Crisis Communication Plan
A crisis plan provides a protocol for coordinating an effective response to events or issues that require communication between Dominican College and the media, the College and the public, the College and its own constituency. For the purpose of this plan, a crisis is defined as any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of the College. Emergencies may include fire, legal disputes, theft, natural disasters or manmade disasters. They may also include controversial issues such as investigations, protests or any other situations that can be attributed to the College that requires a public response. Crisis readiness may also be required when the College needs to release potentially damaging or negative information.
This plan is not intended to supplant in any way how emergencies are currently reported. Initially all incidents should be reported to the Director of Campus Security (ext. 4061). However, this plan is intended to familiarize all campus officials and staff with the procedures in the event of a crisis and their responsibilities to the College during these incidents.
The procedures outlined in this plan will provide a standard of conduct for determining an appropriate response to crisis. The plan is divided into four steps, Preparation, Assessment, Response and Recovery.
Swift response to an adverse incident is imperative. The actions of the College during the first few hours of an emergency are critical in setting the record and minimizing misinformation or rumors. It is imperative that all staff, administrators and faculty of the College are aware of, understand, accept and adhere to the principles set out in this plan.
Core Crisis Communication Team
• Administrative Council
• Director of Facilities
• Director of Security
• Depending on nature of crisis, other pertinent representatives will be added to team
• Media Liaison
An up-to-date and complete contact sheet of the Core Crisis Team members will be available to the Campus Security Office. This includes cell, beeper and home numbers. Core Team members will also have a copy of this information and are advised to keep a copy of these details at home as well as on campus.
The Director of Security will be the College liaison with local police and fire services. Contact information including, cell, beeper and home numbers should be provided to these services and updated regularly.
The designated meeting area for the Team will be the Fury Room in Cooke Hall. The designated area for news briefings and interviews will be the Holt Room in the Hennessy Center. If a larger venue is needed, the media can be directed into the gymnasium.
In the event of potential crisis, the Vice President with oversight responsibility for affected area will be responsible for gathering data/situation analysis and bringing these details to the Core Crisis Communication Team for assessment. Proper issue management requires that the Team be able to determine when an event warrants a broad response. Equally important the Team must determine when an event does NOT warrant a public response and would be better managed internally. Guarding against overreaction is as important as resisting the inclination to lie low.
Members of the team will be responsible for information and activities related to their own departments. For this reason, Team members should make certain that information vital to their area of responsibility is available and easily accessible at all times. Pre-assigned tasks will enable the Team to come together ready to focus all their energy without concerns about duplication of efforts or oversights.
Director of Security: Compiles initial incident report in cooperation with Vice President (as stated above) as well as securing incident site. Assure that meeting site is accessible. If new site has to be secured, make certain that Team members have been advised of changes. Assign a member of the security team to man switchboard until an operator can come on duty.
VP for Student Development and Dean of Students: With the assistance of Campus Security, determine which, if any, Dominican College students are directly or indirectly involved with incident. Compile a list of students’ names and contact numbers. If Police or other emergency personnel have removed students from Campus, the VP will make contact with these services and get updates.
VP for Institutional Advancement: Bring to the meeting a contact sheet of all Board of Trustees and President’s Advisory Council members. Have available the names and contact numbers of local and regional government officials. VP will also have available names and contact numbers of all school officials who may be called upon to assist with crisis management. If a response is deemed necessary, the team will immediately inform the Chancellor and legal counsel. Under some circumstances, the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees should be advised of current events.
Media Liaison: The Media Liaison will provide a complete listing of all media outlets. The Liaison will also field any initial calls by media with the statement that “We are looking into the situation and will get back to you promptly.” Make this statement available to switchboard. Give switchboard a callback sheet and instruct that all calls (from the media, or other sources) be logged in with instructions that names/organizations/phone numbers be noted.
The job of the Team will be to determine a course of action and the prompt execution of that plan. The extent of the response will depend on the nature and scope of the crisis. From the perspective of the media, the College community and the general public, the actions of Dominican College should be perceived at all times as organized and well thought out.
Assume that the media have been alerted to the crisis. If an event is newsworthy, it is only a matter of time before the media will approach the College. It is strongly advised that the College convey the facts promptly and in a straightforward manner. Legal matters and issues of confidentiality must be taken into consideration before any statements are made.
Withholding information from the media will generate suspicion and mistrust. The College should not hesitate to be preemptive when necessary. It is strongly advised that the College take it upon itself to disclose any negative or embarrassing information. Hesitation to do so may put the College in the unfortunate position of defending its public statements down the line.
During an emergency the College will have to function under the pressures of time, with limited resources and manpower. To be effective, communication activities must be prioritized. Below is a suggested priority list.
1) Address the needs of those most directly affected by events. In cases of personal injury or death, be certain that families are notified before information is released to the public.
2) Address the potential concerns of students, their guardians, faculty, staff and administrators.
3) Prepare to address the public/media. Produce a clear and concise fact sheet, stating the confirmed facts: who, what, where, when and how of the event.
Ideally, the College switchboard will be staffed throughout the duration of the emergency. The Team will prepare a statement indicating, for example, “Facts are being gathered and all inquiries will be addressed as soon as possible.” The operator will convey the statement to all callers. A recorded message will handle overflow calls, assuring that all individuals will get the information they are seeking. As events unfold, the operator will be kept informed and revised statements will be issued as they become available.
All incoming media inquiries will be forwarded to the Media Liaison. If the Team is not ready to speak with media at that time, the operator will relay a prepared statement and note inquiry in call log. The name of the media outlet as well as the contact and phone number will be noted. If a news briefing has been scheduled, the operator will advise the media of time and location.
Designation of a spokesperson is a critical decision and can greatly influence the handling of the crisis. In most cases, the spokesperson will be the Media Liaison or the Vice President of the area most affected by the crisis. In cases of significant events, the President or other high-ranking College official designated by the Team will take the lead. The spokesperson will convey to the public the College’s wish to be Open, Truthful and Responsive to the needs of the students, staff and community.
A spokesperson must be comfortable in dealing with the media. The best spokesperson will have credibility with the media, be able to function with confidence in front of an audience and be able to remain calm in stressful situations. The best candidate may not be the most obvious choice and the committee must carefully consider all salient points before designating a representative.
As events unfold it may become apparent that because of the duration and scale of the crisis, an alternate spokesperson will be necessary to handle the influx of public inquirers. More than one point person is advisable in such situations with the understanding that they are speaking with one voice. If more than one spokesperson is working the event, be certain that each spokesperson keeps a record of whom they spoke with for purposes of follow-up.
Anticipate that other parties involved with the crisis -- police, fire or other outside parties -- may have a spokesperson. Obtain their identities so all statements and contacts with the media can be coordinated.
Under certain circumstances, it may be advisable to supplement the knowledge of a spokesperson with that of a technical expert or outside advisor to answer media questions that fall beyond the scope of the College.
• News Releases
All releases should be issued through the Public Relations Department. Limit statements to facts that have been gathered from reliable sources and confirmed. You add information as it becomes available, being very careful never to overreach or speculate. Always be aware that what you say and what is written is On The Record. A suggested legal caveat: make no estimates of dollar damages, injuries, or loss of life; and do not venture to guess causes or responsibility for incident. Lawyers and insurance companies will be measuring these words carefully, and these statements can come back to haunt you. For this reason, the President or leading administrator on the Team should approve all news releases, fact sheets or verbal statements.
• Internal Communications The College community should be advised that in times of emergencies they should check their e-mail or voice mail and can refer to the Crisis Communication section of the College website for up-to-date information. News releases and other relevant information will be posted to this site and updated frequently. Addressing the needs of the school community is vital if order and calm are to be maintained or restored. Updates will be provided by the Media Liaison and presented to the appropriate personnel for posting on website and distribution through e-mail and voice-mail.
Sensitive or private information will not be conveyed to administrators, staff, faculty and students by memo or e-mail. This information can be deliberately or accidentally leaked. If sensitive facts must be conveyed, it will be done verbally, making clear that this information is for internal use only.
• Media Relations During times of crisis, do not change the rules already in place for dealing with the media. The current guidelines at Dominican College stipulate that the media will be accompanied at all times while on campus grounds. While we respect the right of the college staff and students to speak to media, it is strongly advised that during a crisis all interviews be restricted to the designated spokesperson.
Management of information during this time is critical. Management of information does not in any way imply avoidance of issues or deceptive behavior. It is the job of the media to seek out the answers to questions. It is our job to make information and access to key personnel available in a timely manner if we wish to establish and maintain a good working relationship with the media.
The Media Liaison will prioritize incoming media inquiries according to deadlines. Local media will get first priority. They are our communication link to the community and will be following the story long after Regional and National media have gone home.
Anticipate the different needs of media outlets. Pictures speak louder than words. Don’t let a camera crew or photographer move through a sensitive area unless you have secured the site and are certain that the privacy of students and personnel is protected.
• Dress Rehearsals
Preparation for news conferences and interviews should include time to rehearse. Do a run through of the statement, anticipate tough questions by the media and formulate your answers. Repeat this process before newly scheduled conferences and interviews. A statement read aloud has a very different impact than a written statement. The rehearsal will allow time for the Team to redraft a statement that upon reading aloud seems contrived, incomplete or rambling. A spokesperson that engages the media by talking To them rather than reading stiffly from a script implies that we are secure in our actions and in command of the situation.
Communication Do’s and Don’ts
Do make available copies of any prepared statement for the media.
Do time your presentation; leave opportunity for questions and answers.
Do schedule the conference in consideration of news deadlines.
Do have background facts about the College available.
Do maintain eye contact with the audience.
Do make sure that any graphics or pictures used are large enough for the entire audience to see clearly.
Do speak, slowly and distinctly. Do test microphone and confirm with your audience that you can be heard.
Do not speak off the record.
Do not respond to rumors and negative comments.
Do not improvise. If you don’t have the answer, ask the reporters’ names and assure them you will get back to them ASAP.
Do not wander off the prepared text or make off the cuff remarks.
Do not become defensive or emotional.
Do not answer more than the question itself. The moment you elaborate is the moment you are wandering off the prepared text.
Do not speak on behalf of the College or anyone else unless you have authorization.
Notify Key Constituents
In the rush to manage the media coverage of an emergency, it is important not to overlook or delay notification to key constituents of the College. The constituency is the public face of the College. The morale of the College community will be directly impacted by how well these groups are kept informed. Swift and effective communication will halt the spread of panic and rumors and demonstrate to the constituency that the College is in full control of the situation.
It is an error to assume that through the media coverage alone these groups will be informed and updated. Depending upon the extent of the crisis some or all of the following constituents should be personally contacted. Obviously, limited manpower and time constraints require that the list be prioritized. The Crisis Team will make this determination. (Sample List of Key Constituents can include all or some of the following)
• Administration, faculty, staff
• Board of Trustees
• Donors • General Public
• Local government officials
• Parents/Guardians of Students
• President’s Advisory Council
Select a member of the Team as the point person for individual constituent groups. Support staff can assist with follow through. By use of e-mail, a Crisis Communication section on the College website, phone calls, letters, and faxes, a chain of communication should be established and maintained throughout an event.
As soon as possible after the conclusion of a crisis (this should not exceed 5 work days), a final statement providing a comprehensive wrap-up of the events will be issued. Do not hesitate to convey bad news as well as the good in this statement. Although on-going contact has been maintained with the school community, the purpose of this communication is to provide closure. Include a system (point person, phone number, or e-mail address) by which the questions of students, staff and faculty can be answered.
Immediately following a crisis, it is imperative that the College be sensitive to the needs of faculty, staff and students who may have been directly or indirectly affected by the events. Human Resources, Campus Ministry and the Vice President of Student Development should be prepared to offer guidance and to provide information about referral services.
Add Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to the Crisis Communication section of the website, including an e-mail address for questions and feedback. Be certain that all e-mails are answered promptly. Update this section as necessary and keep the information posted for at least 30 days after the initial occurrence of the event.
Within a week of the closure of a crisis, the Crisis Communication Team will gather to evaluate the effectiveness of their actions and, where necessary, make changes to the plan.
Revised February 9, 2007