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I work at the Vermont Law School as its web communications manager. We got hit very hard a few weeks ago by Tropical Storm Irene.  We are a small, rural school and we did not have much of an emergency/crisis communications policy in place. After Irene, there's been a push to get a Crisis Communications plan.
Does anyone have any experience in constructing a crisis communications plan using Twitter, Facebook etc.?
We need a Crisis Communications Plan that specifies how we'll use Facebook, Twitter, and texting in the first 24-48 hours of a crisis. We need to specify who will initiate the messages in each channel, who's the backup, how we'll maintain the list of recipients, and what will happen in the event of loss of phone, web, cell channels.
If anyone has any ideas or experience in this area, please advise.
 

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We are in the process of final updates on our plan and getting it vetted by the "powers that be," but it does include our FB, Twitter and text messaging plans and policies. I'll try to get the draft and send you what we have later this week.

 

I can say it has been successful for us, except on those occasions we DON'T close for a snow day - we get ripped on FB every time in those cases. :-)

Great! Reviewing what is already being done will be very helpful for us.  We get lots of snowstorms, and we usually post closings on the website  home page - although we've never really had an emergency during the storm season.

I imagine using FB will get us some similar ripping!

Followup ... Have you been able to get something together? I'm pushing to get a plan documented here as well.
We've gathered up a preliminary set of emergency preparedness documents. A number of departments are involved so it is taking some time to filter through the departments. I will look for the latest version and try to post it by tomorrow.
Fantastic!
Looks like we have many people in the same boat. I would also be very grateful to hear what others are doing for their crisis comm. planning. Will any of you be posting your approved documents? (Hint, Hint)  :)

There are inherent challenges when using social media to get out the word with respect to emergency situations.  Only a relative handful of people associated with your institution who need to get the word will get the word through social media.

One school (I'm forgetting which) had discussed via Facebook that a decision would be made by  x AM, and then didn't follow-up after x AM as to what decision was made about open v. closed.  They had a meltdown on their hands. Your use of Social Media can establish expectations, so you should be sure to think about it in advance.  You should probably push out more non-event news via the SM channels.  E.g., when you're open, say so.  Also, if you have groups for the school in general, parents, department of basketweaving, to which do you push out messaging?  We've got scores of facebook pages and groups...

Your emergency communication plan needs to document stuff, be implementable by a primary person and at least two backups, and needs to be multifaceted.  All the Web stuff is "pull".  You should be sure to have some "push" out there, whether it's through RA's and RD's knocking on doors, or emergency text messages or phone calls, or emails to the college community, or voice announcements in campus buildings.

You need to handle incidents that come under the Cleary Act, as well as weather-related issues.

It would be helpful to have sample communication messages that you can issue in the event of an emergency, so you don't have to craft every one from scratch.

Sorry to go off.  I have been involved with emergency planning on my campus (down to the level of customizing the collegewide emergency plan) so I have done a lot of thinking in this area.

 

 

Steve,

Wow. Thanks so much. This is really helpful and insightful. We are still new to Emergency Crisis plans and evaluating the importance of social media in our plans. Initially after tropical storm Irene, we got a lot of lak over not having a Facebook "plan" in place, but after delving into - we started thinking a more "hands-on" plan would be more useful during an actual crisis.

That's a great idea to have sample messages created beforehand.

 

Any other advice? Thanks so much

We are thankful that we moved our website offsite to a third party host earlier this fall.  Our campus is still without regular power,  5 days after Storm Alfred hit the northeast (we are using generators and opened back up yesterday).  Also, be sure you have backup staff who reside in different areas - I am the primary person to post closings, etc. to the web but had no power, no Internet, no cellphone for several days - so I couldn't even stay in touch with administrators who were making decisions.  Another staff member who lives in an area less affected by the storm was able to make updates to the site.  And keep in mind that although you may be communicating via lots of different channels - TV, radio, text message, etc., there will still be people who are unable to receive those messages (I couldn't).

Kathie,

Our site is also hosted by a third-party (Rackspace). While we have multiple communication channels, the primary source of information during a crisis will be the website. If there was an incident that brought national attention, it's likely that our site would get hit hard with traffic and could crash. For that reason we are considering various back up solutions, such as a second server, or redundancy configuration. Do you have anything like that?

Thank you.

Just came across this thread today.

We recently (June 15, 2012) had an incident on the University of Alberta campus. Full details can be found through a Google News search: http://bit.ly/NfOtWC

Summary: An armored car robbery in a campus building. 3 people we killed and 1 critically injured. All 4 were employees of the armored car company.

According to our plan, the process for an incident of this nature involves:

  1. Police and Campus Security notified
  2. Crisis Management Centre activated
  3. AVP of University Relations is in charge of crisis communications

At this point, a designated person (in this case, me) would get a call from the AVP and we activate the communications plan via the web and social media. From here, communications via web and social media are taken over by our crisis communications team.

All updates come from the AVP or designate in charge of communications for the event. In any event, once this chain of command has been established, the person making the updates via web or SM does not accept updates from anyone else.

All of our messaging in this event was one way: we gave out info only. There was very little response to any of the feedback that was generated via the SM channels. Our goal is simply to push out the official information from the U of A.

Our plan document contains all the info regarding callouts, backups, etc.

For anyone that is interested, our emergency site still contains the info that was pushed out on the website during the incident: http://www.ualberta.ca/EMERGENCY/

Tim,

thank you for sharing your experience.

Was your site hit hard with traffic? And, if so, was it able to stay up?

Our crisis communication plan is similar to yours, but it is dependent upon the web site staying up. We are considering moving to a cloud-based server configuration, so the bandwidth could automatically increase if needed to accommodate an sudden influx of traffic.

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