Hundreds of other colleges are doing it and so are we.
We’re updating our emergency procedures plan in the traumatic wake of Virginia Tech. Our plan has been updated fairly regularly, but, I discovered, not regularly enough.
I was reading our document and making a few notes when I came to my responsibilities as a member of the emergency response team. One sentence stopped me dead:
“Public Relations Director will write news release and send to the media.”
This action might just as well be 200 years old. That’s how outdated and worthless it is.
The VT tragedy was, among other things, a case study in the way communications work today. Students had cell phones aimed at the building as the shots were bring fired.
Now, I haven’t checked facts but it’s figuratively true that minutes after Cho Seung-hui killed 32 students, the videos were available internationally.
Bloggers were posting news and thoughts almost immediately. Members of the traditional media were calling bloggers for information!
We can talk among ourselves about how communications have changed, but to watch it on our “home turf” hour-by-hour as it unfolds is much more visceral.
“PR Director will write news release. . . .” The news release might just as well be a report for a history book or Wikipedia. Waiting for approval from a president in the midst of a crisis would waste valuable minutes.
Yes, in a crisis today, every minute is an eternity as hundreds of cell phones, digital cameras, camcorders and bloggers post their information, to say nothing of the thousands of text messages flying around.
Much of that information is going to be wrong.
In fact, the only information that’s going to be accurate is what comes from us as we get it from our police and, possibly, our buildings and grounds director.
Press release? No, the PR Director needs to be working intimately with the president, police chief and IT director to add accurate information to the website in a clear, concise manner the moment it’s available.
(VT communicators and web folks, by the way, did a commendable job throughout the whole ordeal).
I’ve been through a couple campus crises over the years. Information flowing upward and horizontally faces a turbulent, subjective ride. To sift through the information and pull relevant, accurate information is not easy.
But it must be done almost instantly.
With young people, the cell phone has become a really useful sixth finger. It records still shots, video, text, and oh yes, transmits the human voice.
Hopefully none of our campuses will experience a tragedy of any kind. But what hit home with VT is that tragedy can strike, anywhere, anytime.
Information, misinformation and opinions will appear and be available to the global community.
As PR people, we cannot control the flow of information, but we can work to manage accurate information.
We have a meeting about our emergency procedures plan next week. I am going to say, “In the event of an emergency, the PR Director will not write a news release.”
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I would love to have a discussion on this to see what others are doing or get thoughts and ideas.