By Katelin Pavlic
Heather Abbott – Survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing
T.K. Skenderian – Communications team of the Boston Athletic Association
Moderator: Tim Sullivan – Spokesman of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center
Heather had just left the Red Sox game and was cheering on runners near the finish. This ritual was nothing new - she did this, every Patriots Day in Boston. However, the finish of the 2013 Boston marathon would change her life forever.
Heather was carried to safety and was soon faced with a life changing decision. She could either live a life of pain or amputate her leg. Heather decided to amputate her leg and now values things that others take for granted.
This day was not only a nightmare to those who were injured, it was a chaotic experience for the Boston Marathon communications team as well.
The bomb went off around 2:49pm and T.K. Skenderian had been trying to send a tweet from inside a building near the finish. When he came outside he witnessed chaos. A police officer told him that he needed to get out of the area. Skenderian was apart of the Boston Athletic Association(BAA), the sports association that organizes the Boston Marathon.
When Skenderian found some of his team, he had to explain what he saw – meanwhile the media was also listening to him and trying to get any information that they could. Skenderian’s team knew they needed to communicate with the public, so they then sent out a tweet to buy them some time. This allowed them to later send out a longer form of a tweet and send information to runners and the media.
The Boston Marathon bombing was unlike any other event in history and was handled well by the BAA. Sullivan and his team needed to send information to multiple different sources. When sending out information to multiple groups of people, it’s important to tailor your message, but also stay consistent and ensure you only share facts. Statements are public and you don’t want conflicting reports. In crisis situations, the media is stressed and wants to get information to the public as soon as possible. It is important to stop and breathe. Figure out what you’re going say and send the information to those groups.
The BAA sent out information to the media and to runners. Both messages included almost the exact same information. “We said what we said then we shut up for awhile,” said Skenderian.
Meanwhile, Heather was in a hospital making some tough life-changing decisions. At one point, she was asked to take part in a press conference with her surgeon. She recalled how packed the room was and photographers on the ground taking pictures of her. The experience was very overwhelming for Heather during a critical time in her life.
Heather’s bad experience with the media reminds us that you are an advocate for the survivors in any crisis situation. Maintain communication with the survivors and prepare them for things like press conferences so they aren’t as overwhelmed.
Heather also recalled the many interviews she did for the media. “Some of the people who came to interview me were genuine. I remember others where you could tell they were just trying to get a story,” she said. The media is constantly trying to get a story. Tim Sullivan was the spokesman at the rehabilitation center for the survivors. While taking a 30-minute phone call, Sullivan had 27 voicemails. The media interest was constant and he did not get a day off for 7 months.
The survivors also received a ton of interests and support from the community. This interest was so large that a Community Response Team was created. Their job was to ensure that groups who reached out to the survivors were indeed who they said they were. Some people who reached out to the survivors included celebrities. While some celebrities wanted to help, others wanted to be seen helping.
With such a large outreach, the BAA created the “One Fund.” If anyone wanted to send money, this is where they could send it. This fund helped everything stay organized. Organization is key… the fund collected over 81 million dollars.
Soon the term “Boston Strong” was placed on t-shirts and used to show support for the city. “We all felt it and we rallied around it,” said Skenderian. He believes that it’s in human nature to feel this element of resolve and that Heather is still the embodiment of Boston Strong.
Skenderian expressed how important it is to stay calm. At times of stress and chaos, you’re looked to for guidance. You might not have the answers, but fake it and show a level of comfort and tranquility. Staying calm under stress can go a long way. It’s important to “know that you’ve got it.”
Though this race was traumatic for Heather, she has gone back to the race each year to cheer on runners. Heather wanted the audience to know that you can make a difference in the life of others no matter what your age.