Planning for a Crisis: How Will You Communicate?

Admit it:

Anytime you see the posting that there will be a fire drill or tornado drill in the building in which you work, you try to figure out how to be out of the building during the drill.

Yeah, yeah….I know: you’re too busy to have to get up and leave, why do they schedule these things during peak work times, you know what to do in an emergency.

But really…do you?

I can’t help but think about September 11 as the ninth anniversary approaches.  All those people on planes, in cities were going about their daily lives, and then out of no where IT happened.  Imagine the worst thing you can think of actually coming true.  Anyone who was lucky enough to escape the burning Twin Towers or the Pentagon probably has a different view of crisis preparation than they did before that fateful day.

There are many of us on campus who spend a great deal of time and energy preparing for something that may never happen:  a large-scale crisis that would significantly impact our campus.  It is hard at times to feel the pressure of accomplishing tasks related to something that is both not a priority and one of the biggest priorities.  And yet, it is essential that we plan and prepare for something that will hopefully never occur.

The Office of University Relations is responsible for is communicating accurate, pertinent information in the event of a crisis.  During the last few years, there has been a considerable amount of effort put into accurately planning for a crisis on this campus.  We’ve had some dry runs to help us prepare (H1N1 and Bird Flu come to mind), and even a few close calls where the campus was alerted of a crime using the emergency alert system.

In UR, we have a crisis communication plan that details specific jobs for every member of the team during a crisis.  We are working hard to establish a crisis call center for people seeking information immediately following an incident.  We routinely test the emergency alert notification system, and look for ways to improve.  We carry our cell phones so we can be reached at any time.  Heck, we even have an emergency box in our office that contains stuff like flashlights and other items in case something big happens.  Most importantly, in our office it is known that when a crisis hits, we will not run, we will respond.

How will you respond when the unthinkable happens?  What is your role?

Business continuity plans are in place on this campus, but do you know what is expected of you if the power goes out, the campus closes due to a flood, or if there is an act of violence?  For instance, last year we had an evacuation in our building due to a gas leak.  I was surprised to see many co-workers from other departments leave, when it was only 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon, and nothing official on the incident had come out.  In my personal opinion, I don’t think the first option is to simply leave.  The first option should be, “how can I help?”

If there is a large-scale disaster on campus, it will need to be an “all hands on deck” situation.  There will be much to do.  How can we ensure that standard processes like registration, grades, payroll, accounts receivable, webmail access, etc. will be protected, recovered and/or maintained?  As much as there would be a desire to get out of Dodge, as employees we must first ask how we can mitigate further damage and disruption to our normal operations.

All of this comes back to the issue of communication.  We must be clear, concise, and interactive in a crisis situation.  We can be most effective when people are available to help get answers to our various constituencies.  Every department needs to talk through scenarios, and figure out the communication plan for their department in an emergency. The UR team is available to meet with any department who would like to work through these issues and develop a communication plan.

Jen Hogan