Crisis Communications Plan

Crisis Communications
Central Oregon Community College

A crisis communications plan is established to assist an organization or institution during those first critical hours of a crisis - from the time the crisis is first discovered through the time when the management team is able to organize and plan its next move - and to outline strategies for communication throughout the duration of a crisis. This plan assists with both situations and puts into place communication lines for the administration on less dramatic instances as well.

First and foremost for all staff: During an emergency or potential crisis situation, persons directly involved in the incident should first cooperate fully with public safety agencies (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) and then make contact to implement the College's Crisis Communications and Institutional Continuity Plans. Cooperation with these local agencies is the first priority in order to help minimize damages and potential danger to human life. As soon as time allows, those involved with the incident should notify one or more of the following (see phone list for appropriate phone numbers):

  • their dean or director
  • Safety and Security
  • Director of College Relations.

A. Definition

A crisis is not limited to major catastrophes such as the death of a student, financial improprieties and unexpected presidential resignations. It also takes the form of sudden action by the legislature, hints of ecological mismanagement, student conduct infringing on the neighborhood or community, unexpected resignations of mid-management personnel, public attacks on the College or its administration, student or faculty protests, etc. Even an event that, on the surface, seems somewhat calm can turn into a crisis without proper communication to appropriate audiences. That is why communication on issues that seem minor at the time is critical.

For this plan we will use the following definition:

A crisis is a situation that requires immediate and coordinated action from the College and one that could have significant impact on the operation of the College or its standing in the public eye.

Correct, accurate and timely release of public information in a crisis can help reduce confusion, alleviate public concern, maintain consistent and professional community relations and provide both emergency service agencies and the media with appropriate information to assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities.

This plan is intended to help ensure efficient and appropriate response to unusual and unanticipated situations. By marshalling forces, an immediate response can best serve the College and its constituents.

B. Initial Notification

Asking a series of simple questions can help determine if this Crisis Communications Plan should be implemented immediately, or if the communications can wait until the next working day before implementation:

  • Will the situation become a page 1 story in "The Bulletin" or be on the 6 a.m. radio news? 
  • Might one or more important audience groups be concerned or upset when hearing this news? 
  • Should the president be awakened at 3 a.m. with the information?

If the answers to any of these questions are "yes," the phone contact list should be utilized immediately to alert the appropriate administrators. If the situation is less drastic, the communications can take place the next day.

The phone contact list (see last page) is set up to ensure that all appropriate College officials are aware of, and - when appropriate - involved in, the crisis communications. Calls should be made immediately at the onset of a crisis - with each person determining other calls needed at that time. This list should be kept at home and at the office (and nearby, whenever traveling). Also, anyone on the list should either be near their home phone or work phone, or have their cell phone turned on.

Anyone at the College who becomes aware of, or involved in, an emergency/crisis situation should notify someone on the list and that person should then determine if other calls are needed.

C. Communications "Team"

For any situation that has been deemed a crisis (or may turn into one), a communications team should be established to monitor the situation, provide guidance to the President and authorize communications. Initially, the Communications Team will consist of the:

  • President 
  • Director of College Relations 
  • Director of Human Resources

The team will likely expand to also include the following, or their designee:

  • Appropriate Vice President(s) 
  • Appropriate Dean(s) or Directors(s) 
  • Supervisor of Safety and Security

The group should be convened immediately, and the President will appoint a Communications Manager. For the duration of the crisis, the communications team members must be in close contact with the Institutional Continuity team and make regular determinations on what and when information should be communicated to the various audience groups.

D. Spokesperson / Communications / Audiences

The Communications Manager (normally the Director of College Relations) will direct all communications. Audiences will vary from one situation to the next, but key groups to keep in mind are listed below. With each group is a suggestion for who should coordinate communication during the early stages or a situation:

Group    Primary  Back-up
Board Members President

VP-A *    

Community Leaders/Legislators, etc. President VP-A *
Faculty VP-Inst Instructional Deans
Foundation Board Members VP-A * ED-F *
Media D-CR * VP-A *
Staff D-CR * D-HR *
Students/Student Leaders D-SES * D-SL *

 

Each person on the above list should be prepared at all times to communicate to the appropriate people in their designated groups. At the onset of a crisis, the person listed above should make decisions as to what communication is appropriate.

During the crisis, a strategy should be put into place for each audience, with that strategy designed by the person listed on the above list, and directed by the Communications Manager.

Communication is especially critical in dealing with the media. Only the designated person would be authorized to release information or answer media inquiries, at least until the Institutional Continuity Team has been able to set up additional procedures.

E. Fact Sheet

An updated "Fact Sheet" should be given to appropriate people. The Director of College Relations will prepare that sheet. It should be updated whenever key facts change, or when additional relevant information becomes available. All members of the Communication Team should be given the information for review, and the Fact Sheet should be widely distributed. For some situations, a copy of the most recent e-mail, press release or press statement will serve as the Fact Sheet.

F. Internal Communications

The Communications Team - in particular the Director of College Relations and Director of Human Resources - will assure that internal audiences are kept as informed as possible about developments. The Emergency Notification System (which includes voice messages, text messages and e-mails) will be used, when possible. Additionally, especially if phone and electronic systems are not useable, each Vice President and Dean should keep all groups under his/her administrative directive informed. It is important, too, for the administration to continue to have a presence on campus so that our internal audience is informed and feels that the administration is in "control" of the situation. The College Relations Office will attempt to provide the formal internal communications, but will rely on the administrators to assist in providing accurate, updated information to the internal constituents.

G. Postmortem

When a crisis passes, it should not be forgotten. It is important for the Institutional Continuity Team and the Communications Team to reconvene and summarize how the situation was handled, what worked and what did not work. Also, a written summary of the situation should be finalized, filed in all appropriate offices and, if called for, mailed to various audiences.

 

Full titles of administrators listed under spokesperson:

 * VP-Inst: Vice President for Instruction
  VP-A: Vice President for Administration
  D-CR: Director of College Relations
  D-SES: Dean of Student and Enrollment Services 
  ED-F: Executive Director of Foundation
  D-HR: Director of Human Resources
  D-SL: Director of Student Life

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