How to save lives with social media

In order for campuses to take advantage of so many different types of communication, there must be a detailed plan in place, Piatt said. And that’s not something the emergency manger often goes without.

He opened his ACUTA presentation with a run-through of all the emergency routes that lead out of the room and hotel. Piatt spends a lot of time thinking about plans like that, he said.

He’s been the University of New Mexico’s emergency manger for at least half a decade, and is also the commander of the NM-1 Disaster Medical Assistant Team. He even looks the part, sporting the stereotypical mustache of an emergency responder.

“I’ve been called a little anal retentive,” Piatt said.

A plan in place

One morning this past December, the University of New Mexico received a bomb threat.

The threat targeted three buildings, filled with students taking morning classes the week before final exams. Those buildings were closely nestled among 400 others, on a campus of 30,000 students, that occupied 12 square miles in the middle of New Mexico’s most populous city, at the crossroads of two major interstate highways.

At large universities like the University of New Mexico, the decisions made my emergency personal don’t just affect the campus, Piatt said.

As officials raced to get word to the university’s president and board of regents, who were in a meeting, the campus police chief gave an order to Piatt and his team. A message was quickly sent out to student and faculty: “Please evacuate Mitchell, Ortega, and Popejoy Halls at this time.”

The notification was automatically delivered through email, text message, Facebook, and Twitter. The messages appeared on both the university’s official Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as the pages of its emergency alert service, LoboAlerts.

(Next page: The PR crisis)

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