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Preparedness in America’s prime danger zone and at the Boston Marathon bombing site

Leonard A. Cole, PhD, DDS, Sandra R. Scott, MD, Michael Feravolo, BS, Sangeeta Lamba, MD


Introduction: The area between Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, contains major transportation hubs, chemical plants, and a dense population.This makes it “the most dangerous two miles in America,” according to counterterrorism officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This study compares medical response capabilities for terror and disaster in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, with those in Boston in view of that city’s favorable response to the Marathon bombings in April 2013. Boston’s numerous world-class medical facilities offer advantages unavailable in Newark and most other metropolitan locations. Thus, preparedness in Newark, despite its prime-danger designation, can also be instructive for many communities with similar medical resources.
Methods: Three categories of response capabilities are assessed: hospital resources, relevant personnel, and symposia/exercises. Data were derived from hospital Web sites, the New Jersey and Massachusetts Hospital Associations, communications with emergency response personnel, and interviews with spokespersons for hospitals.
Results: Boston’s population (618,000) is more than twice Newark’s (278,000), and the number of hospitals and hospital beds in each city reflects that proportion. However, Boston’s seven general adult hospitals include five level 1 trauma centers (which can provide comprehensive trauma care), whereas Newark’s four hospitals include only one such center.
Beds per 1,000 people are similarly disparate in those trauma centers: five in Boston, 1.5 in Newark. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel based in Boston and Newark are comparable in numbers, though full-time hospital physicians/dentists and nurses are not.The number of doctors at Boston’s five level 1 centers is more than triple that at all four of Newark’s hospitals (5,284 vs 1,494).The disparity between nurses at the two sites is even greater (6,784 vs 1,566).
There is greater equivalency between the two cities both in content and frequency of symposia/exercises. Hospitals in each city have conducted numerous tabletop and action exercises including on communications efficiency, power outages, and dealing with a bombing or active shooter. Hospitals in each city also have participated in citywide drills with EMS, police, fire, and other responders.
Conclusion: Commonalities in Newark and Boston’s exercise approaches suggest that Boston’s successful response at the Marathon might be replicated at least in part if the Newark area were similarly challenged. Whether Newark and similarly enabled communities would respond with comparable efficiency remains conjectural. Still, maintaining rigorous preparedness efforts seems a self-evident imperative, especially in an area deemed among the country’s most inviting terrorist targets.


terrorism, terror medicine, emergency management, first responders

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