What is a University Crisis Communication Plan?

By definition, crisis communication talks about the circulation of information by an organization for the purpose of addressing a crisis that can have effects on the people it caters to or the reputation of the said organization. A university crisis communication plan refers to a document that manages a university’s affairs whenever certain situations occur that pose a threat to its operations, the safety of the community within (ex. the students, the faculty, and the non-teaching staff), and the reputation of the university. Moreover, a university crisis communication plan will mainly focus on the communications aspect during a crisis.

What Are The Fundamentals of a Crisis Communication Plan?

Although a crisis communication plan is composed of multiple elements, it is important that it should be written as simply as possible. This is because even during the times of a crisis, the people that are concerned will still need an easily comprehensible document. With that being said, here are some of the elements that make up a crisis communication plan:

1. A detailed plan. The crisis communication plan should properly explain and outline how an institution or an organization will communicate and handle a particular crisis. A detailed plan can be broken down into the following parts: The purpose of the plan, which explains why the plan is needed in the first place; The activation criteria, which defines who can activate the communication plan and under what circumstances should the plan be activated; And the procedures of the plan, which outlines the steps that need to be taken regarding external and internal means of communication, including the appropriate personnel and the tools that are going to be utilized in order to carry out the plan.2. A crisis communication team. They are the ones who are responsible for the collection of information, the creation of key messages, and the dissemination of the said messages to the media and the appropriate audience. They are also responsible for monitoring response to the crisis and the communication procedures. When assembling a crisis communications team, identify the members and describe each of their roles clearly.3. The key messages. In developing the key messages needed to be used in responding to a crisis, it is important to remember that all the possible situations that an institution or a company can face should be considered. It is also a plus to prepare for any possible questions that the media can ask and draft any responses to those. Key messages can serve as a starting point and can help you come up with statements should you need them. If the crisis situation involves any patients, any form of private information should not be included when disseminating the message. If it unfortunately involves death, never reveal names until the closest relative of the victim has been notified.4. Internal communication procedures. Whenever a crisis happens, it is important to determine the ways in how the staff will receive the key messages. A number of examples include communication through the use of voicemail, department meetings, etc. It is also important to have a backup form of internal communication should the main ones be compromised. The staff should also be briefed on the company’s media policy, and they should also be aware that they cannot speak to the media to their liking, as a designated person is only the one who is allowed to do so.5. A contact list. A ready-made contact list should also be prepared in the communications plan so that the employees save time in looking for contact information. The list that is in the communications plan should include contact information from the local government offices, the emergency medical services, the evacuation centers, the public health departments, the police department, as well as the fire department. Also, include in the contact list any nearby organizations or foundations that can immediately provide help in times of a crisis. Should you decide to include a media list, you can input the contact information of the local or national press.6. An appendix. Usually the last element of the crisis communications plan. The appendix contains forms, guidelines, and the necessary checklists that can support and facilitate crisis communication. Examples of these can include media policies, the first steps to do, the fact sheets, the internal and external communication checklists, and the contact information for the staff, the crisis communication team members, and the media.

What Are The Steps of Crisis Management?

When a simple incident is mishandled, it can turn into a full-blown crisis in only a matter of minutes. Crisis management should not be limited to reactionary procedures, and must also include preventive measures and anticipating measures in case it happens again. When a crisis does happen, here are the steps you can take in order to manage it:

Anticipation. This is the first step in crisis management. It is important to always be proactive and anticipate any form of a crisis situation that can occur in your company or institution so the staff can prepare accordingly should it ever happen. This assessment and anticipation process should eventually lead to the creation of a response plan.Creation of a plan. In the creation of a plan, keep in mind that it should be relevant to your organization and must include operational and communications components. Also, putting these steps to the test in real-life via drills will help all of you in executing the listed steps in the plan effectively.Identify a communications team. In a company, a small team of senior executive people should serve as the communications team in times of a crisis. They should set the entire communications process of the company. Ideally, the person with the highest position will lead the communications team, and the size of the team is determined by the needs of the company. Ensure that a clear and concise process is communicated to the entire staff. This can be done via work newsletters, handbooks, etc.Communicate. Proper communication during the early hours of a crisis is critical and can set the tone for how long the crisis can last. It is important to be as open as possible and to correct any sign of misinformation immediately as it surfaces. Relaying information that should not be released or totally remaining silent and uncooperative or being totally disconnected from the situation can badly affect how the company handles the crisis.Analysis. After the crisis happens, an analysis of the situation needs to be performed. Everyone can deliberate on what situations were handled well, what steps were taken to try and minimize the effects of the crisis, what steps can be done in order to improve some elements of the response plan, and what things have failed or have gone out of control and what are the things to be done next time in order to improve the company’s or the organization’s crisis management. The management team should also analyze the impact the crisis had on their reputation, their brand, and their employees. Appropriate measures are to be taken if any of those three have been affected by the situation.

How to Create A University Crisis Communications Plan

Whenever an emergency occurs inside a university, proper and immediate communication is key. Students, the faculty, and their respective families will want to immediately know what is happening around them. These audiences will immediately want information even before the university departments have a proper chance of communicating with them.

An important component of the crisis response of a university is creating an effective communications plan. This enables them to respond accurately and confidently in the hours that follow during a crisis. With that being said, here are the steps on how to write a proper communications plan:

1. Identify the goal of the communications plan and identify the possible crisis events.

In the first step, the crisis communications team of a university should determine the objective of the communications plan before even creating it. Having a proper goal in creating the crisis communications plan will ensure that each and every aspect of your plan has a goal to align it with.

By identifying potential crisis events that can happen in the university, you can begin to think about all the possible responses as well as any best or worst-case scenarios that can possibly happen.

2. Identify the audience.

When developing the university crisis communications plan, it is essential to keep in mind who the plan is designed for. In the case of this plan, the audience list consists of the faculty, non-teaching staff, students, any investors in the school, the emergency services, the media outlets, and the general public. All the necessary contact information of the identified audiences should also be included in the crisis communications plan.

3. Create a tiered system for information dissemination.

It does not always happen that the person who is reporting the crisis first is also the one who handles the communications process. For this reason, a tiered or hierarchy system should be created to clearly outline how the information should be shared within the university. When a tier system is created, the one who notices the crisis first will know who to report to. The plan should also consist of what information to report to the particular person according to his/her place in the hierarchy.

4. Create fact sheets.

Fact sheets refer to the lists of known facts concerning the crisis. This document helps prevent any rumors or any form of misinterpretations from reaching the media outlets. In preparing a university crisis communications plan, it is important that you assign people who will handle this kind of task. Furthermore, a deadline for creating fact sheets about the crisis should also be set, with the duration depending on the severity of the crisis that is unfolding in the university.

5. Know the risks of the plan.

Any kind of crisis communications plan will always have its pros and cons, no matter how effective and well-prepared it may be. An example of a risk to consider is the costs that come with managing the crisis in the university. Knowing and understanding the risks of the communications plan is important so that when something does go wrong or when something backfires, the possibility of getting surprised or getting caught off-guard is much less.

6. Establish ways to communicate.

There are two types of communication that are essential during any form of crisis, which are proactive and reactive communication. Proactive communication refers to the crisis management team of the university preparing various pieces of information that are to be shared with the general public. Reactive communication is when the members of the crisis management team are actively focused on social monitoring during the time of the crisis. Any form of negative mentions should be dealt with accordingly.


What is a crisis?

A crisis is defined as an event that suddenly and unexpectedly occurs in a particular environment. It demands a quick and effective response and can lead to negative repercussions against the institution or the company when handled inappropriately. Crises can be natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. They can also be external events such as medical emergencies, fires, and workplace accidents. Sometimes, they can also be a series of equipment recalls, frauds, an active shooter inside a school, gang violence, or someone taking his/her own life. In modern times, reputation management is now considered to be a part of handling a crisis.

What is the role of social media during a crisis?

With the rapid improvement of technology around us, social media has emerged to become a necessary tool when handling a crisis. Social media now serves as a critical channel to deliver news and emergency notifications in real-time. Social media now creates a change in the way that we learn about a crisis happening because it often breaks there first and is commented and engaged upon by active users which in turn expands the shares and distributes the content giving it further reach. Also nowadays, more people expect to get their news on social media first rather than print media.

Why is it necessary to have a university crisis communications plan?

A crisis communication plan is necessary because it serves as a blueprint for the crisis team to follow when preventing harm and loss during a crisis. Because miscommunication can harm a university’s image or cause employees to lose trust in the institution, a good crisis communication plan can alleviate those concerns. It would be beneficial, particularly with regard to media and public inquiries, in order to control the discontent and outrage that may arise from within the university and from the general public.

Whenever a crisis hits a university, one of the most important things to do is to keep the necessary people informed. By planning who should receive what information, establishing proper communications channels, collaborating with the right personnel, and spreading the right kind of message, the foundation of an effective university crisis communications plan is built. As a final step, you should take any data that you have learned from the event and use it to update the communications plan accordingly. An outdated crisis communications plan may bring more harm than good during a crisis. In this article, examples of effective university crisis communications plans are posted for you to use as a handy guide when making one.