5.04-9 University of Georgia Crisis Communication Plan
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
A crisis communication plan provides policies and procedures for the coordination of communication within the university, and between the university, the media and the public in the event of an emergency or controversial issue. Emergencies may include fires, bomb threats, natural disasters or major crimes. Controversial issues may include police investigations, protests or other situations that demand a public response. The plan is not intended to change the way emergencies are initially reported. All emergencies on campus should be reported to University Police at 542-2200.
This plan not only addresses media relations and communication issues, but also includes procedures for the rapid identification of potentially harmful situations and the methods for responding to these situations quickly and effectively.
It is the goal of this crisis communication plan to establish guidelines for dealing with a variety of situations, and to ensure that campus officials and communicators are familiar with those procedures and their roles in the event of a crisis. The plan is to be used in conjunction with the normal decision-making hierarchy of the university and crisis plans developed by other administrative units and does not supplant that decision-making process.
Objectives of the Plan
- To factually assess the situation and determine whether a communications response is warranted.
- To assemble a Crisis Communication Team that will make recommendations on appropriate responses.
To implement immediate action to:
- Identify constituencies that should be informed about the situation
- Communicate facts about the crisis
- Minimize rumors
Restore order and/or confidence
- UGAAlert. UGAAlert may be used in cases of extreme urgency, where there is a severe threat to public safety and the health of the entire campus that has not been contained or controlled, and when immediate action is required by recipient groups. UGAAlert is an emergency notification system that sends short recorded messages to electronic devices as designated by users. UGAAlert is not used for non-emergency notifications such as lane closures, crime updates, inclement weather closings, localized building emergencies, situations that have been contained, situations where a threat does not exist, rumor control, situations where notification is merely a convenience or other situations when ArchNews is the most appropriate communication method. UGAAlert can be authorized and initiated by the following individuals: the UGA president, VP for Public Affairs, the UGA police chief or the acting chief if the chief is not available, the director of the Office of Emergency and Security Preparedness or the acting director if the director is not available
- ArchNews. ArchNews is a campus-wide listserv that can be designated for all students; all faculty and staff; or faculty, staff and students. E-mail messages can be sent through ArchNews to registered email addresses of recipients. This method should be used to communicate information about a crisis that does not require immediate action by the recipient because it is not assumed that users will always have immediate access to e-mail.
- Social Media. The Public Affairs Division will be the official social media voice of the institution during a crisis. Other UGA entities are encouraged to retweet or share messages in their entirety. Because of the brevity necessitated by social media and the need to send a consistent message across all channels, posts and tweets will contain essential info and will link the user back to further information on www.uga.edu. Posts and tweets will be time-stamped when possible so as to not further the crisis as news is retweeted or shared. Social media channels will be monitored for additional crisis info and rumor control.
- Further media contact. Determine whether a news conference and/or news release is an appropriate means of conveying information to faculty, staff, students, the news media and the public. Public Affairs will determine logistics of the news conference including when, where and how the media will be contacted, which media will be contacted, who will supervise the news conference, who will appear, etc.
- Establish Crisis Command Center. Determine whether the magnitude of the crisis merits establishing a Crisis Command Center (for police and university officials) and/or a media briefing center (for larger gatherings of the media for briefings or press conferences).
- Photography. Decide the need to assign videographers and photographers to take pictures of the scene. This may prove helpful in responding to media inquiries or possible later litigation, as well as documenting events. Determine need to supply video footage from files. Decide whether to provide TV footage for immediate distribution. Determine whether it is appropriate to allow location shooting by TV and newspaper photographers. Determine when, where and who will accompany the media.
- Radio responses. Discuss need to produce live or taped responses for radio and decide who will be available for radio sound bites. Contact Broadcast Media Coordinator.
- Other spokespersons. Identify any other individuals who may serve as spokespersons or who might be made available to the news media. Counsel those individuals in terms of appropriate ways to deal with the media.
- Internal communications. Determine strategy of internal communications to be used if the crisis affects university students and employees, working closely with Human Resources, the student newspaper, Columns, and the university’s Web site UGA Today (www.uga.edu/news). The ArchNews campus-wide listserv is available for mass e-mail distribution of important information in rapidly developing situations. It can be segmented for distribution to faculty, staff, students or any combination of the three. The separate Administrative Memos listserv reaches some 400 senior deans, directors and department heads.
- Alternative communications. Discuss alternative or additional means of conveying information such as letters to parents of students or selected constituencies of the university, letters to newspaper editors and consultation with editorial boards.
- Rumor control. Consider establishing rumor-control hotline and/or a dedicated call-in line for media use. A Web page with hot link from the university home page can also be used for posting up-to-date information and FAQ. Use the campus-wide listserv, ArchNews, and social media to quickly disseminate the accurate information
Assessment. The individual who encounters the potential crisis should gather accurate information from the appropriate sources. A potential crisis is defined as an event or situation that could affect or has affected the health, safety or welfare of students, faculty, staff or campus visitors. After fact gathering, the appropriate individual should determine whether an immediate response is necessary and, if so, should contact the Vice President for Public Affairs or, in his absence, an appropriate Public Affairs representative. The Vice President will determine whether to convene a Crisis Communication Team and will immediately inform the President and Provost.
Assembling Crisis Team. Composition of the crisis team will include at minimum (Core Team):
- Vice President for Public Affairs
- Department Head or chief contact in area affected
- News Service director
- Broadcast Services director
Other personnel will be added to this core team to form the larger Crisis Communication Team, which will then formulate a response based on the nature of the crisis. Those added could include the following, depending on the situation:
- Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
- Vice President for Finance and Administration
- President’s Chief of Staff
- Vice President for Government Relations
- Other individual vice presidents
- University Counsel
- Associate Vice President for Human Resources
- Dean of the appropriate college
- Athletic Director or Sports Information Director
- Director of University Health Center
- Associate Vice President of Environmental Safety Division
- Director of Housing
- Director of Community Relations
- others as appropriate to the situation
Initial Steps. The Core Crisis Team, after assessing the nature and scope of the situation, should call together all members of the Crisis Communication Team to develop a plan of action including some, or all, of the following:
Designate a spokesperson. In most cases the spokesperson should be the Vice President for Public Affairs. The person possessing the direct knowledge of the crisis (for example: the Chief of Police in the event of a campus crime, or the Director of the Health Center in a medical emergency) can act as spokesperson.
In cases of a significant crisis, the President or the highest-ranking university official must take the lead in conveying the administration’s response to the crisis, showing that the university has control of the situation, calming public concern and setting an example for the entire campus.
- Draft a fact sheet. The fact sheet should contain a summary statement of the situation including all known details to be released to the media. This information should be made available to the President or Provost, and appropriate Deans or Vice Presidents. This fact sheet should be analyzed with respect to the public’s right to know and concerns for privacy and security in consultation with General Counsel.
Notify key constituencies. Determine key constituencies that should be informed of the crisis. It is important to keep administration, faculty, staff and students, as well as the general public, informed of appropriate details and actions taken by the university during an emergency. Effective communications will help quell rumors, maintain morale and ensure continued orderly operations of the university. A member or members of the Crisis Team should be assigned to communicate the facts of the situation (contained in the fact sheet) and the university’s intended response. Among the groups that should be considered for communication in a crisis situation are:
- Law enforcement agencies – should be notified by Police Department representatives.
- Campus administrators, faculty, staff – Information to administrators other than those selected to serve on the Crisis Team should be provided via appropriate communications vehicle, usually e-mail and Web postings, UGAAlert, social media, and/or mass meetings. Regular e-mailed updates of important changes in information and situation status should be distributed. This should be handled by the senior member of the core crisis communication group, usually the Vice President for Public Affairs or designee.
- Students – All students can be contacted in a mass e-mail through ArchNews and/or UGAAlert or social media. Additional communications with students may be considered through mass meetings as necessary, in such venues as housing, Stegeman Coliseum or the Tate Student Center.
- Board of Regents – The Vice President for Public Affairs, or designee, should routinely keep the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs informed in crisis situations. This is most efficiently accomplished either by telephone or e-mail. In matters of institutional policy, the Chancellor or members of the Board of Regents may be informed or consulted, but only with by the President or an appropriate senior administrator, or with their specific authorization.
- Parents of students – All students can be contacted via ArchNews e-mail, UGAAlert or social media in a timely fashion, and when appropriate, may be encouraged to share the information directly with their parents. Parents who inquire may also be directed to the UGA Today Web site or other appropriate informational sites on the Web. The university switchboard can double as a rumor control hotline.
- Local community – If the situation has an impact on local residents, fliers can be distributed or use mass media. Social media also should be used. If appropriate, meetings can be arranged with leaders of the neighborhood associations near the university. The Director of Community Relations will take charge of such communications as part of the crisis communications team.
- Mass media – Public Affairs may prepare news releases for distribution. All media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs and all releases to the media should come through Public Affairs or be made with their specific knowledge. The institution should speak with one voice in time of crisis to assure consistent, official and accurate information is disseminated.
- Government agencies – If government entities (Mayor, Governor’s office, etc.) need to be informed, this should be handled only by the Vice President for Government Relations, the Vice President for Public Affairs, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, the President or designees.
- Others – Other possible constituents that may need to be contacted concerning and emergency or crisis include UGA Foundation Boards of Directors, Alumni Association Board, accreditation organizations, and school/college/unit-based constituent support organizations.
Switchboards. The following locations, which receive high volumes of incoming telephone calls to the university, should be notified regarding the key facts of the crisis (fact sheet) and where to refer calls pertaining to the crisis:
Location Phone Public Affairs 542-8090 University Police 542-2200 Campus switchboard 542-3000 Tate Center information 542-3816 Human Resources 542-2621
- Loss of telephone service. Cellular phones should be used in the event that land-lines are down. Public Affairs will maintain a list of cellular phone numbers for key university officials. UGA’s Police Department and Physical Plant are among campus units with walkie-talkies and short-wave radios that can serve as additional means of communicating.
Secondary Steps. Depending on the nature of the crisis, other decisions and/or actions may be necessary. These could include:
Facility Evacuation/Operational Shutdowns
It may become necessary to evacuate buildings and/or areas surrounding facilities to protect and ensure the safety of people and, in some instances, animals. If such a situation occurs, decisions regarding work space accommodations and/or leave requirements for faculty and staff, as well as class schedules and possibly housing accommodations for students, would need to be addressed.
Issues surrounding leave for staff employees should be directed to Personnel Services (Note: normally time away from work is accounted for through current leave policies).
Student questions should be directed to the Vice President for Student Affairs; faculty should address concerns to the Provost’s Office.
Following any crisis, appropriate action must take place to ensure that members of the university community, and others as necessary, receive needed information and assistance to help bring closure to the crisis as well as relief from the effects of the event. Attention also should be placed on identifying and implementing measures to improve the action plan used during the crisis. Possible steps include:
- Public forum. If appropriate, a public forum should be scheduled and coordinated by Public Affairs to communicate details of the incident and events to all interested members of the university. The timing of this meeting is critical and every effort should be made to see that it occurs within only a few working days from the close of the crisis. Representatives from University Police, Human Resources and the University Counseling Center should attend and be prepared to answer questions and share pertinent information. Specific departments and/or individuals also may be requested to attend and participate depending on the nature of the crisis.
- Victim assistance. Immediately following a crisis, it is imperative that the university be sensitive to the needs of faculty, staff and students who may have been personally affected by the event. There may be a need to assist a victim or victims with obtaining information and/or a referral to available resources. The core team will be responsible for coordinating this assistance with appropriate university offices and units.
- Accurate information. It is not unreasonable to expect that rumors would follow a crisis, further creating an atmosphere of anxiety. One means of combating rumors would be to take full advantage of electronic mail, rumor-control hotlines, social media, etc. and report facts as appropriate.
- Acknowledgments. Depending on the nature of the crisis, services and assistance may have been rendered by agencies, companies and/or individuals from outside the university. Public Affairs should ensure that applicable follow-up information and appropriate thank-you letters are disseminated, including a potential blanket thank-you to be published in local media and on university Web sites.
- Debriefing. The core team shall meet within 10 days following a crisis and review all actions taken as a result of the crisis to determine effectiveness and efficiency of operations and make any needed changes to the Crisis Communications Plan.
- Office of Public Affairs; as revised July 15, 2005