s domain, and speaks volumes for the effective development of civil protection and response. Throughout, the Boston Marathon Bombing response has shown that even when one of the most horrifying battlefield weapons appears on the streets of America, civilian authorities have the means to cope.

This article was originally published at DefenceIQ. It can be viewed here.