From the instant the tragedy at Virginia Tech started
to unfold, the members of Johns Hopkins' Crisis Response
Team began to monitor and track the situation. The CRT
members, most of whom are high-ranking university
administrators, remained in constant communication with
each other as the campus shootings tragically played out,
learning what they could from media coverage.
Since the event, as universities across the nation
have done, the CRT has looked inward, asking how Hopkins
would handle the event and what procedures and
infrastructure are in place to decrease the likelihood of a
similar experience occurring here.
This is what the CRT does, all the time.
The CRT was formed in the spring of 1999 to manage the
university's response to a crisis that would be outside the
ability of an individual school or functional unit to
handle, such as an outbreak of meningitis or a laboratory
fire that destroys a campus building. The CRT, which
includes members from each university division, also looks
at "top-down crises," ones that perhaps begin with events
outside Johns Hopkins but immediately affect the
James Zeller, chair of the Crisis Response Team and
vice provost for budgets and planning, said that the CRT is
constantly in the process of fine-tuning the university's
"It doesn't take a tragedy for us to assess our
ability to respond to a crisis event. We are constantly
looking at how we do things and how we can better deal with
an event to minimize its impact or the chances of one
happening in the first place. It's all about being
proactive," Zeller said. "In the case of the Virginia Tech
shootings, we look at the event and translate what
appropriate steps, if any, we would need to take. Virginia
Tech has a very large student body and a sprawling rural
campus, so it has a much different profile than the
Homewood campus, but there still can be lessons learned
there for us."
He said the university already has done a lot in
recent years to make Homewood more secure. Last year, it
opened the Homewood Communications Center, a
state-of-the-art facility that allows its staff to maintain
a constant vigil over the campus, primarily through a
"smart" closed-circuit TV system that alerts operators when
it spots suspicious activity. Homewood also has a quick and
layered notification process in place to respond to a
critical event, such as a fire or shooting. Security guards
are stationed at all the campus residences and quads, and
Resident Assistants are also tied into a first-response
No matter how effective the team feels the system is,
however, Zeller said that the CRT is always looking at ways
to enhance it. For example, months before the Virginia Tech
shootings, team members had already begun to look into how
the Homewood campus's 87 blue light emergency phones might
be used as a sort of "siren alert," flashing and emitting a
sound in the case of a critical event. The university is
currently assessing the feasibility and practicality of
this with the vendor.
Zeller said that while the CRT, in the wake of the
Virginia Tech shootings, has focused on security measures
and crisis response at the Homewood campus, the team looks
at what measures are in place at all the campuses, and what
can be learned from them.
"That is one reason we have representation from all
the university divisions, so we can look at what one
division or unit is doing and see if it's applicable
elsewhere," he said.
Crisis response, Zeller said, is a full-time job.