Quick Tips! Crisis Management

Videos August 19, 2019

Why is it important to plan for the unplannable? At some point (and without warning), your college will experience a crisis. It will disrupt your college’s operations, put your campus community in panic-mode, and to make matters worse, you won’t have much time to respond. In this Quick Tips! video, president of Interact, Cheryl Broom, gives advice on how to prepare for the unexpected.

To learn more about crisis management and hear how one college responded to a disaster in its community, listen to What to Do When Your World Is on Fire: A Lesson in Crisis Management.

Hi, I’m Cheryl Broom, president of Interact Communications. And my question for you today: Are you prepared for the worst? We have fantastic jobs. We get to work with students and change lives every day, but sometimes we are the ones that are in charge of communications during the worst of times. And that’s during the campus crisis. College campuses are like cities. Anything that can happen in a city can happen on a college campus. You have floods, fires, lawsuits, personnel crises, student crises. The list goes on and on and on. And you need to be prepared because inevitably, if it hasn’t happened to you already, inevitably you’re going to have a crisis on your campus. So today I want to share with you three tips that I’ve learned through my career, both as a public information officer for a community college as well as a public information officer for a sheriff’s department. Three things that you need to prepare yourself and your campus for a crisis: First of all, you need to have a crisis communication plan. Hopefully, most of your colleges already have a crisis plan in place. You know, where your communication center, your operations center’s going to be. You have identified who your spokespeople are. You have all the roles and responsibilities sorted out. But a lot of times what I’ve seen on college campuses is that people don’t actually have a communication plan in place. And that is really, really, really important. How quickly you respond, the vehicles you use to inform the public and your students are really going to set the tone for the entire emergency. So make sure you have a crisis communications plan in place. Not only that, you need to practice the communications plan. So if you’re in charge of sending out emergency messages, you need to make sure that you’re practicing that at least once a month, if not every other week. You also need to make sure you have somebody as a backup because inevitably it’s going to happen when you’re on vacation. It’s happened twice to me. I had a crisis when I was at the sheriff’s department and I was on a cruise ship in Mexico and couldn’t do anything. And we had no backup. And then that happened once when I was at MiraCosta college as well. Luckily, I had learned my lesson and had trained a full staff to be my backup and they were able to handle the communications, handle the crisis, and everything ended up okay. So make sure you identify a backup and you practice. My second tip for you is to make sure that you and your college leadership get plenty of opportunities to practice responding to questions in front of a camera. There’s nothing like being in front of a camera with the lights and a reporter grilling you and upset people. Having to keep your composure and communicating a message in a professional, thoughtful manner. It’s really difficult. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice. Even for somebody who’s a seasoned professional, you should be practicing regularly. So go hire a reporter, go get a camera, get your college leadership, your board, yourself to sit down and to do a scenario where you actually have to respond to the media and practice that over and over and over again. My third tip for you is not rocket science, but it’s something that saved me, and that is make sure that you have an emergency kit in the trunk of your car. So I had one when I was at MiraCosta, I actually still carry it around with me today cause I’m a mom of two boys and you never know when you’re going to need it. But besides the essentials in there, like a first aid kit and a flashlight and my vest, I also had my crisis communication plan printed out in a manual. All of the reporters’ phone numbers and email addresses printed out, because you never know if you have a power outage, if you’re going to have access to a computer. Everything was hard copy. Instructions, phone numbers, backup plans, reporters, it’s going to save you. And update that at least twice a year so that you make sure you have all the information you need with you at all times. So those are my three tips for you. There is so much more you have to do to prepare for an emergency, but hopefully that will get you started thinking about ways that you can be better prepared. I also have a fantastic podcast. I interviewed Peter Griggs, who is the public information officer at Shasta Community College. That college suffered a huge wildfire a couple of years ago, and the things that they had to do, the response, is just amazing. So I really suggest that you listen to it. You’ll learn a lot. I know I did. So that’s it for today. Thank you so much and I really look forward to next time. Bye.