HBS Strong: Our Campus Responds to the Boston Marathon Bombings
Feature image provided by Elsa Sze. To see more of Elsa’ Msg4Boston photo project, visit www.facebook.com/msg4boston.
For over 100 years, Patriots’ Day has been a fixture of Boston culture, a clapping, cheering, cow-bell ringing celebration between the runners of the Boston Marathon and the 26.2 miles of spectators cheering them the whole way. But on April 15, this feel-good event was transformed into a scene of horror as two bombs exploded amidst the crowds at the finish line, killing 3, injuring over 200, and plunging Boston and the HBS community into a week-long ordeal that presented students and citizens alike with scenes of macabre violence, courageous response, grief, confusion, drama, fear, and relief.
Almost immediately after the bombs went off, formal and informal emergency management processes at HBS responded, with administrators, section presidents, and individual students providing information updates and helping account for classmates, faculty, staff, and their families.
At the Scene
HBS students were not in session on Patriots’ Day, allowing students and other members of the community to participate as runners or spectators in the Boston Marathon. This was the case for many students, including Xiao Wang, president of the Running and Triathlon club, and a participant in this year’s marathon.
“Boston is an awesome marathon – this was my third in a row,” Wang said. “For many of us it is part of a multi-year journey to qualify, to be here, and to finish the race.”
“This is a place of where goals are reached. Most of us cannot make it to the Olympics, but for many runners, Boston is an endpoint. For that to be marred by the bombing is doubly tragic.”
Wang also reflected on the specific targets of the bombs: the race’s spectators.
“From mile 20 onward, you are hurting. But the crowds come out, seemingly for no reason, and they are so enthusiastic – all these towns: Natick. Framingham. Wellesley. – as a runner you owe them so much. Every time you look like you are struggling they only get louder; they keep you going,” Wang said. “For violence to be targeted at spectators was really jarring.”
Others played an even more direct role in responding to the carnage, with friends and fellow students describing HBS community members as first responders to the attack, applying tourniquets made from their own shirts and comforting victims on their way to the hospital.
Though they declined to be singled out for their actions in response to the attacks, these students were saluted my members of the student leadership.
SA President Jordan Strebeck spoke on behalf of a friend who ran toward the attacks, helping triage injured spectators.
“Our section has a member of the military who was at the finish line [at the time of the bombings]. His ears perked up when he heard the first explosion. When the second explosion went off, he left his keys and phone behind, and ran to help, taking his shirt off and tearing it up to help apply tourniquets, and helping first responders,” Strebeck said.
“It’s humbling to see people at HBS doing whatever they need to do to help people without a second thought,” Strebeck said. “It’s amazing to see them put others ahead of themselves.”
Response on Campus
On campus, initial reports of bombs at the marathon finish line set off a cascade of institutional responses, social media posts, and collective efforts to keep community members informed and accounted for.
As soon as the seriousness of the situation became clear, campus law enforcement responded.
“We locked down campus to card-access only as soon as it became clear that this was not an accident, but instead was something more sinister,” said John O’Connor, Assistant Director for Security and Physical Access. “We increased the uniform police patrols and uniformed security personnel, and we put a [Harvard University Police] cruiser in the [Spangler] circle for visibility and to be present on campus.”
The 20-member HBS Local Emergency Management Team (LEMT), chaired by Associate Dean and Senior Executive Officer Angela Crispi, also sprang into action.
“When this happens, there is so much to do,” Crispi said. “We need to keep people informed of what has happened and is happening, we want to account for the members of our community who could be directly impacted – people who ran or who went to watch – and we want to account for our extended community and make sure they are ok.”
Section presidents worked directly with their sections, with the SA leadership, and with the LEMT.
“Within a matter of hours, we had the entire RC and 99% of the entire 1,800-person student body accounted for,” SA Co-President Sarah Arora said. “That would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of the section presidents and the members of their section who all pitched in to help out.”
Crispi attributed this success to a sense of community-mindedness and the unique culture of student sections..
“There is a layer on top of the administrative apparatus which is a culture of people who care about people,” Crispi said. “A culture of genuine caring for those in our community.”
Dean Nitin Nohria agreed.
“Though the response always seems centralized, the reality is that it begins with our initial reaction, which is to the think of the people we are close to who could have been impacted,” Nohria said.
Tragedy Comes to the HBS Community
Shortly after the cancellation of class, the university found out that Krystle Campbell, the daughter of long-time dining employee Patty Campbell, had been killed in the bombing.
This loss hit the community in Restaurant Associates at HBS, where Patty had spent her working life, especially hard.
“We have a core group of long-term employees who have been here for 30-plus years,” Restaurant Associates General Manager Todd Mulder said. “We have within our group, employees who watched Krystle grow up, went to her christening, whose children were backyard friends with her, who remember her from Christmas parties.”
According to Mulder, the response of this tight-knit group of employees was to close ranks and turn inward. “There is nothing in the management handbook for this, but one of our strengths in our group is that we really care about each other. We spent a lot of time in little groups talking about how we felt. That is not something we usually do, but people showed a lot of concern for how everyone was doing.
Mulder also praised the response from the wider community.
“There are faculty members and people in the administration who remember Patty as an employee from when they were students here. That kind of relationship is unique.”
“From the very beginning the response from the school has been tremendous, from the dean on down. There has been an incredible outpouring of support for me and my staff – people saying ‘What can we do to help?’ ‘How is Patty?’ ‘Can we do things to help your employees get to the funeral.’ The school ended up restricting lunch one day, getting busses for the employees, and hiring people to cover for lunch so our people can go to the funeral.”
“This has all served to make us feel like part of the community. The same concern that the school has shown its students, it showed for Patty.”
In addition to supporting the Restaurant Associates community, the school provided support directly to the family.
At the urging of Nohria, Bob Breslow, Director of Administrative Services, and Brian Kenny, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer were dispatched to help the family deal with the massive amount media attention they were receiving.
“When we arrived, the family was not home – they were at the hospital identifying their daughter, and there were satellite trucks all down this little Medford street with nearly 100 journalists and photographers all focused on the house,” Kenny said. “You could see why this would be upsetting to the family that was going through this.”
“Because I was emotionally detached and knew what the media wanted, I knew I could help act as a buffer between the family and the media.”
Still Kenny, downplayed his role. “A lot of people responded to me because my role was facing the external environment and ended up putting me on CNN, but there were so many people working behind the scenes, not looking for accolades, but trying to do their part to help the family.”
On campus, a memorial was held at 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon with Nohria telling the gathered community that “these are times that remind us how much we rely upon each other, how much we lean on each other, how much this also brings out in us our very best.”
After the memorial, many students, faculty, and staff adjourned to Spangler Hall to sign sympathy cards for the family.
In the days that followed, students found ways to express their feelings using sections, clubs, and community as outlets.
Heeding calls from section service representatives and SA leaders, students “passed the hat” in class to raise money for the Boston One Fund, a charity started by Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick to raise money for the victims of the Marathon Bombing.
In addition, a number of clubs raised money or collected volunteers for future blood drives.
Tom Bartman, a member of the Running and Triathlon Club helped organize a “mini-marathon” on Thursday at the Harvard Athletic Fields to raise money and show solidarity with the running community.
“We thought a mini-marathon was a cool idea, and that we might be able to provide a little support for the Boston One Fund,” Bartman said. “We did 2 1.31 mile laps around the Harvard complex, and I think people felt a little better having had that cathartic moment and done their part to support the community.”
Another student, Elsa Sze, helped construct a message wall using a portable white board, inspirational quotes, and post-in notes in the shape of hearts in the Spangler Lounge.
“After seeing all the images and video – lots of blood – I was searching for a source of comfort. I heard the story of the man with the cowboy hat and the HBS first responders, and I was struck by how good was really the only thing that could overcome this evil,” Sze said. “I wanted to create a space to help people express their thoughts and feelings and get out this emotion.”
“At HBS we are always so rushed. But this was really a time to stop and reflect, time to give someone a hug. In a community that is so analytical, I wanted to provide something to allow people to respond in a more organic way. So I just left the board be there, in the space to see how people responded to it.”
“HBS is a very structured place – I didn’t want to make this so structured. Instead it served as a tiny change in environment to get people to slow down.”
Sze was later featured on a local CBS newscast for her efforts to collect thoughts from the wider Boston community on her facebook page (#msg4boston).
The relative calm of Wednesday and Thursday was shattered by gunshots at MIT on Thursday night, a high-speed chase down Memorial Drive, and the day-long Boston-wide lock-down and manhunt for the marathon bombing suspect.
For O’Connor and Breslow, this represented a huge challenge.
“Friday was probably the most unusual day of my life,” said Breslow, who has spent his career working at HBS. “It was amazing to see those words: ‘shut down,’ ‘shelter-in-place,’ ‘don’t go outside.’ The term closed doesn’t really apply to a residential campus like this.”
At 5 in the morning members of the LEMT began what would end up being a 17-hour conference call.
“Our crisis response unfolded by doing what we could see needed to be done and by collectively thinking ahead about what the community would need,” Crispi said. “There were planned and unplanned events that had to be modified, created, cancelled and executed. Plus countless needs and responses were identified, developed and put into action.”
“In the midst of this terrible event, we worked hard to make sure the messages from HBS were instructive, factual, explanatory, calm and steady, timely, transparent, and full of the information people needed – we knew the communications needed to be of help to the entire community whether students, faculty, staff or visitors”
With students in dorms and Executive Education almost completely dependent on the school for basic needs, the staff stepped up to help provide.
Restaurant Associates used its small staff on-site to provide food to students who could access the Grill through the HBS tunnels. Security personnel helped ferry additional staff and food to the Executive education buildings.
At the same time, Students in One Western and Soldiers Field Park were encouraged to check on their neighbors and ensure they were safe and taken care of.
O’Connor praised the efforts of the staff.
“In both of the emergency situations that week, there was no shortage of help. Staff, security, dining – when the call goes out, they just appear,” O’Connor said. “They show up despite wanting to be at home with family.”
“There is so much pride in being part of HBS. So they take the call at 4:30 in the morning and put the uniform on, whether it is a blizzard or a major police operation.”
These extraordinary events capped a year that has challenged students, administrators, and staff to endure a hurricane, a blizzard, and now a major police action. But according to leaders across all members of the HBS community, each has yet again demonstrated the strength of the HBS community and its connection to the larger Boston area.“We often think that we live in this bubble at HBS, insulated from our surroundings,” Moon said. “But when this happened, the walled just came tumbling down, and we were one community with Boston.
Looking back, Nohria expressed deep admiration for the performance of the university in a time of crisis.
“I’m so proud of the way this institution dealt with the situation,” Nohria said. “People’s patience and willingness to be helpful was a remarkable demonstration of civic consciousness. We all felt part of Boston that week and felt that we had to do right by that community. This is why ‘Boston Strong’ has been such an enduring representation of the whole event. We lived it, each in our own community as the crisis unfolded. But together we were strong.”