Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crisis communication and the saving speed of info

It has been a week since a gunman took his own life at the University of Texas and vaulted the campus community into a panic albeit relatively briefly all things considered. I watched, as did many, as an outside observer hoping this was in a fact isolated to a single random actor who for whatever reason made some tragic choices that day.

As with anything that happens in today's hyper-connected world, we watched as the events (campus evacuation, lockdown, search and press conferences) unfolded in the media as well as through individuals using social media channels.
Photo: APD evacuating students from UT-Austin campus building.  on Twitpic

Communicators should stop being surprised at seeing as-it-happens information or images being shared from the scene like the one shared at right from KUT Radio or the photo gallery that the Austin-American Statesman was updating as the day progressed. It wasn't even surprising to listen to live call-in interviews with students being held inside a locked-down building. These are all part of the new reality for crisis response and communication. 

All of those things are secondary to a well-trained crisis response team.

What was gratifying was hearing students mention receiving text messages from UT on the situation. Also the fact that emergency e-mails and voice mails were distributed from UT made its way to the media outlets almost as fast as the news of the type of weapon being used by the shooter.

So let's give credit where it's due: through the coordinated efforts of University of Texas and the Austin Police Department. As pointed out last week in the TSPRA blog,
"UT officials were able to activate warning sirens on-campus, send text messages to students and faculty and distribute emails instructing those on-campus to lock down and those off-campus to stay away, within roughly 15 minutes of the first calls to police. "
During his first press conference during the active investigation for additional shooters, Austin Police Chief, Art Acevedo commended the "UT campus, UT police, and communication system to get information to students, secure the campus, and mobilize quickly. Students did their part; they cleared the streets, cleared the campus...my hats’ off to them all."

Being able to share information quickly is what saved the situation at UT last week. How quickly are you prepared to share? When was the last time you dusted off that crisis communication binder? What are some lessons learned? As always, the comments are yours.
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