Did Boston's bomb scare really cost a million bucks?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 8 2007 6:58 PM

The Price of Panic

Did Boston's bomb scare really cost a million bucks?

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

A supporter of the artists. Click image to expand.
A supporter of the artists

Turner Broadcasting will pay the state of Massachusetts $2 million in compensation for a guerilla ad campaign that went terribly awry last week when devices meant to promote a show on the Cartoon Network were mistaken for the handiwork of terrorists. Boston's mayor first estimated the cost to the city at more than half a million dollars; a few days later, the attorney general's office said the prank took the entire state for $1 million. How do they come up with these figures?

It's not exactly scientific. The attorney general calculated the number by asking for a cost estimate from each of the eight government entities that were affected by the hysteria. These included three cities—Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge—as well as the Boston's public transportation system; the Massachusetts Port Authority, Highway Department, and State Police; and the U.S. Coast Guard. The responses included some neat, round numbers (like the $200,000 billed by the state police), as well as figures that were a bit more specific (like the $13,157 request from the highway department). Together, the expenditures totaled $578,766, but the attorney general's agreement with Turner included another $421,234 in "additional restitution funds," divided proportionally among the claimants. That conveniently put the total value of the prank at $1 million even. (Turner's payment included another $1 million in "goodwill" money for the Department of Homeland Security.)

So, how did these local entities come up with their numbers? The city of Somerville determined its expenses by computing the number of extra security personnel and overtime hours required, among other things. The transportation system's budget department tallied the cost of emergency bus lines, extra police staff, and lost revenue. The mayor's office in Boston wouldn't give any specifics, but a spokeswoman did say that the initial estimate of $500,000 was "a number they felt was reasonable" last Monday, though it later turned out to be inflated. (The city ended up with a $140,232 reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.)

Recent terrorism scares elsewhere in the country have led to similar feats of accounting. A few months ago, a 16-year-old Wisconsin boy was ordered to pay $38,345 after sheriff's deputies and sniffer dogs from three counties were called on to school grounds to investigate his hoax bomb threat. The restitution costs included compensation for "lost staff time" and $2,652 in thrown-out lunches.

A more daunting set of calculations was performed by New York City * Comptroller William Thompson in 2002, when his office estimated the cost of the Sept. 11 attacks at $95 billion dollars, taking account of jobs lost by the city, new jobs not created, cleanup and rebuilding costs, and decreased tax revenue.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Emily LaGrassa * in the attorney general's office, Meaghan Silverberg in the Somerville mayor's office, Richard Walsh at Massport, and various spokespeople for Mayor Menino of Boston.

*Correction, Feb. 12, 2007: The original version of this article referred to William Thompson as the New York state comptroller. He was (and remains) the New York city comptroller. (Click here to return to the corrected sentence.) Also, the original version misspelled the last name of Emily LaGrassa as LaGratta.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?