How to handle campus crises in the digital age

Benton said the university has found ways to help parents circumvent media coverage of school emergencies. Parents worrying about their children while Malibu wildfires rage near the 2,100-student campus can now watch a live stream of the school via web cam.

Kevin Ross, president of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., spoke during the session about his experience relaying information to parents, students, and faculty members when a dozen students and instructors were in Haiti during that country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake.

Providing updated information to campus community members, Ross said, should take priority over sharing the updates with journalists reporting on the emergency.

Many times during the three weeks of tracking down Lynn students and faculty who were in Haiti, campus officials had no updates to share with anyone.

“The media wanted more and more, and oftentimes we had nothing to tell them,” he said. “That was a challenge, trying to keep them at bay.”

Ross said intermittent updates coming from Haiti – where internet and phone connections were unreliable at best – included good news that several students had been found and were being flown back to Florida.

Ross had to tell parents later that the news had proved to be misinformation, and those students had not been flown back home. Six students and faculty died in the earthquake.

“It made what was a terrible tragedy even worse,” he said. “It was the world’s cruelest joke twice.”