Ready for Action

Here is the latest installment of the Up Close series, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.

13 Nov 2018   Brian Kenny

On the screen, photos flicker past as John O’Connor, Operation's Associate Director of Administrative Services, discusses recent campus security incidents: an unaddressed suspicious package; a 2-year old injured while scootering; EMTs at work in an ambulance parked near Morris Hall.

It’s the most recent meeting of HBS’s Local Emergency Management Team (LEMT), a group of school administrators who address emergency response and preparedness to help ensure the safety and security of the HBS community. They convene once a quarter; the agenda for the fall meeting includes a report on Harvard’s compliance with the Clery Act, the federal statute mandating the compilation and disclosure of crime statistics.

The LEMT was born after the tragedy of 9/11. Angela Crispi (MBA 1990) was in her third week as Executive Dean for Administration. While marveling at HBS's response to that horrific event, she recognized that there had to be a better way of communicating and coordinating aross campus amid crises. Administrators from across the University shared that perspective and took the lessons learned from 9/11 to develop a broad plan that paired localized teams and dispersed leadership with, when needed, centralized leadership and resources.

Today there are more than 35 LEMTs across the University, from the Harvard Forest to the Medical School, each responsible for its own plan and leadership. At HBS, the LEMT is led by Crispi and core team of 11 leaders with School-wide responsiblities. Every HBS department has both a representative and a backup on the group—an approach that ensures consideration of each stakeholder’s perspective and the many constituencies on campus.

Safety and security are paramount concerns at HBS. According to O’Connor, HBS Security logs nearly 80,000 activities per year—everything from self-directed patrols to requests for campus access to incidents that may require police or medical assistance. Most are handled routinely, but in any given year the LEMT will be activated at least two or three times to coordinate the School's response to community-wide issues and events.

“We’ve seen a lot over the years,” says Crispi, “including the tragic death of a student, a residence hall fire, chemical spills, flu outbreaks, a bomb threat, and major weather events like blizzards and hurricanes.” Beyond the quarterly informational meetings, the LEMT also runs simulation drills to help members respond as effectively as possible to the real thing. “We practice in the small to prepare for the big,” explains Crispi, “so that when a large-scale event does occur, we we have a trusted and practiced structure in place to deal with it.”

In the case of the residence hall fire, for example, the LEMT was activated and members assembled either in person or via a conference bridge. After a roll call (essential to eliminating information gaps), initial information was shared about the fire, with different groups reporting in on steps they had taken thus far—whether it was the MBA Program reaching out to the affected students, Operations beginning a search for available alternate housing, or IT exploring loaner laptops for students whose equipment may have been damaged. Often there's brainstorming about what else might be done, with members taking responsibility for tasks as they arise.

“All the members of the team have their areas of expertise. The LEMT improves our proactive planning and ensures our capability to respond quickly,” says Crispi. In this particular situation the LEMT regrouped multiple times, both so that new information could be shared and so that additional responses and resources could be formulated. Even with experience, learning is continuous, and after-action reviews—a debrief of what worked well and what didn't—are routine. "We get great suggestions for how to be even more effective on everything from communication to coordination across groups," notes Bob Breslow, Senior Director of Administrative Services, who oversees the reviews. Crispi adds, "We're also fortunate to be able to tap the knowledge of our community—people like Professor Dutch Leonard, whose research examines emergency response, and students and staff who, for example, have relevant military and security backgrounds."

The construct of LEMT allows for speed and efficiency. “It’s really command and control,” Crispi says. “People have their lanes of responsibility, and the dispersed leadership we deploy is crucial—and awesome.” Breslow cites a sports analogy. “It’s concentric layers of defense,” he says. “You might get past one layer, but there's another behind it. The best defenses are those with the most layers in place to keep the offense away.”

O’Connor laughs when asked if there’s ever a time when his team can let their guard down. “No,” he says. “We're never comfortable with the status quo. We’re never at ease with the state of our program. There's always opportunity for us to improve and for our community to get stronger.”

How can the community help? It’s a simple request: “Make sure that your contact information is up to date. Sometimes that’s the most critical piece of information in an emergency,” says Breslow.


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