Practice is Critical
A team of communicators needs to practice long before an emergency occurs! Certainly, it would be difficult to role-play every possible crisis, but by gathering this specific group together periodically to discuss their emergency methods is a solid idea.
Understanding how various emergencies tend to evolve will assist in preparing a response. Each person on the team fulfills a specific and mission critical role in assisting the campus community during a crisis. In any given emergency, things will happen fast and people are forced to sort through vast amounts of information coming from many directions. Information must be verified as pertinent, true, to what degree the situation constitutes a real threat, and how large a geographic will be impacted. It is important to convey messages precisely and know how often to update those messages, which are critical.
Everyone on campus during the emergency wants, and needs to know what is going on, what they need to do… and if they are safe. Tell them!
Making Your Message a Priority
In this day and age of social media I can assure you that hundreds of messages will be issued within minutes of any emergency. The most important of those hundreds of messages is yours!
We all remember the grade school game where the teacher whispered in the first student’s ear sitting in the front of the classroom, “Becky’s dress is red,” and then instructed each child to repeat and pass her message to the kid beside them in their row. By the time that message got to the last student in the back of the room, it had changed significantly through multiple tellings.
In the same way, managing your institution’s message in a time of crisis is a brand management opportunity, which can go well or get ugly quick. In an emergency you have to control your messaging in a timely manner and also provide regular updates so that only true messages are being received—the second you let down your guard someone else will fill the vacuum and become your unofficial voice, to your detriment.
One suggestion to see how this happens would be to do a hashtag search on Twitter of a recent or past emergency event on a campus, follow the stream of messages, and look to see how campus officials and “unofficials” messaged during the crisis—it will reveal examples of good messaging and flat-out bad messaging.
You can’t control all of the messaging but you can control your official message and do the best to protect your brand.
Communications Off-Campus just as Important
As the Boy Scout’s say, “Be prepared.” That means that an institution’s emergency and communications team must also include key first responders and campus communicators to ensure that all involved understand how each of their roles relate and support others.
There must be consensus on what constitutes an emergency and identifies the type of emergency, in order to generate the appropriate response. Emergencies vary in type and intensity, which require a codified hierarchy of actions, clearly stating who is responsible for various pieces of information, the exact messaging to be relayed, and how local media and social media aspects are to be handled.
One person should not be charged with handling all of the dissimilar functions.
(Next page: Consistency and policy)