Leadership during the Boston Marathon Bombings: A Qualitative After-Action Review

Eric Goralnick*, Pinchas Halpern, Stephanie Loo, Jonathan Gates, Paul Biddinger, John Fisher, George Velmahos, Sarita Chung, David Mooney, Calvin Brown, Brien Barnewolt, Peter Burke, Alok Gupta, Andrew Ulrich, Horacio Hojman, Eric McNulty, Barry Dorn, Leonard Marcus, Kobi Peleg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective On April 15, 2013, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded at the Boston Marathon and 264 patients were treated at 26 hospitals in the aftermath. Despite the extent of injuries sustained by victims, there was no subsequent mortality for those treated in hospitals. Leadership decisions and actions in major trauma centers were a critical factor in this response. Methods The objective of this investigation was to describe and characterize organizational dynamics and leadership themes immediately after the bombings by utilizing a novel structured sequential qualitative approach consisting of a focus group followed by subsequent detailed interviews and combined expert analysis. Results Across physician leaders representing 7 hospitals, several leadership and management themes emerged from our analysis: communications and volunteer surges, flexibility, the challenge of technology, and command versus collaboration. Conclusions Disasters provide a distinctive context in which to study the robustness and resilience of response systems. Therefore, in the aftermath of a large-scale crisis, every effort should be invested in forming a coalition and collecting critical lessons so they can be shared and incorporated into best practices and preparations. Novel communication strategies, flexible leadership structures, and improved information systems will be necessary to reduce morbidity and mortality during future events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-495
Number of pages7
JournalDisaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness
Issue number5
StatePublished - 18 Feb 2015


  • bombs
  • communication
  • disaster medicine
  • emergency medicine
  • mass casualty incidents


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