Emergency Communications Preparedness - College and University Campuses

This brief guide shows exactly how you can save the people for whom you are responsible.

Your personal team can be heroes or scapegoats. Preparation for an emergency is essential and a strong communication plan is the backbone. Please read and implement this guide, make adjustments for your situation, then feel free to share it with your appropriate staff.

The morning of April 16, 2007 in Blacksburg, Virginia a senior at Virginia Tech launched one of the deadliest shooting attacks in U.S. history. Before he turned the gun on himself, he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. It was a tragedy that shocked the nation and had everyone talking about issues like gun control, privacy laws, identifying mental disorders in students, and breaches in campus security. The emergency response was swift, but the nature of the attack prevented law enforcement from being able to stop it before so many lives were tragically lost.

Sadly, this wasn't an isolated incident. There has been a rash of deadly attacks on college campuses since then, heightening the discussion about how to reduce the threats and how to strengthen emergency preparedness, not just for shootings but other credible threats that are on the rise. (Nearly one in five college female freshmen have reported being a victim of rape or attempted rape.)

It's increasingly important for campuses to be aware of these new dangers and prepare for emergency situations. Campuses have to negotiate their security more than ever before, and larger campuses have even greater challenges keeping the channels of communication effectively open while implementing more widespread and complex systems.


Internal Communication Methods

Communication within the campus community is critical during an emergency situation to keep everyone on the same page to comprehend what is happening, where the danger is, and what to do.

There are various methods of communication that campuses can use to respond to or prevent a crisis.

External Communications

Communication to the world beyond the campus perimeter during a crisis situation is also an important factor. Looping in families, loved ones, and also the media is crucial to help control the situation.

Telephones are the main source of communication, but they can become clogged with people trying to seek information and can very easily break down in a disastrous event. Internet outreach can effectively provide information, but systems can break down or become quickly cluttered with false or confusing reports. TV and radio transmissions have the largest and most immediate reach to the public. It's important for colleges and universities to have a public relations plan in place to get as much detailed and accurate information to the media as quickly as possible to circumvent confusion and panic.

Coming up with an emergency plan before a crisis happens is essential. Creating an emergency task force to discuss various emergency scenarios and solutions is key. Because emergencies happen unexpectedly and risks present themselves in ways that are difficult to fathom, flexibility and adaptability of emergency plans should be framed around the process. Continually updating and perfecting the plan should also be a part of the strategy. When coming up with preparation lists, incorporating questions about what is needed before, during and after an emergency is an important tactical approach. Often the mere act coming together to develop a plan is more valuable than the plan itself.

Communication is key. We're getting smarter as the risks on campuses increase. We are more connected than ever before with more systems that are helping us stay connected. It's important to examine every communication channel to assess how they can all work together for the protection of all effected by an unexpected crisis. Employing multiple communication outlets to keep everyone in the loop,

To find more information on developing and implementing a plan, check Ready.gov.