Emergency info… Where do you turn?

1 Jul
Current weather radar from WBIR. Source: WBIR.com.

Current weather radar from WBIR. Source: WBIR.com.

With thunder booming in the distance and my mobile device blowing up with emergency alerts, it’s fitting that today’s blog topic is access to emergency information at LMU. (Oops, and now the power if flickering here at Kresge. ) Severe weather, especially on the LMU Main Campus, can impact service to our students as well as daily operations on campus, so it is very important for everyone to know where to turn for accurate and up-to-date information.

I recently attended the College Media Conference 2013, where the preconference workshop was dedicated to Crisis Communication in a Digital Age. With session titles like “Navigating the Web of Tweets, Texts, IMs, Alerts, Posts, and More in a Campus Crisis,” “Designing and Implementing Effective Crisis Communications” and “Managing a Campus Event Inflamed by Social Media” social media took center stage and the case studies included schools impacted by Superstorm Sandy and even Penn State. The biggest takeaway for me was that staying silent no matter the crisis should not be an option. The new digital age means that you can easily push your message out through multiple channels and update it regularly.

And beyond updating often, it is imperative that we as communicators make sure our constituents know where to go for information. Regimented plans are important, but it is equally important to know where the plan could fall apart and how to move forward if that should happen. Public relations practitioners know that conversations and critiques will take place in the digital realm where everyone with a twitter account becomes their own news source. A reporter from USA Today even commented that reporters use twitter as a tip line.

So what is the LMU plan? And where will our emergency info be posted? Without going into specifics on the plan, weather-based decisions, such as delays and closures, will be posted to LMU’s internal Pathway site as well as the LMU website and Facebook page. The University’s main switchboard will also carry a recorded message with updates. You can also get updates from LMU’s official tweeters including LMU_Sam, LMUKate and LMUAmy. Additionally, I attempt to keep the Knoxville media updated on the LMU status but that can be complicated due to our 11 Extended Learning Sites which often run on a different schedule.

It’s important to remember that weather in East Tennessee changes quickly and varies greatly from one area to another. Many of our students, faculty and staff commute great distances and conditions at your home may be very different than those on campus. Personal safety should always be the determining factor in your decision to travel in adverse conditions. This winter I saw a lot of angry tweets about LMU operating when roads were icy or conversely why LMU was closed or delayed when roads were pretty clear. As someone who has been a target of some of the tweets, I ask that you keep in mind that in most cases I’m simply communicating a decision that has been made by someone else.

In most snow/ice events, the LMU message will be delivered through the channels discussed above. The main exception to this is when safety and security of the campus is jeopardized due to severe weather such as tornados, etc. In that case an alert will be broadcast through the University system. This is also the system that would send notification if there was a safety concern such as an active shooter or bomb threat on campus. This is a subscription-based system, so be sure you sign up to receive alerts by clicking here (http://www.lmunet.edu/curstudents/emergency/index.shtml).

Every crisis is different and they all offer different challenges. As one of the presenters shared at the College Media Conference, “We told everyone to check our website for the updates during Superstorm Sandy. But when we lost power, some of our hosting and updating abilities were taken away. The power outages were so wide spread that many of our constituents couldn’t access the web anyway. That is when Twitter became our biggest ally. As long as their charges kept, they could check Twitter on their mobile devices.”

So where do you go for LMU crisis updates? The answer is everywhere. Follow us on Twitter, check the website, call the main number, tune into the media and check your phones.

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