Unlike most health departments, the Boston Public Health Commission oversees and operates the city’s Emergency Medical Services. The unique configuration meant that on April 15, when two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, public health was on the scene and ready to respond.

Hours earlier, the commission activated its Office of Public Health Preparedness and Medical Reserve Corps in accordance with its regular responsibilities at the marathon, which this year attracted about 27,000 registrants. The day of the bombings, nearly 200 Boston health department personnel were already on site, overseeing medical activities and treating runners with injuries and health problems inside medical tents set up along the marathon route. Even before the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260, health personnel coordinated transportation for about 70 marathon-related illnesses and injuries, said APHA member Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Boston’s health commissioner and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

To continue reading this story, published in the July 2013 issue of The Nation’s Health, visit the newspaper online.