Students, faculty and administrators at the University of Texas had a crisis communication workout last week when a gunman started shooting with an assault rifle. The gunman, a student, killed himself and there were no other casualties. As the Austin Statesman reported, "UT used everything but carrier pigeons to let its students, faculty and staff know that a gunman was on campus and that they should stay indoors."
Richie Escovedo, a school communications and public relations practitioner in Fort Worth, describes how the event unfolded virtually "live" on social media and the radio.
"Communicators should stop being surprised at seeing as-it-happens information or images being shared from the scene," Escovedo writes, "like the one shared (by) KUT Radio or the photo gallery that the Austin-American Statesman was updating as the day progressed. It wasn't even surprising to listen to live call-in interviews with students being held inside a locked-down building. These are all part of the new reality for crisis response and communication.
"All of those things are secondary to a well-trained crisis response team.
"What was gratifying was hearing students mention receiving text messages from UT on the situation. Also the fact that emergency e-mails and voice mails were distributed from UT made its way to the media outlets almost as fast as the news of the type of weapon being used by the shooter."
The UT situation demonstrated the importance of having a detailed crisis communication plan beforehand and an after-action review afterwards. Coordination was strong between campus authorities and police who came to the university's aid.
Anyone with responsibilities in crisis communication and response would do well to review the UT episode. Probably you already have. But the links here may still be helpful.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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