The Boston Marathon Bombing: A Moment of Fear and Clarity

Blog Post
Anil Chitkara
Founder, Head of Corporate Development

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Publish date

Oct 7, 2021

The Boston Marathon marks its 125th event anniversary on Monday. It’s the world’s oldest annual marathon – an event that now attracts more than 30,000 participants and upwards of 750,000 spectators each year. At its centennial in 1996, close to 36,000 people finished the race. That day, more than a million friends, family, and race fans converged along the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton, MA to the Boylston Street finish line to celebrate this Boston institution and its dedicated participants.     

Then, crashing into this venerated race in 2013 was something that shocked our nation. It also personally impacted me in a way that would set the course of the rest of my working life. Just 45 minutes before the first bomb detonated, my wife Jane had finished the race and I and my three kids ages 11, 9, and 5 were at the finish line to celebrate with her. We shared lots of excitement, hugs, photos, and well wishes. On the ride back home, Jane was describing the course challenges and highlights when her mobile phone started pinging with text after text. It wasn’t until we were back home and watching the TV that we realized how close we’d all been to the madness that killed three and injured 264 that day. 

One of the injured that day was John, a good friend who worked on Boylston Street. He stepped out of his office for a few minutes to watch the race finishers. Down the street to his left, the first device went off. Then, the second device detonated close to him. I went to see John at Mass General and found him—a big, strong rugby player with wounds up and down his body. He recovered, but today still carries shrapnel in his body. Madness.  

I call it madness because it is. Two young men had researched propaganda on the internet about how to assemble and detonate bombs, then strategically did just that in the Back Bay. They took lives, damaged the psyches and bodies of hundreds, altered families forever, and once again reminded the whole world that the face of terror is as close as where we live, work, eat, shop, play, and go to school. We don’t ever see it coming. And that’s the madness.  

Jane, my kids, and John lit a fire  

The Boston Marathon bombing and active shooter tragedies in San Bernardino, Pulse Nightclub, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Las Vegas music festival – and many more – forever changed those who were just going about their daily lives. This was happening in too many towns, in too many locations, to too many people.    

For me, the combination of stories from that terrible day became a driving force to do what I know how to do in business – go find the best technology, work with the best people, and solve a really hard problem. It was a needle in a haystack problem: how do we screen hundreds and even thousands of people as they continue walking without ever stopping while simultaneously identifying those few who could pose a threat? The concept is simple. Putting it into practice is hard.         

Partnering to reverse a terror epidemic    

Fast forward eight years from the 2013 Boston attack to today. In this time, I’ve been fortunate to co-found Evolv with Mike Ellenbogen. We’ve introduced a technology solution that is working to take the terror epidemic head on by identifying and extracting the few bad actors ready to do harm – from the 99.99 percent of good people who just want to enjoy life, attend events, and move freely and safely at the pace of life.   

We describe it as a secure and seamless screening experience. Essentially, we’ve fused advanced technologies including sensors, machine learning, cloud analytics, and a human centered design approach. Now, visitors to any public venue can keep moving – with no security lines, bag checks, or metal detectors to slow them down. Our Evolv Express® solution makes it easy for security personnel to spot guns, knives, and explosives more easily and with better accuracy. As of last month, our customers have screened more than 100 million visitors and stopped more than 10,000 weapons from entering public attractions, stadiums, casinos, hospitals, schools, entertainment venues, government facilities, houses of worship, and hotels. Only the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has screened more people than Evolv in the United States. 

Actively listening to those who know   

My role has been to partner with hundreds of venue owners and operators, guest experience professionals, and security leaders from a wide range of industries in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. I ask every single one the same questions: what threats are you most concerned about, how are you detecting them today, and ideally how would you like to prevent them from entering your facility in the future? It’s ongoing, global field research that continues to make our threat detection solutions better and better.  

I work with an incredible team. We all wish we lived in a world that didn’t need Evolv. But that’s not reality. That said, each of us is gratified and humbled to help make the world a safer place, one venue at a time.  And we’re just getting started.     

What matters most 

Jane, my three kids, and John are never far from my mind. They fuel what I’m about every day. The terrorist actions of the Boston Marathon and all the other horrible terrorist events only produced a stronger counteraction. These events inspired each of us at Evolv to equip security leaders, venue managers, and law enforcement with the technology they need to stop the madness from ever happening again. 

Anil Chitkara
Founder, Head of Corporate Development