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Around Johns Hopkins: Leading the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Emergency Preparedness Efforts


Brian Donohue, business continuity program manager,
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory 

Emergencies can happen at any time, and organizations such as Johns Hopkins need to be ready. At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Brian Donohue, business continuity program manager, leads preparations for emergencies and ensures the continuation of operations in case of potential disruptions caused by anything from a network outage to an active assailant.

Donohue’s career began in the U.S. Merchant Marine as an officer aboard commercial vessels. This role piqued his interest in the world of emergency management. He has been with APL since 2006 and has worked in a variety of areas, including system resilience analysis, sensor development, and testing and autonomous systems development. Donohue started as APL’s business continuity manager in February 2016.

Donohue recently answered questions from CEPAR.

Q. How did you become interested in emergency management?

A. As a merchant marine officer, training and drilling for emergencies were very much part of the fabric of that life. At another point in my career, I became involved with modeling and simulation in relation to emergency preparedness, and even designed a National Incident Management System-compliant emergency operations training simulator to simulate and develop plans to manage various maritime-related emergency events.

When I began at APL in a different role, I started to work with projects that looked at building infrastructure resiliency. In these resilience projects, I led efforts to create models of systems that are dependent on each other to gain insight into the impacts of cascading disruptions to normal operations. These projects looked at the impacts of mitigating various crisis events. As it turned out, when the previous business continuity program manager at APL stepped down, there was a desire by APL’s management team to then add technical aspects into efforts associated with incident management. So, I was intrigued by the position that would allow me to apply my varied skill set to support efforts to keep APL humming along.

Q. What are some of the unique emergency preparedness challenges APL faces, particularly when compared to other Johns Hopkins organizations? How are you working to overcome these challenges?

A. The main difference between APL and other JHU entities centers on the nature of our work here. We do a great deal of classified work. Our buildings are not open to the public, except for a couple of spaces outside our security perimeters. In many ways, issues affecting cyberactivities, such as potential outages or attacks, are a primary concern. While cyberthreats are a concern in just about any organization now, it is especially acute for us due to the sensitive nature of our work.

APL also has a tremendous talent pool that provides critical solutions to challenging problems for various federal government agencies. We seek to integrate some of that expertise into our own approaches to contending with disruptive events.  

Q. How do you plan emergency preparedness drills at APL?

A. Our campus is rather spread out, and is comprised of more than 40 buildings, so it creates a bit of a challenge in terms of running drills that encompass the entire campus. Also, we often have a number of high priority meetings with outside sponsors or collaborators, and manage missions critical to government operations. We try to disrupt these as little as possible when we practice our drills. So typically, we will conduct drills by building or by area of the campus. We do a lot of preplanning and our best to communicate our intentions with the various sector/department leads as well as relevant managers. Our aim is to be productive, but also prepared.

Q. What is one of the more recent exercises you have planned?

A. We conducted active assailant drills in coordination with local police and Maryland State Police. The drills were conducted over several weeks in January and February. We had to coordinate these drills with the critical work being conducted at APL. So, drills were done building by building. The drills focused on the hide aspect of Run, Hide, Fight, a nationally recommended protocol for responding in the event of an active assailant. Overall, the drill was successful, and APL’s staff responded effectively, and hid extremely well. 

The arrangement of most offices in APL buildings makes hiding advantageous. Offices typically only have one or two staff members, and office doors are heavy. The strategy for staff in open floor offices is mostly to run to a generally safe location. During the drill, our mass notification system helped us send important information to staff, but we are working to ensure the performance meets our timeliness requirements for all staff. The timeliness of notifications is critical.

Q. What are some of the emergency preparedness projects that you are currently working on at APL?

A. We have designed a geospatially based situational awareness toolset that will enable us to coordinate responses to various natural and man-made events in a highly effective manner. We will be incorporating various applications into the system so that our security and incident response staff can remain informed of ongoing situations, and be able to gauge the potential effectiveness of mitigations. The system will be the basis of an emergency operations center, a permanent incident command center providing situational awareness of activities in and around the APL campus that we are planning to install in the near future. We are also developing indoor and outdoor wayfinding apps so that external responders, such as the police or fire departments, might readily navigate the campus to quickly arrive at the location of the emergency.  

Spotlights on Emergency Management Teams Around Johns Hopkins:

Getting Ahead of Emergencies at Johns Hopkins Bayview

Preparing for the Unexpected at the Johns Hopkins Health System and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Preparing for Emergencies at Suburban Hospital