Crisis Communications Plan
The President of the University has designated the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations as the official Spokesperson for the University. The Executive Director for Marketing and Communications will serve as the point person in all communications.
The role of the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations is to collect and convey information to both internal and external constituencies during or immediately following a crisis or emergency situation. In every crisis, the primary goal of all University employees is the safety, security and well-being of students and staff.
When a crisis occurs, decisions may have to be made without examining every aspect of a situation. A crisis situation is defined as any circumstance or event identified by the President as having a real or potential major impact on the campus community as a whole. Examples of such a situation include explosions, hazardous chemical or environmental spills, a hostage or firearm situation, major accidents, inappropriate relationships, violence, unexpected deaths and natural disasters. It does not include incidents of isolated crime, which are routinely handled by the Campus Safety Department and/or Aston Township Police and/or other law enforcement agencies. The term "crisis" most frequently refers to the period immediately following a situation which has widespread interest among the local, regional, state, and national community, thus generating greater media focus and requiring the University's full attention for the duration of the situation.
I. WHAT TO EXPECT
- Surprise - Seldom does a crisis give any warning.
- Insufficient Information - The shock wave hits and all the facts and information aren't available.
- Escalating Flow of Events - Typically, in a crisis, events escalate.
- Loss of Control - As the crisis escalates, control is lost to outside authorities.
- Rumors and Speculation - In the absence of current facts, people will discuss the incident with any available information.
- Increased Scrutiny - Everyone will have an opinion.
- Each crisis or emergency will require a unique public information response. The extent and kind of response will depend on the nature of the crisis.
- The person who becomes aware of the incident will report the situation to his/her unit vice president who will attempt to quickly ascertain basic details of who, what, where, when, and how, etc.; The Vice President will immediately report this information to the President.
- The President and/or Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations will inform the appropriate vice president(s), and a plan of action is initiated.
- The President and the Vice President for Institutional Advancement will quickly determine the magnitude of the incident and whether information needs to be communicated externally with the media, internally to the University, or handled confidentially because of the nature of the incident and sensitivity to the victims.
- During a crisis, the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations contacts will include print and broadcast media and, under the direction of the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations and/or Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, the Office will serve as liaison with other campus units.
- In many cases, the only information the public receives about an emergency is through the media; therefore, media relations are an essential element of any crisis plan.
- A crisis situation is "big news" and is likely to result in more public exposure for the University than hundreds of "good news" stories.
Crisis Questions to Ask:
- Is there a good chance that the situation will, if left unattended, escalate in intensity?
- Could the situation foster unwanted attention by outsiders, such as the news media or some regulatory agency?
- Is it likely that the situation might interfere with normal University operations in some manner?
- Could the situation negatively affect the image of the University and cause people (students, alumni) to lose confidence?
- What is the effect on the University's bottom line?
- The Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations along with the Executive Director of Marketing and Communications will coordinate crisis communications with campus and off-campus media to ensure that the University's public information response to an emergency or crisis situation is prompt, accurate, sensitive and responsible.
- Key points of contact (switchboard operator, Campus Safety personnel, secretaries, receptionists, etc.) should have advanced instruction about to whom they should direct reporters' calls. They should be instructed not to comment on the incident, to get the reporter's name, phone number, questions, and media outlet they represent, and to report inquiries immediately to the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations.
- The Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations will - at the President's request - set up a Crisis Communications Center on campus. The Crisis Communications Center will remain open 24 hours a day for the duration of a crisis.
- During an emergency, the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations or designee appointed by the President, (see "Crisis Team"), will serve as the University spokesperson. The name and telephone number of the Spokesperson will be provided to all Institutional Advancement and University Relations staff and student workers for referral of media phone calls.
B. Phases of Response
- At the start of the incident: Take immediate action to control the problem. Grasp the circumstances and take charge; move decisively. Nothing can or should take precedence over solving a crisis.
- The President's Office and the University spokesperson will determine if an official statement should be prepared and released. In some cases, this may require the advice of legal counsel.
- Spokesperson will brief all Institutional Advancement and University Relations personnel who are assigned to answer the phone. Staff members will be assigned a national TV network (CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, Associated Press) and/or print publication and will serve as the contact person for that network or publication. This will help the staff receive and respond to calls efficiently.
Telephone hot lines: Two telephones in the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations will be designated as crisis hot-line phones with recorded messages of the latest information on the situation, one for the campus community, one for all other incoming calls. Those phone numbers will be made available to the media at the beginning of a crisis period for dissemination to the public. A staff member will be assigned to update recorded messages for hotline phones. E-mail will also be used to send campus wide advisories.
- The University spokesperson will get basic information (type of emergency/crisis; time of incident; actions taken; areas and number of people involved; fatalities, injuries and extent of damage); S/he will prepare an official statement or news release. Institutional Advancement and University Relations staff members will be kept apprised of breaking news to enable them to help the Spokesperson formulate answers to media questions.
- The University spokesperson will verify all sources of information.
- The University spokesperson will clear any press release with the President's Office as quickly as possible before releasing it to the media.
- In cases involving employee or student injuries or deaths, families will be notified by appropriate personnel before the information is released to the public.
- The University spokesperson will coordinate the release of factual information to local hospitals, the police and other agencies, providing information that is as prompt, accurate and complete as possible.
- If the crisis incident continues: longer-term steps are needed to eliminate the cause, remove the problem and prevent a recurrence.
The Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations staff will:
- Provide--via the news media--the public and constituents with basic information about an emergency or potential emergency.
- Keep the public, media and constituents informed of the situation and provide advice on what they should or should not do to prevent further damage or loss of life, panic or interference with emergency response efforts.
- Keep the public, media and constituents informed of where to seek temporary housing, food, etc.
- Instruct the public on how to obtain further advice or information.
- Recovery Period: The Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations will issue media updates as long as necessary, then scale back activities as warranted.
V. Organization and Assignment of Responsibilities
- The Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations or designee, appointed by the President, will supervise crisis communications with the media.
- Institutional Advancement and University Relations staff members, as well as other campus units and staff members, will be called upon for assistance when necessary.
- The Office of Public Relations will provide assistance for compiling and relaying official statements to print and broadcast media.
- Press Conferences: When a press conference is called, the Vice President of Institutional Advancement and University Relations and Executive Director of Marketing and Communication will attend. When deemed appropriate, the President will speak at a press conference when a major crisis needs to be addressed or when she wishes to issue updates on the situation. For consistency, there will be one spokesperson.
- Site: McNichol Room, Life Center. Institutional Advancement and University Relations will contact Vice President for Student Affairs to reserve use of McNichol Room for press conferences.
Contact Person: Vice President for Enrollment and Student Affairs (610-558-5208).
- Time: Must be convenient to University personnel but also early enough for media to make their evening news deadlines (no later than 3:30 p.m.). This is an important consideration for maintaining positive relationships with the media.
- Parking: Request that a Security Officer be assigned to the Life Center parking lot to allow media with credentials to park in the lot near the Life Center.
Contact person: Director of Campus Safety (610-558-5584).
C. Media Relations
- 1. Interviews: Upon approval of the President, members of the Crisis Team (see Crisis Team, p. 5) will be available for interviews related to their specific areas and may be interviewed at their posts or some central location to be determined by the President and the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations. When a reporter contacts a member of the Crisis Team directly, only the designated spokesperson for that unit may respond to questions in his/her area of expertise with prior approval. They will immediately inform the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations of the interview.
- General Observations: In order to encourage the media's confidence in and respect for University personnel, dealings with the media require prior approval and should always be honest and courteous. In addition, the University spokesperson's attitudes toward media reflect on the image of the University. Every effort will be made to maintain credibility with members of the media by being open and straightforward. However, all University personnel must take care not to step over legal lines or offend the parties or families of the parties involved in the incident.
D. Crisis Team
Based upon the type of crisis, certain key people will work directly with the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations and the President's Office to facilitate dissemination of information. The Crisis Team will meet in the President's office, when requested by the President/designee.
- President- 610-558-5501
- Vice President for Institutional Advancement and University Relations- 610-558-5512
- Vice President for Enrollment & Student Affairs as events pertain to student affairs - 610-361-5208.
- Vice President for Mission and Ministry as events pertain to mission and ministry - 610-558-5510.
- Vice President for Academic Affairs as events pertain to academic affairs - 610-558-5506
- Vice President for Finance and Administration - 610-558-5503.
- Director of Campus Safety - 610-558-5584.
- Director of Facilities- 610-361-5323.
- Legal Counsel - Mager & White, P.C. - 215-569-6924
VI. Direction and Control
- The President's Office will direct and approve the work of the Office of Institutional Advancement and University Relations.
- The Crisis Team will make recommendations to the President.
VII. Institutional Advancement and University Relations Team Members
- Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Primary - (610-558-5512)
- B. Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, Secondary - (610-558-5549)
- Director of Communications and Publications, Secondary - (610-558-5550)
VIII. Constituencies and Public
- Board of Trustees
- Sisters of St. Francis - Congregational Council
- University Management Team
- General Friends
X Channels of Communications
- University Website
- Overnight Mail
- Personal Visits
- Employee Meetings
- First Class Mail
- Internal Memos
- Telephone Calls - Phone chain for inclement weather
- Town Meetings
- News conferences
- Video News Releases