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Key Initiatives

The FlagIt Report & Response System

The FlagIt Report & Response System

The FlagIt Report & Response System was established to better support members of the Bloomberg School community who receive any concerning messages in response to their public-facing work. 

FlagIt allows anyone in the community (faculty, staff, or students) to report any messages of concern received or the potential for such messages via a message to the FlagIt email. All reports are reviewed and evaluated by JHU public safety officials. FlagIt reports are responded to  with an automated response sharing available School and University resources and contacts for immediate assistance. JHU public safety officials follow up within two business days to report the results of any pending investigation, as warranted. 

FlagIt may serve as a model for other public health organizations and academic institutions seeking to improve support for faculty, staff, and students, affiliates or stakeholders who may receive threats and harassment related to their public-facing work. Such systems may be able to deploy, build on, and integrate existing capabilities of the institution, rather than necessarily require new resources, as was the case for the Bloomberg School FlagIt system.

Development of the Bloomberg School FlagIt system was led by School faculty members Tara Kirk Sell, PhD, and Beth Resnick, DrPH, MPH, and an ad hoc task force with representatives from key offices including public safety, legal counsel, employee mental health, communications, and school leadership.

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Tara Sell

Tara Kirk Sell 

Frequently Asked Questions

For those considering establishing such a system, here are a few key FAQs:


Why might an organization create a report and response system like FlagIt?

The FlagtIt Report and Response system was developed in response to threats and harassment that Bloomberg School faculty experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is important to note that harassment of public health officials and researchers is not limited to COVID-19-related topics and continues to affect the public health community.FlagIt represents the Bloomberg School’s strong interest and commitment to supporting faculty, staff, and students affected by harassment and other concerning messages related to their public-facing work.

What resources are required?

The BSPH FlagIt Report and Response System uses existing institutional resources and does not require additional funding. Agencies and institutions interested in establishing such a system should first inventory existing resources and partnerships which may help support such a system. The FlagIt system leverages existing security personnel, email capabilities, and an Excel tracker in a shared Microsoft Teams folder. 

Additionally, volunteer efforts from faculty to reach out to the FlagIt reporters enhance the system and provide an important personal touch at the Bloomberg School.

What is critical to the success of FlagIt?

Although FlagIt did not require additional BSPH resources to be established and implemented, we identified four critical needs for a successful system:

  • Leadership support and designation of a champion to spearhead the effort to ensure commitment across the institution and accountability for system development and operations.
  • Communication and dissemination to ensure visibility of the system within the organization. Such a system cannot be useful if potential users don’t know about or feel comfortable using it. 
  • The system must be user friendly and supportive. For example, the development team determined that requiring a webform to be filled out with personal information would discourage rather than encourage use of the system. Instead, a simple email forwarding system in line with existing IT solutions for suspicious (spam or phishing) emails was identified as the best option.
  • Most importantly, those affected by public harassment need to feel supported by their institution. A personal touch, provided by caring security personnel and volunteer faculty, helps ensure this is the case.
What are some challenges?

The biggest challenge the Bloomberg School faced establishing the FlagIt system was getting potential users to feel comfortable using the system. Organizers found that many people were hesitant to use the system, as they did not want to escalate an incident or be viewed as “complainers.”  Communications to the School community about the need for reports to help us better understand the extent of the problem and identify perpetrators sending multiple messages to many across our School helped to increase use of the system. 

What are the benefits?

The most important benefit is for people in our institution facing harassment to feel supported. A system like FlagIt enables investigators to learn about harassment incidents right away, allowing them to investigate and, if needed, take steps to avoid any escalation. Additionally, the system enables the investigators to systematically track, monitor, and inventory harassment incidents across the School. The system has allowed investigators to identify and reach out to perpetrators sending multiple messages to different individuals across our School or are on a path of potential escalation.