Commentary from Dr. Irwin Redlener.

April 15, 2013

The explosions we witnessed this afternoon in Boston and the deaths and injuries they have caused bring back too many vivid memories – of 9/11, of attacks in London, Madrid, Mumbai, Oklahoma City, and of the Atlanta Olympic bombings – and they make us grieve along with the victims’ families and friends. For over a decade our country has placed an emphasis on securing the homeland and preparing our responders for events such as these. We see valiant professional and citizen responses to this event.  In addition to the trained responders and official volunteers, we have witnessed spontaneous volunteerism and kindness. For example, there are early, heartwarming reports of runners who finished the 26-mile course and then ran straight away to donate blood at local Boston hospitals. This is exactly the kind of warmth and goodwill typical following disruptive events. This kind of behavior should be applauded and fostered.

But the Boston explosions trigger a visceral response for many of us. The images are frightening and remind us of our vulnerability. Even as this event is unfolding, a few critical points arise:

  • EMERGENCY RESPONSE: As horrific as this was, the emergency responders, race officials, and numerous trained volunteers in Boston demonstrated an immediate, competent response. Among the first responders, in particular, this was obviously the product of years of concerted training and enhanced capabilities. Readiness is not something magical, it is something we have to invest in, and to practice.
  • CHILDREN: We learned after 9/11 that children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to seeing repeated images of willful acts of violence, and parents and caregivers should be attentive to their children dwelling on the horrifying images that are continuously displayed. Some common sense points to follow include:
    • Parental calm is key
    • Limit exposure to coverage on TV, radio – especially for younger children
    • Reassurance – focus on how unusual this kind of event is
    • Limit details in talking with young children, but be available to answer questions
    • Stick to routines
    • Stay close to children and youth
    • Look for unusual behaviors as signs of stress or anxiety (nightmares, sleep disruption; withdrawal; unusual acts of aggression, etc.)
    • Seek help if needed
  • CITIZEN RESPONSIBILITY: A potential terror attack such as this reminds us all of our collective responsibility to one another. “If you see something, say something” is more than an ad line, it is a call to our mutual reliance upon one another. Being aware does not mean invoking a knee-jerk reaction but actually being protective of one another. These are the moments when our humanity shines, but they can also unleash darker aspects of mistrust. It’s not only seeing suspicious packages that should compel action, it is also seeing unfair or misguided actions and comments that should lead you to say something.

During events such as these Boston attacks, information may be among the most powerful antidote to feelings of anxiety, fear and helplessness. Our Center has gathered a few ways of maintaining “situational awareness” in such events.  We do nott vouch for the content of all these information resources, and we urge consumers of such news feeds to be critical readers.