SOC4: Crisis Communications on the Web

Chris Latham 
Web Designer, The University of Texas at Austin

Nyleva Corley 
Web and Social Media Manager, The University of Texas at Austin

The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at

Announcer: This is one in a series of podcasts from the HighEdWeb Conference in Austin 2011.

Moderator: OK, everybody, we're going to get started. This is SOC4, "Crisis Communications on the Web", which I'm very interested in since we never have any crisis in higher education. So, looking forward to this talk from Nyleva and Chris. It's all yours.

Nyleva Corley: Thank you very much, Mark. Can everybody hear this? Does that sound good to you? All right. A little louder? OK, how about that? Is that better? Excellent. Right.

As Mark said, my name is Nyleva Corley. I am with the University of Texas at Austin, as is my colleague, Chris Latham. Chris and I work together in several capacities at UT Austin. I am Manager of Web and Social Media Communications for the Digital Content Group in University Communications. It's a very long title. My business card is very crowded.


Chris has a really lovely business card.

Chris Latham: I'm just a regular web guy that got involved in social media. I'm on another part of the org chart under University Operations, which are folks like police and health and safety, facilities and HR and such.

Nyleva Corley: Chris and I are here today to chat with you about a very sad event that took place a little more than a year ago at UT Austin. We had a campus shooting September 28th, and we are going to share our experiences communicating that crisis to both our campus and external communities. It's something that we hope we never have to experience again at UT Austin, but the sad reality is that we need to have plans in action for it.

Chris Latham: We do have a URL set up if you want to get more detailed information. We documented a timeline of the messaging that went out, some server statistics, and a summary of our slides on here at Our hashtag for you Twitter folks is #webcrisis and that's our Twitter handles there.


Nyleva Corley: We'd love to hear about your experiences with crisis communications, so feel free to tweet at us during and after the conversation.

So what was the crisis on September 28th?

Shortly after 8am, we had reports come to 911 of an armed subject on campus. It was a very frightening thing to happen on a very unassuming Tuesday morning, just a regular old workday for all of us just headed to campus. Most of us still hadn't made it to campus that morning.


Later, as more information came through, we had more reports that there was an active shooter on campus, and the campus shortly thereafter went into lockdown mode.

Later that day, much later, about 3pm, we learned who the campus shooter was. Colton Tooley, sadly, a 19-year-old math sophomore, brought an AK-47 to campus.

He took the shuttle bus in, one of our Forty Acres buses, and when he hopped off the bus, he fired some random shots from his gun into the ground, not aiming at any students but just randomly firing, ran down campus a little ways and into our largest library on campus, Perry-Castañeda Library, and that's where he turned his gun on himself.

Sadly, Colton died, and fortunately no one else on campus was injured that day.


Chris Latham: So here, everyone's campus is so unique and ours is tightly compact and condense, but this is where we physically were during the events: Nyleva in the upper left, she's in University Communications; I was down 24th Street, the other little blue dot in the center.

As soon as events started taking place down in the bottom left, you see the pink, that's the route that Colton took. So he didn't travel very far. He traveled down 21st and over to the library, with just a weird angle shape there.

The Emergency Command Center, the Stark Library, that's in The Tower on campus, the big building. Unified Command, that's where a lot of police agencies came together. And on-site communicators, that's where our communicating counterparts were there on-site dealing with the media and getting on the phone and answering questions.


And then over to the east half there, the EOC, Emergency Operations Command, that's housed in our police department and that's where everyone gathers when there is something going on, or even during a football game, have a command center set up there.

Nyleva Corley: One thing that this map shows you, and something that was revealed to us after the event, is that the colleagues you'll be working with to communicate crises on campus are likely going to be spread about on campus, so you're probably going to be communicating remotely with your colleagues.

You're not all going to be housed in the same place, and that can be a challenge. So if you can plan for that in advance, then you'll be able to get over that hurdle.


We put together, this is all post-event, but we put together a timeline documenting all of the things that happened, all of the communications that took place that morning. From all of our 911 calls to all of the text messaging that went out, to all of the social media work and web work that Chris and I did during the day, a lot of the campus siren announcements and emails from university administration, we documented all of that.

It's a long list of information, but I think it's worth a look, and you can find that extended timeline on our micro-sites.

Chris Latham: I think, real quick to note is, the time from when there is a first call to 911 at 8:12, you see that at 8:22 to 8:25, that was pretty much the end of the actual incident. So it was really a 10-minute span that there was true danger.


But we had a lot of confusion on campus because there were conflicting reports of what the shooter looked like. One was found, and police said no if there was a second shooter or not, so that's why this entire event lasted for several hours and caused a lot of confusion. So having confirmation of, 'What did the suspect look like?' gave us lots of chaos.

Nyleva Corley: Knowing right at about 8am that we needed to communicate to a community of about 80,000 people, so that includes faculty, staff, students physically on campus that day, but as well, the world beyond the Forty Acres, we knew immediately that parents were going to want to know whether or not their students were safe. Our university alumni wanted to know what was going on at their university. So we had to act, and we had to act fast.


The great thing about the university environment is that we already had a lot of plans in place, and that saved us a lot of frustration when we figured out what was going on that Tuesday.

University Operations is our administrative office, to which Chris reports. They already have an emergency management plan in place, so we were already working under a very strict protocol of how to deal with this level of crisis communications.

Chris Latham: For our area, to give you an idea of our org chart, some of you all may have like a risk management office, for us, we have an Associate VP for Campus Safety and Security. So here I'm in the little green area in the middle.

You have the AVP for Campus Safety and Security, and under him there's Police, and there's a separate department for Emergency Preparedness, and it's only like two guys. But they're really good, so they came up for all the emergency plans for campus for disasters and threatening situations.


And then under Operations we have a separate Communications Officer or Public Information Officer who access the PIO for our Police Department, so really, if anything dangerous goes down, she's usually the main communicator.

On Nyleva's side, she has a separate AVP for Public Affairs, so she maybe handles more of the academic side and we handle more of the administrative side for communications with the media.

Nyleva Corley: Another silver lining for us is that as a team, Chris and I had worked together before to communicate previous crises. So together we already had experience working with one another.

Those two things affected an emergency management plan was already in place and that we had worked as a team together helped things go a lot more smoothly in such a challenging, frustrating environment.


Another thing that really did help us that day is that we had already been, as a part of that emergency management protocol, trying to envision what all the scenarios could be of really awful, terrible things happening on campus. This is a little depressing to think about in advance, planning out all of those terrible scenarios, but it's helpful.

We had already developed messaging templates for many possible scenarios and 'active shooter on campus' was definitely one of those, but we had also planned for bad weather from hurricane to tornado to flooding to the occasional snowfall that we do, yes, occasionally get here in Texas. Also, from Chris' area, they had already been planning and creating and producing and disseminating education materials for the campus community.


So those were several things that we had going in our favor already before the crisis happened on Tuesday.

Chris Latham: Some of the channels we had in place the day of the emergency, probably maybe a year before then.

Emergency Preparedness had installed sirens across campus and loudspeakers and they do a monthly test of them. They do text alerts also the first Wednesday of each month, make sure the systems are operating as they expect. Of course there's email alerts.

For the old-school folks, we have our homepage to post information. We have a separate Emergency Information page that's .edu/emergency, and that's what my team has worked on specifically, and what it is, it just displays whatever the main alert is going on, so maybe it's a campus closure or an emergency.


But it has a back end, too, where it's restricted down to maybe a dozen folks on campus who are authorized. They can log in, post and update from wherever they are in the world as long as they have Web access, and that emergency message gets broadcast on the Emergency page. That was a huge bonus for us that way, Nyleva isn't on-call trying to update the homepage or something when something is going on and we're out in Oregon or doing a triathlon or something.

Social media. Nyleva can talk about the official UT social media for us in Operations. UT Police had just created a Facebook page maybe three months before we had this incident. We had another social media channel called 'Be Safe, Texas' which had a Facebook and a Twitter presence.

And then the campus also has cable TVs, flat screens around campus for posting an alert. They can do that from a central place.


And then emergency responders and administrators have pagers, and the awfully simple media called AtHoc which, if you're on your computer and there's an emergency, bam, there's this little pop-up that says, 'Hey, there's an emergency.'

Nyleva Corley: That's in beta testing on campus right now. I don't think that we've implemented that campus-wide.

Chris Latham: Thank you for that beautiful asterisk of information. In case something goes down.

And then the Police Department, they can do announcements over their PA system on their cars.

Nyleva Corley: Chris mentioned a little bit about social media channels. We do from my office manage the university central Twitter and Facebook page. And we did have those in place and had been using them for prior crises emergency communications, but on a more minor scale, so for campus closures due to weather, that sort of thing. So this was the very first time that we had put into place the use of social media channels on such a large scale.


Some of the things that we'd love to hear from you after the conversation is some questions just to get you thinking.

What does an emergency plan look like for your organization? Does it exist? Do you have access to it? Are you working off of that as a piece of protocol? Something that Chris and I are very familiar with: What's the communications command chain? Do you have a PIO available 24/7? These are some of the things that we were fortunate enough to have in place.

Also, has your university conducted active shooter training? And that's something that Chris is familiar with by working with the Police Department.

Chris Latham: Not that I'm ever on patrol or anything, I'm just the Web guy, but the Police Department has commented they've got about 40 full-time officers on campus, so it's a decent-sized Police Department.


But we have Department of Public Safety, our DPS, there's the City of Austin Police, and there's the County Sheriff's Office. Having all these agencies working together on something they have trained before, and that was absolutely fundamental and critical for making that day go as smoothly as it did, there's still some confusion. But if you work with your police department or risk management, make sure that, if they aren't already, that was a huge benefit.

Nyleva Corley: Chris has talked a little bit about the roles of the folks that we had in place. One of the points that I'd like to emphasize, and Chris can also weigh in on this, is that our supervisors empowered us to act.

We already talked a little bit about what our command chain looked like that day. My two immediate bosses were out in the field on campus working with news media and I was there at my desk, at my desktop computer, trying to listen in for information from a lot of different avenues.


And before she left, my supervisor said, "Just do it." She put a lot of faith in me to put together messaging for both the university's homepage, for all of our central social media channels, that she did not feel like we needed to review because we had already put all of these action plans in place and we just felt like the more efficient and quick that we can get that information out, the better. Don't think about typos, don't think about that sort of thing. Just get the information out.

Chris Latham: I think what happened, if we look at the timeline, the very first message that I think most anyone on campus received was the text alert.

I was lucky to happen to be on campus at a decent time that morning rather than my usual 8:30, nine o'clock, so I was in place and I got that text alert, and then my first response was to check the Emergency Information page. That's where administrators can go in and post an alert. But nothing had been posted there yet, so I'm like, 'What do we do? Do I post it? Do I not post it? Is someone going to post it in just a second? I don't know what's going on.'


But my PIO and her information officer, they were on the scene there in traffic. They were totally out of position to be updating the Web.

So I treated the Emergency Information page as a 'first come, first served' thing for folks who are authorized to use it. I got the message, so I went ahead and posted exactly what it was verbatim on the text message, and then, over time, just seeing that someone else had started posting to it. But it took a while before someone did. But I was in a position where I could, so I felt comfortable doing that.

Nyleva Corley: What were some of the lessons learned about roles and people for this process?


One of the biggest things that we learned was to share credentials among our Web and social media channels so that you're not put in a position where you're the only person who has access to updating your university's homepage or updating your central social channels.

That's something that Chris and I learned and that we put into place immediately after the September 28 event is that we now can access each other's Web and social channels.

Chris Latham: At work and at home. I think that was a huge deal is having whatever tools you're using, TweetDeck or HootSuite, whatever, but having those accounts available wherever you're at, maybe if it's even on your mobile device, if it supports it, working at home or even on the go in case something does happen, you can access whatever channel you need to and when you need to.

Nyleva Corley: Related to that is to have redundancies in your office. Have backups for your backups for your backups. That's something that we can't emphasize enough is that you may be at the office that day but your supervisor may be stuck in traffic on the day that this all happens and there is just immense meltdown.


That was something that actually happened to us. One of our supervisors was stuck in traffic on the way to campus that morning. She has now put into place having redundancies. We have now a secondary person who can act as PIO. So I think that that's something that has to trickle down.

Divide and conquer. If you can establish very specific tasks for all of your team members that day, you don't have to be responsible for every single thing. One of the challenges that I realized that day is that I was both trying to respond to updating the university's homepage in addition to managing our social channels.

Well, that may not necessarily be a lot of work on a normal day, but on a day just filled with tons of other challenges, it's going to be hard to manage. So if you can identify someone on your team who can be dedicated to one or the other, I think that that would be the way to handle it.


And then finally, practice, practice, practice. We did have the experience of working with one another in prior emergency communications, but there is nothing like a day when someone tells you that an armed suspect is on campus and is firing an AK-47 on campus, and suddenly, can you work off of muscle memory to get all of these things done?

I mean, that was incredibly scary. Your hands are shaking at the keyboard your. As Chris said, you may be questioning whether or not you have permission to just go with this communication. So we think that, if you can, practice as much as possible all of these potential emergency scenarios where you're going to have to be communicating out on all your Web and social channels.

And then also, for all possible times. I mean, we were fortunate enough, and as sad as this tragedy was, it happened while we were on campus that day or heading into campus. But something this tragic could also happen at 3am on a Saturday morning or during a football game. You have to be prepared during commencement. You have to be prepared for all those possible days and times and event scenarios.


Questions for you. Do your teams know one another? And that's from your Communications team to your IT team to your Operations team.

Chris Latham: That server's going to get hit really hard once this gets out into the media across the country, so your IT people really need to be involved in that to adjust the servers or throttle something or cache something in it. Makes a huge difference.

Nyleva Corley: And then, do you have backup services for Web and social? Another big question, an important question.

One of the things that really hit us hard Tuesday, September 28th, is we didn't have a 'lite mode' or a minimal version of our university's homepage in place to handle this crisis and we were very much in a manual process for updating our homepage.


This is something that we've been talking about doing for a long time, but everybody here is familiar with the university environment and sometimes how slowly it takes for all of our teams to get together and move big projects forward. So that was a critical realization for us on Tuesday, September 28th, that that one big thing that we had all been planning on doing wasn't accomplished on the day that we needed it. So that's something that we push forward on.

We wanted to align our Emergency Information website that Chris and his team had done so well and created so well, that gave us all remote access to updating emergency information on the Emergency page, align that with the university's homepage so that we eliminate all of these layers of getting this very important and critical information to the front door, to our university's homepage, one of our biggest and most visible channels for communicating about crises.


Chris Latham: I think one of the biggest outcomes on our end after this situation is meeting with our IT Department and saying, 'OK, we've got to get this information over to the homepage. How can we do that?' So effective last week, we pushed to production a system that will read an XML file and put it on the homepage if it sees an alert. So we have that in place now and it just takes you to the Emergency page if something's going on.

Nyleva Corley: That does not mean that you still cannot publish crafted official messages to your university's homepage, but we feel like it's important to separate that kind of messaging from your emergency messaging. Because we still wanted to post messages from our president discussing the gravity of the situation and taking an effort to comfort and support parents, faculty, students, alumni, but we really had to think about how we needed to separate those emergency updates from our more crafted official messages.


Chris Latham: What's the 'lite mode'? Does your homepage already have a lite mode? If not, you should totally encourage that.

We had a situation where it used to be updated manually, but we had a back end system where that was a little more challenging. Figuring out a solution for that was a huge pause for us.

And then figuring out who actually pushes the button. If something happens, that's when, 'Who is it that actually makes this happen?' Having all your departments come together and figure that out is huge. Again, practice, practice, practice.

The channels we used that day. Lots of Twitter, lots of Facebook. And we talked about having versions at work and at home.


Also for Facebook folks, we have so many Facebook accounts on the UT campus. We try to 'like' each other's Facebook pages so we all can communicate in sync.

Nyleva Corley: Using Facebook presented a unique challenge that day.

We have a central Facebook page that has more than 300,000 followers. That morning, when I went to Facebook sort of automatically to update that page, I had a moment of pause. And upon retrospect, I definitely learned a lesson.

I opted not to post to Facebook that morning because it was just me at that point, and I was worried, do I have the human power here in the office to respond to the volume of messages that I was anticipating that we were then going to get once I started communicating about this emergency?


I can't say today that that was the best choice, but at that moment, that split decision was made that I just decided, I opted not to post, just because I felt like I couldn't manage the volume of information, and what if someone had posted an emergency request on that page, a student who may have been in a basement somewhere on campus, in a part of campus that had been locked down, did I have the bandwidth to respond to that, and my immediate answer was no.

Looking back on that moment, I feel like I still could have used Facebook, but I could've communicated a very specific message to our Facebook community and said, 'Look, for now this is just a one-way channel. I'm not going to be able to respond to messages,' or just disable wall posts altogether, just because we wanted people to funnel all of their emergency requests to 911.

So you have to be prepared both on Facebook and Twitter for people in a different kind of scenario, for them to be putting out 911 requests or similar requests of an emergency nature to your social channels.


Chris Latham: For any of you who are pushing for social media on your campus, one thing that we did see it benefit us is when the campus on a lockdown, students were maybe in basement areas of their buildings. We have wireless across campus, but maybe their cellphone wasn't getting a signal, but if they had wireless inside their academic building, they could still get maybe social media. So if you will dig in information from that whereas they maybe didn't get the text alert.

And the text alert was a huge ordeal because we're sending out 30,000 text messages at once, it takes about 10, maybe 15 minutes for that to hit everyone, so there's a time delay even with the text message. So keep that in mind.

Nyleva Corley: And the questions that we wanted you to consider. Are you using your social channels for emergency communications? And if you're doing that, what are the procedures and policies around that? Are they considered official communications channels for your university?

And then also, who do you have designated to manage those social channels during a crisis? Our feeling is that you need to find someone and that's all that they pay attention to for that crisis during that day or week or however long your crisis happens.


Chris Latham: I think we're getting close on time, so let's breeze through.

Lots of things that happen.

Our police department, it is a 911 call center, so if you dial 911 from a campus phone it's going to go right to dispatch. They got overwhelmed with phone calls, so the actual officers had to resort to using their own mobile phones to communicate centrally. That's a huge burden.

And gosh darn, these things will die right when you need it. Your battery is going to drain while you're talking to the local or national media, and then getting information from the President's Office or what have you. So have backups, or maybe it's a radio pager system, what have you. Keep that in mind.


Server load will go up.

Get a terrible hashtag on Twitter. I think ours was #utshooting. Nice and positive. So keep that in mind.

And of course, absolute confusion. At one point, Nyleva called me up while I was posting messages on the Police Facebook, 'Where are you getting this information?' I'm like, 'I'm getting it from the media, sort of, and from text messages.' I was trying to execute best judgment on was this a confirmed source of information that I felt comfortable posting.

But I think the biggest lesson was, post with some frequency, at least every 15 minutes, to reassure. Even if you're still in lockdown, let students know, let everyone know you're still in lockdown, it's not safe to go out yet. Keep communicating so people understand. Otherwise, if 30 minutes pass and they haven't received another message, they might think it's safe and start going out, and you don't really want that.

Nyleva Corley: One other quick note. There was some language that we used that we felt didn't resonate as well as it could have during the event, and that's something to think about and to go back to your communications templates.


Are you using words that make sense to people during a crisis? For example, 'lockdown.' That wasn't resonating well with people. They were wondering what the hay that meant. 'Shelter in place.' That was another thing that was ultimately confusing to people.

So Chris' area did a revision on some of the vocabulary that we've been using and rethought how we're pitching that to our internal and external community. So be thinking about that as communicators on the Web and in social. Are you using words that make sense to someone in a crisis?

Chris Latham: After the event, they made some posters to help educate our audience on what these terms mean.

Nyleva Corley: One of the things that Chris just mentioned about the feeling that we had that we weren't updating frequently enough, we were just sitting in our desks trying to absorb as much information as possible, at some times during the crisis we felt like there was black hole. We just weren't getting enough information we felt to satisfy our Web and social communities.


Even though we knew that our supervisors were doing the best that they could to collect as much information as possible, at some point, Chris was even going out and listening to our loudspeaker system to try to collect information from what was being posted there.

One thing to keep in mind is that there were some sound vacuums on campus where you could not hear what those loudspeaker siren messages were.

Chris Latham: On one side of the building, it's clear; other side, just like from Charlie Brown. So, yeah, very confusing.

Again, update regularly.

And of course, it's the parents that really want to know this information. If you don't lock down your comments and stuff, your responses to a post are going to explode. And that's fine; you do want to reassure them, let them know everything's fine.


What was cool to see is you send out a tweet or a post and then, like I saw an agency from Dallas re-post that, retweet that, say, 'Hey, if you have kids at UT Austin, there is a shooter on campus, but everything's fine. They're in lockdown.' So the message just spread even to other agencies and such.

Nyleva Corley: One more quick thing to keep in mind about lessons that we learned. You won't be able to control everything that's out there on social. I think at this point we're all very well-aware of that. But especially during crises, people are going to be posting their own interpretations of the situation. So you have to be prepared to either just let that go, or if in some cases it's providing very critical misinformation to your community to respond to that quickly from an official channel.

Oh, and just quickly. You will get Freedom of Information requests about the event, so just be prepared as best you can and start documenting all of your feeds and all of your Web and social posts as early as possible. It's something that I think benefited us. Chris was quite aware of that and took action early on.


Chris Latham: We were lucky that our event was only a few hours. What if it had been an extended event? Those are questions that when we debriefed we asked. What happens when we're exhausted? Again, those backups. How do you keep this going? How do you keep the messaging going in a long-term situation?

Luckily I haven't encountered that yet, but as you're thinking about an emergency communications plan, think about very long-term and how do you stay fresh and keep communicating.

Nyleva Corley: The other thing to consider, and this is a sad thought, but plan ahead if you need to for vigil and memorial communications. Those are things that your campus and external communities are going to want to know about.


Also, ongoing communications such as grief and mental health counseling. That was something that we needed to communicate to our campus community in a serious tragic event you will also.

Also, for your staff and faculty, they're going to want to know daily things like, 'How do I log leave time?' or 'What do I do about missed classes?' These are things that our campus community members are going to want to know about, and you're going to be responsible for helping to communicate that.

Chris Latham: Debrief, and debrief often, mostly even for your own mental health. And it's just good to figure out, 'Oh, this went really terrible. What can we do next time to not have that happen again? Do we need to get radios? Do we need to start meeting more often about how to update the homepage?' So please debrief when you get back to campus and talk about, 'How can we improve?'

And then of course keep a log of the events as they happen, because that's going to get asked of you.


And we were just...

Nyleva Corley: Exhausted.

Chris Latham: They let us home early, and I just went home and just, boom, crashed. I didn't feel tired during the day, but after you just settle down and the adrenaline goes away, you just fall down. I just took a nap for a few hours. It's physically and emotionally and mentally just exhausting.

Nyleva Corley: Even though you might not necessarily be on the ground interacting with news media, you're on for as long as your PIO is on and as long as it takes to communicate the crisis. So, yeah, just understand that that feeling is natural and have, as we've said, plenty of backups for your responsibilities.

Chris Latham: And real quick, we're almost done. Here's some quick stats.

The UT Police Facebook, which started just a few months before, only had less than 500 folks, and it shot up over 10,000 two days later. All that was parents and students.


A lot of it was them just saying thank you to the police department. I get a little choked up about it, but overwhelming positive response was just amazing. And there was a student group created just to say thank you to the Police Department. It was really amazing, all the comments.

And on the micro-site we have, we have some of these responses from people on web pages or Facebook, if you want to take a look.

Nyleva Corley: That concludes our presentation for "Crisis Communications on the Web and Social Media", and we're happy to take any questions that you have.

Moderator: One second. I'm going to ask, because we're recording this, that you ask your question into the mike so we can grab that for posterity.


Nyleva Corley: Thank you, Mark.

Audience 1: I know you can't control what students and others do on their Facebook pages in doing their own interpretive versions of the crisis, but with so many people empowered on your own team and with so many different channels to manage, how do you as a group avoid duplication of effort and the lag time with certain media where you might be posting misinformation yourself? How would you handle that?

Nyleva Corley: That's a really great question.

So how do we avoid duplication of effort? I think as far as the social channels that Chris and I manage, we weren't necessarily afraid of duplicating one another. Because we were operating from the same source of official content, official communication, our feeling was if we can push out this official message to as many channels as possible, that's great. As long as we weren't presenting conflicting information.

So I think that that's a good reason for your teams to know each other and know what one another is doing and know what their roles are on campus that day so you're not operating at, butting heads on that.


That's a really great question, though, about the campus channels, because at the university we don't have any governance over what our department level, college level, school level, social level...

Chris Latham: Total anarchy.

Nyleva Corley: Total anarchy, right. It's the 'Wild, Wild West' at the University of Texas at Austin as, I'm guessing, it is at a lot of your universities, so our hope is that they're seeing us as the official channels and then they're just propagating that message out to their constituents.

Audience 2: Hi. John Mills from Emory University.

Nyleva Corley: Hi, John.

Audience 2: Hey. I'm involved in some of the crisis communications planning at my university. We've run some drills, and one of the lessons learned from that was that there's a time warp effect. It takes three minutes for your vice-president to call you and then three minutes for you to craft a message and three more minutes to post it on the Web, and then it's been 15 minutes, whatever. Stuff really slows down.


We were struggling to balance that with a real concern for accuracy in a crisis, in a mass casualty situation, how many people have been affected, where are they, what kind of injuries are they, where have they been taken, which hospital, are they students, are they public, you know, and there was a lot of concern about the accuracy of information so they had a protocol for who could talk to who all the way up and down the chain.

So all communication only went, we were only allowed to talk to certain people and get official information from certain people. They had feelers out, but they were vetting all that information, and we found that that really slowed down the process greatly.

And it's interesting to hear that you talked about the concern for speed and just ignore the typos and get the information out, and I'm curious why there was less maybe concern for you guys about that protocol for speaking up and down the chain, and did you have something in place.

Chris Latham: I think it just felt, 'We've got to get this out. This is very dangerous. They've got to get the message as quickly as possible.' I think we felt comfortable doing it, knowing with our relationship with our supervisor. So the immediacy, I think, overruled any other protocol or whatever.


Nyleva Corley: And we were still waiting for official word from our supervisors on any major updates or next-step actions. But I guess our feeling is, if we can continue to reassure the community by updating even, 'We don't have any updates,' just to let them know that we're still on top of communicating that, I think that that's our feeling that those kinds of messages don't have to be approved by your supervisors to follow the command chain.

The other thing is, my comment about the typos, that's really hard for me to let go. I'm a grammar nerd, I'm an English nerd, and that kind of control is something that's very hard for me to let go. But our feeling is, as long as it's not an official crafted message, we're really thinking about those emergency updates as something separate from that official crafted message. If you've got to tell someone that there's a shooter in the building, then you get that message out there as quickly as possible.


We still very much believe in the command chain and the protocol, but there are some things that our supervisors just gave us room to get out quickly.


Audience 3: Hi. I'm Ken Zirkel from Brown University. When you build something for the emergency systems like a website or whatever, who pays for that? Is there a special emergency fund?

Chris Latham: There's people who would pay? What?

Nyleva Corley: [Laughter] Right. Budget? What? That's a great question.

We see this as a common good service for the community, so it's something that there is no budget for. We just do it. We work in concert, both the University Operations and University Communications, work in concert with our Information Technology Services folks, and we don't talk about budget. We just talk about how many human resources is it going to take to get this done and how quickly can we do it.


I know that that's like one of the strangest things that you've probably ever heard anyone utter, but we feel like as far as emergency communications go, it had to be something that we did collaboratively and...

Audience 3: But even in terms of beforehand, when you're setting up the services? Even those, you don't...?

Nyleva Corley: Oh, I'm sorry, you're talking more broadly, sort of about the siren system and the text messaging services?

Audience 3: Right, right.

Nyleva Corley: Chris, can you speak to him?

Chris Latham: I think there was a lot of budget from AVP for Campus Safety and Security and for Emergency Preparedness and Police, like their budget is, the Emergency Preparedness Director, he'd say, 'Well, we need this, we need this, we need this,' and who's going to not say, 'Oh, we don't need safety on campus?' Safety has a little more oomph than some of our other departments. It's something they plan for but can't really go, I don't know much more detail other than that.

Nyleva Corley: So, yeah, those services are coming out of our University Operations portfolio.


Audience 3: I have another question. Maybe you answered and I missed it, but do you have a backup system for like if the server gets destroyed? And what is it?

Nyleva Corley: That's a great question. We do have at least one redundancy for our web server, and it's an offsite server. Chris, can you share...

Chris Latham: That's still one of those things, we're waiting on the official offsite server. It's something we have in place now, but we're trying to get even something better that's housed in California or maybe in another city or state, in case Texas gets hit by Hurricane who-knows-what.

So that's another thing. If you don't already have an emergency server in another state or another location, that's something we would strongly recommend.

Nyleva Corley: Thank you. Any other questions? Excellent. Thank you very much for this afternoon.