Watching Boston 'work together' made me proud to be a police officer

After the Boston marathon bombings, parallel evolution allowed ALL to work together in an effective way — this is something we need to understand and leverage for the future

Moments after the arrest on Friday, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis told his force over the radio, “It’s a proud day to be a Boston police officer.”

Indeed it was. I was neither part of the response to the Boston Marathon bombing nor the engagements with the terrorists that ended their short reign of terror. But as I looked on, I was proud to be a cop. 

I was inspired by the BPD, FBI, ATF, MBTA, MIT, METROLEC, NEMLEC, Boston hospitals, volunteers, the people of Boston, and all the others involved who played a role in rendering aid to the victims, and in the incapacitation and apprehension of the cowards who committed these acts.

Lessons Learned and Lasting Impressions
Inevitably, there will be lessons from these horrific events. We can all learn from the attack (and the response) to become more effective in our prevention and crisis management efforts. 

One of the biggest I can see from the armchair position is that the organizations and the people of the cities involved worked together in a way you do not see very often in my humble opinion. 

The cops — both frontline personnel and leadership — seemed from my perspective to be very comfortable and confident in all the uncertainty and uncomfortable disorder the terrorists created by their cowardly acts. 

I believe this ability to feel comfortable in uncertainty helped them in their efforts to determine possibilities and probabilities and then use their tactical judgment and make estimates on the adversarial designs, motives and intent and act accordingly. 

This ability comes from the experience of a learning organization, controlling our emotions, and an understanding that each encounter in crisis situations tends to grow increasing disordered over time. 

“As the situation changes continuously, we are forced to improvise again and again until finally our actions have little if any resemblance to the original scheme.” 

In other words, things in crisis do not unfold like clockwork and we cannot hope to impose precise, positive control over events. 

It is OK to be uncomfortable in uncertainty — as a matter of fact it is quite normal to be uncomfortable when that uncertainty occurs in the midst of violence and danger. 

When we understand we cannot — and will not — know everything, we are more able to focus our efforts outward on the problem instead of inward on “What should I do next?”

This allows time for reflection if only for a second to identify the problem(s) and seek to solve it versus just emotionally responding to something that often leads to creating more chaos and uncertainty. The best we can hope for is to impose a general framework of order on disorder — to influence the general flow of action — rather than to control each event. 

And this is what those responding did that led to the successful outcome. 

This crucial understanding allowed “parallel evolution” to take place. 

Parallel evolution is the process of making coordinated changes throughout the crisis-response system in response to changes in the situation.

After the Boston marathon bombings, parallel evolution allowed ALL to work together in an effective way — this is something we need to understand and leverage for the future. 

In short, it comes down to people knowing the mission and intent to be accomplished and then highly trained (prior to the crisis) personnel who self-organize around the mission and intent and do what needs to be done. 

The cops, first responders, hospitals, SWAT, investigators, citizens, all do their piece to reach the common outcome sought. 

If a problem occurs — for example if communications goes down — it does not become a major problem because frontline personnel know what to do, they take the initiative and DO IT! 

In addition, again my armchair perspective, it seemed egos were in check and that relationships of mutual trust were already formed, which are powerful factors for getting all to work as one. 

Remembering the Victims
In our time of rejoicing — the arrest of one terrorist (and the demise of the other) — let us not forget the families of Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, and Officer Sean Collier, as well as the families of the almost 200 injured. 

May the arrest we saw on Friday provide them all some level of support and comfort. 

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