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One year ago, Bostonians woke up to the news that the city had locked down because the second Boston marathon bombing suspect was still on the loose, after an overnight gun battle with police that took place hours after surveillance camera images of the suspects had been released.
Boston and surrounding communities became ghost towns. But it wasn’t until the lockdown was lifted that a Watertown resident venturing outside found suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the boat he kept in his backyard.
When should a city shut down for an emergency, and at what price?
National security expert Stephen Flynn says emergency responders too often sideline the public instead of incorporating them into emergency response. He joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss when and when not to enforce shelter-in-place.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW.
One year ago this Saturday, Bostonians woke up to the news that the city had shutdown. Last year that day was actually a Friday, four days after the marathon bombing. The reason for the shutdown was that the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Jahar Tsarnaev, was still on the loose after an overnight gun battle with police. That morning, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced that a massive manhunt was under way.
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GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: We're asking people to shelter in place. In other words, to stay indoors with their doors locked, and not to open their door for anyone other than a properly identified law enforcement officer. And that applies...
HOBSON: Well, Boston became a ghost town. But it wasn't until the shutdown was lifted in the evening that a resident venturing outside found Jahar Tsarnaev hiding in a backyard boat. So was the shutdown a good idea? Let's bring in Stephen Flynn, founding director of the Center for Resilience Studies at Northeastern Universities. He has advised the Obama and Bush administrations on national security issues. He's with us from Singapore. Professor Flynn, welcome.
STEPHEN FLYNN: Good to be with you.
HOBSON: Well, looking back one year later, was it the right thing to do to shut down the Boston area to search for this suspect of the marathon bombings?
FLYNN: Well, one of the things we certainly learned from the experience is that it's a lot easier to shut things down than to turn things back on. I mean, one of the real dilemma is once the manhunt got under way and if you didn't find them right away is how do you turn things back on? And ultimately, the mayor and the governor, you know, did, which I give them a lot of credit for.
But a very important take away from that was it wasn't until that happened that we actually discovered Tsarnaev by the homeowner being able to go out of his house and seeing that the plastic wrap on the boat was essentially out of whack and went out there and actually made the discovery. It reminds us here that, you know, so often the case here it's kind of everyday people that often makes a difference.
HOBSON: It sounds like you're saying if, given the opportunity, you would not shut down the city again in a similar situation.
FLYNN: Well, I think we have to resist that as a first impulse. I mean, one can imagine some scenarios where for public safety purposes, you're drawn to trying to essentially bound the risk a bit here by slowing things down or stopping things. But at its core, what we saw in the immediate aftermath, the actual explosions, was that we drew from the strength of everyday people as, you know, people ran back to the finish line to help out and rescue lives.
There's an impulse in law enforcement often to say, you know, civilians, get out of the way. Let us do our job. And the reality is that in managing sometimes these events, we need everybody to lend a hand. The other thing we have to be very mindful of is that, you know, the large motivation for an adversary to try to do this is they're trying to disrupt us. And so one of the tensions here is we that we end up actually motivating the very thing we're trying to, you know, protect ourselves from.
HOBSON: On the other hand, are people put at risk by being out there just going about their normal lives while somebody is on the run or hiding, who may be a danger to them?
FLYNN: Yeah. Yes. And we're also at risk for lots of other things. And there's risk associated with shutting down a city. So, I mean, when people really respond to Boston strong, their responding to how well the community reacted. And, you know, I felt a great deal of pride the morning after the terrible tragedy that, you know, Northeastern University, we're open for business. You know, the T was running. People were moving around.
And there's an element of that, you know, the risk was still out there, but people were committed to get on with their lives. And that's a strength we need to really draw on in dealing with this risk. It's a kind of thing the Brits are famous for, the Israelis are famous for. We cannot prevent every act of terror. That's just a fact of life. And how we respond to it is very key in terms of how, I think, terrorists view the relative softness or not of the U.S.
HOBSON: Well, and I remember a moment in New York City when Times Square was shut down because of the person who tried to set off a car bomb there, but within hours, things were back up and running and tourists had filled Times Square once again. You talked there about the Israeli model for crisis response. Tell us about that.
FLYNN: Yeah. Their approach is that they're not going to let these terrorists, suicide bombers slow them down. And so what essentially a protocol is within a couple of minutes after something happens, a citizen - if there's no officials there, citizens self-identifies themselves as taking charge. And then the goal is within 20 minutes, anybody who's injured has been taken to the hospital. Within two to three hours, the site is cleaned up, and then within two to three days, restored the full function.
And whether that's a - if something happens on the transportation system or a restaurant, they basically are not going to give the terrorists essentially the benefit of disruption that comes from these events. And the law enforcement role takes a back seat to that. To some extent, there's a little bit like negotiating with - for hostages.
You know, you want to protect people. You want to help people, that's an impulse. But you also have to be careful not to motivate the very thing that you're trying to safeguard ourselves from. We are a much more resilient people than sometimes our public officials believe that we are. And it's a strength we need to draw on.
HOBSON: Well, and we should say that the company HIS Global Insight has estimated that the shutdown of the Boston area on that day cost $333 million when it comes to the economic impact.
FLYNN: Yeah. There's no question. You shut down a major city, it's going to have some pain. And it's tough to have disruptive events like, you know, there are elderly people who need home health people to show up, and they're not able to show up. You know, somebody's got to keep the kitchens going at the university. There's a lot of consequences that can accrue from kind of a reflex, so let's make people safe by not letting them out of their house until we do this manhunt.
I mean, there's clearly attention here. There's sort of a sense of zero risk that somehow public officials feel obligated to. I think we do much better by saying that risk is a fact of life, and how we work our way through it is a measure of our character as individuals and as a society. We just need much - be much more surgical about we approach these challenges. And we got to be much more inclusive, you know?
Recently, we have this mudslide out in Washington state, and the impulse was the same by law enforcement safety, created a barricade around the site. And then, you know, we kind of look in the pile of mud and the loggers came in, basically pushed the barricades aside and said, we're going to help whether you like it or not. Now, to the credit of the local law enforcement, they didn't arrest them, you know? They embraced it. And we got to overcome this sort of professional protector impulse that, you know, leave this to professionals, everybody else get out of the way. Because one of the challenges we see here is that, you know, one, there's not enough of them to go around; and secondly, they don't have a monopoly on all the skill sets to deal with these incidents.
HOBSON: Stephen Flynn is founding director of the Center for Resilience Studies at Northeastern University. Stephen Flynn, thanks so much for joining us.
FLYNN: Thank you for having me.
HOBSON: And what do you think? Do you think it was a good idea to shut down the Boston area to search for Jahar Tsarnaev a year ago? You can tweet us: @hereandnow, @hereandnowrobin, @jeremyhobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.