The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 22, 1999
Mar. 22, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 27


University Develops Crisis Plan

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

In the event of the unthinkable like a fatal dorm fire, who would call the students' parents? Or if a major destructive hurricane hit the area, who would house displaced students and how could the hurricane affect the business operations of the university?

To answer these types of questions, a 12-member ad hoc committee on crisis management was formed last spring to evaluate the university's current methods and approaches to crisis situations and make recommendations for a more focused university-wide approach.

A report by the ad hoc committee was approved on March 1.

The plan calls for the formation of a standing committee on crisis management and a crisis response team. The 21-member standing committee, comprised of officials representing all Hopkins institutions, is assigned the task of developing and overseeing a university-wide crisis response plan to ensure that all divisions and units have plans to effectively and efficiently respond to crisis-related events.

The six-member CRT would manage the university's response to any situation considered an institution-wide crisis that is outside the ability of an individual school or functional unit to handle, such as a major power outage or a disease outbreak. The management plan covers all divisions, from those on the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in China.

Steven Knapp, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the decision to focus on crisis management comes at time when well-publicized incidents on college campuses nationwide have caused university officials to take a more pro-active stance. One such example was the 1990 murder of five students in Gainseville, Fla., home of the University of Florida.

"Traditionally, universities have not paid attention to crisis management to the extent of, say, hospitals or city government. But we need to look at any occurrence that might disrupt the ordinary course of operations," said Knapp, who along with James McGill, senior vice president of administration, established the ad hoc committee. "There is certainly a trend to be more pro-active."

The committee defines a crisis as any event that disrupts normal operations of the university or poses a threat to persons, property or the university's reputation. A crisis situation also is one that requires a quick response and goes beyond the capability of the organizational unit or facility where the event has occurred.

Examples of these types of crises include earthquakes, violent demonstrations, severe winter storms, a hostage situation or a chemical spill. The committee wanted to differentiate between an occurrence such as a fire in a biology lab, which could be handled locally, to a truck transporting dangerous chemicals overturning near the Homewood campus.

Edgar Roulhac, vice provost for academic services and chair of the standing committee on crisis management, said the university may have been capable of handling these crisis situations in the past but it was felt that a more organized and streamlined approach was needed.

Edgar Roulhac is chair of the standing committee on crisis management.

"Many local divisions had crisis management plans, but there were very few guiding principles," Roulhac said. "But by implementing a crisis management plan we now have a comprehensive set of guidelines that will prepare us for a wide range of crisis situations. For the past year the committee has been very diligent and serious as we examined many scenarios that could occur and how the university could handle them."

To form the framework of a university-wide plan, the committee first examined crisis management plans at similar institutions. Roulhac said that universities in California, for instance, already had existing contingency plans in order to deal with natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

The committee also looked within Hopkins entities. Some institutions, such as the Applied Physics Lab and the hospital, already had in place well-defined crisis management plans.

By examining existing internal crisis management plans, Roulhac said the committee also was able to determine which divisions and units of the university were not adequately prepared for a crisis event.

"We are much better prepared to handle things both locally and on a university-wide level than we were at the same time last year," Roulhac said. "When you need to go into action it's important to be equipped with knowledge--to know how to work with people on a local level and how to identify the scope and nature of the problem."

The management plan, when completed, will outline who will be the primary respondents in every type of crisis situation and whether senior management and the crisis response team need to be involved. For example, a financial crisis to the university would be handled by university administration, and senior management would have direct involvement.

An important aspect of the management plan, according to Roulhac, is that it makes people aware of whom to contact in the event of an emergency, using clearly defined telephone trees and other means of communication. The threat of a disease outbreak, for example, might require the participation of Student Services, Security, city and state health authorities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

The crisis response team also might be called to step in and take charge in an event such as a spill of biohazard materials or a civil disturbance. It will be the CRT's responsibility to determine the extent of the event, implement internal support and then identify the need for external support.

The CRT will be chaired by Stephen McClain, vice provost for academic planning and budget. Other team members are Howard Gwon, administrator of the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine; Dennis O'Shea, executive director of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, University Administration; Frederick Savage, deputy general counsel, University Administration; Meg Sonneborn, executive assistant to the senior vice president for administration, University Administration; and one floating member.

Stephen McClain will chair the crisis response team.

O'Shea said that communication is vital in a crisis situation.

"You have to know where the pockets of expertise are," he said.

After responding to an event, the CRT also will play an active role in the evaluation of the initial response and determining if additional support is needed.

The standing committee on crisis management will develop and oversee the implementation of the crisis management plan. The committee and the CRT also will plan and coordinate university-wide training drills, provide consultations with all divisions and units and maintain the readiness of the institution by participating in simulations of crisis situations.

"We will be poised and vigilant," Roulhac said. "We are practicing prevention here."

A copy of the full report--which includes timetable, situational analysis, recommendations and charts--is available online at

The standing committee crisis response team members, in addition to chairman Roulhac, are Edward Baker, associate dean of finance and administration, SAIS; Charles Baughan, assistant director of Support Services, MSE Library; Larry Benedict, dean of Homewood student affairs, University Administration; Edward Bernacki, executive director of the Office of Health, Safety and Environment, Johns Hopkins Hospital; Steve Campbell, interim executive director of the Office of Facilities Management, University Administration; Sandra Coleman, assistant dean of student services, School of Public Health; Candice Dalrymple, associate dean for external programs, University Administration; and Cathy DeAngelis, vice dean for academic affairs and faculty, School of Medicine.

Also, Emily Frank, associate dean for student affairs and undergraduate advising and dean of student affairs, Peabody; Patricia Friend, associate general counsel, University Administration; Arthur Heigl, director of Administrative Computing, University Administration; Richard Kilburg, senior director of Human Resources, University Administration; Stephen McClain, vice provost for academic planning and budget, University Administration; Jan Moylan, senior director of Campus Centers, School of Continuing Studies; Ronald Mullen, director of Security, Homewood; Dennis O'Shea, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, University Administration; Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; Edward Portner, assistant director for laboratory operations, Applied Physics Laboratory; Charles Stanton, associate dean for finance and administration, School of Nursing; Robert Williams, director of Risk Management, University Administration.