Can Wireless Communications Prevent the Next Boston Marathon Incident?

Yossi Segal  |

On April 15, 2013, the world's oldest annual marathon run, the Boston Marathon was brought to a halt by two bombs killing three people and wounding over 260 others. As soon as people realized that two bombs exploded, landlines and cell phones became congested and largely unavailable for 90 minutes(i). The only reliable mode of communications was 800 MHz trunked radio systems. However, some of the teams that came to support and assist did not have the relevant channels preconfigured in, and thus needed to rely on the limited availability of onsite radios. 

After analyzing the event, another prominent challenge was addressed: emergency teams at street levels, who were composed of scattered and multiple organizations needed to come together and work as a synchronized, unified entity. This did not happen. The above mentioned points pose a great risk for every major public event. Most public communications networks cannot handle such an intense overload, and thus collapse. In other words, they become useless in times of crisis – when they’re needed most. 

Basic radio communications, as described here, provide a reliable mode of communication. However, they do not deliver the full scope of information and data required to overcome such events. To overcome such incidents, it is important to get as much information as possible from multiple sources and resources, allowing for an ability to obtain the full picture. Having the communications capacity to overcome such crises requires the following fundamental features:

  1. An independent private network

  2. Ability to communicate on the move

  3. Receiving and broadcasting of voice, video and data

  4. Ability to configure all onsite radio based communications while on the move

  5. Overcoming N-LOS urban areas

  6. Ability to operate as a unified entity

There are several companies out there that provide such solutions, each with its own approach and technology. Some solutions are based on COFDM technology, some on Wi-Fi MESH, while others are on 4G LTE Mobile MESH. Some even take it to next level, delivering "multi-sphere" communications from land, air and sea, allowing for a unified communication network from all angles, thus providing full visibility and situation awareness. These communication solutions address the specifications laid out by the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and provide the widest visibility scope to encompass such emergency crises.

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. It allows each to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity—in order to reduce loss of life, property and harm to the environment.

Such communications solutions enable multiple teams from different organizations to work as a unified group where all communications are transparent to all rescue team members. What people seem to overlook is that communications in emergency response cases are an entity within their selves, and this impacts the outcome to the same degree as any response team arriving on the scene. So the fact is, wireless communications does impact the outcome of emergency crises, and may even save lives by delivering an efficient mode of coordination, situation awareness, prioritization, and a single communications corridor where command and control located at local HQ communicate with local onsite rescue teams as a single unified entity.


(i) Emergency Communications During the Response to the Boston Marathon Bombing, Homeland Security

.Why Was Boston Strong? Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing” Leonard, Herman B. “Dutch”; Cole, Christine M.; Howitt, Arnold M.; Heymann, Philip B. Harvard Kennedy School, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, April 2014 


Yossi Segal is the Co-Founder & VP of Research and Development for Mobilicom


DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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