Crisis Communications Plan
Effective crisis communication is essential in any situation or event that impacts the operation, financial stability or reputation of Weber State University.
Timely, targeted and accurate information is critical to respond successfully, protect life and safety, resume academic function, maintain business continuity and protect university image in an emergency.
The goal of the university’s Marketing & Communications team is to disseminate pertinent information as quickly as possible to all affected campus and community audiences. These audiences include, but are not limited to, students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, families, campus neighbors, alumni, local businesses, government leaders, donors and media. Information would include life safety procedures, public health advisories, relief, assistance programs and other vital information.
Each crisis or emergency presents its own challenges. The university conducted a comprehensive risk assessment and analyzed the probability and impact of 25 potential hazards. That analysis highlighted five hazards that pose the greatest risk: earthquake, active shooter, academic building fire, winter storm and workplace violence. Although each of these hazards would present somewhat different challenges, the Weber State University Crisis Communication Plan adopts an all-hazards approach. The approach provides an overall structure for the university to quickly adapt and respond to any type of incident as it unfolds.
Declaring an Emergency
As soon as an event has occurred, WSU's emergency response would generally be classified into one of three operational levels: Minor Emergency, Major Emergency or Disaster. Depending on the type or severity of the event, the Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) may be activated fully or in part by the WSU President, Vice President for Administrative Services, the Police Chief or their designees.
While it is not always possible to confirm all aspects of the situation or verify all sources, the facts must be established and verified to protect Weber State and its reputation.
- What happened?
- To whom did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Where did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- Is there an immediate call to action to communicate?
Convening Crisis Communication Team
In the event of a major emergency or disaster, the Weber State emergency notification system would alert all essential personnel to report to a designated meeting place. That notification would include all members of the Marketing & Communications team. The Crisis Communication Center should be equipped with computers, phones and printers to begin operating immediately in an emergency.
Generally, Weber State’s Emergency Manager will issue Code Purple messages. However, several members of the Marketing & Communications team, including the Director, Public Relations Director, Social Media Manager and Web Manager, have access and training for Code Purple. At the direction of the Police Chief or the University President, a Marketing & Communications team member could begin to send emergency messages to the campus immediately from anywhere internet access is available.
In the event of a minor emergency, a Code Purple message could be sent to specific members of the Marketing & Communications team with instructions for where to gather or other information as appropriate.
Roles and Responsibilities of Crisis Team Members
Each member of the Crisis Communication team has assigned responsibility in an emergency. Key members of the team have a designated second who has also participated in annual training exercises. Assigned duties include:
- Managing the Communication Section of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC)
- Communicating with EOC
- Acting as Public Information Officer (PIO)
- Liaison with Joint Information Center (JIC)
- Interacting with media
- Coordinating media briefings and news conferences
- Writing items such as news releases, talking points for call center, talking points for news conference(s), president’s message(s)
- Updating university website weber.edu
- Sending social media messages
- Monitoring social and traditional media
- Answering phones
- Maintaining up-to-date status boards
- Recording crisis communication team activity
Assigning a Spokesperson
In most emergencies, the Public Information Officer will act as the chief spokesperson to represent the university. The PIO will organize and run press briefings and handle general media questions. In the event the PIO is unavailable or the emergency continues for an extended period of time, the communication director for athletics will step into the PIO role. The university President and/or the Crisis Communications Team Director could also act as a spokesperson, or appoint an appropriate person, such as the Police Chief, to represent the university in a crisis.
In the time of a significant crisis, it would be critical for a high-ranking leader of the university such as the President to become the face of the university and to take the lead in communicating key messages. Only a high-ranking leader such as the President could convey a true sense of authority and calm and set an example for the entire campus.
Each member of the Crisis Communication Team, has an emergency Go-Kit, which includes the following:
- Marketing & Communications Staff Contacts
- University Emergency Contacts
- University Key Contacts
- Media Contacts
- News Release Template
- News Release Distribution List
- Social Media Account Information
- Weber State Radio 10-Codes
- Radio User Guide
The kit also contains a jump drive with an electronic version of the documents. The information is also in a shared folder on Google Drive called Emergency Kit Documents. The kit, with all its documents, are updated annually.
As resources permit, Weber State will employ any or all of the communication channels listed below to reach key audiences.
Code Purple is the emergency notification system that gives Weber State University the ability to communicate health and safety emergency information quickly — by text, voice and email message. Code Purple can be sent to targeted, pre-selected groups, such as faculty and staff only, members of individual departments and groups, or those designated as “essential personnel.”
Students, faculty and staff receive periodic reminders to register for Code Purple notifications at weber.edu/codepurple. Code Purple helps Weber State with its compliance of The Clery Act, which requires every college and university that receives federal financial aid to have emergency response and evacuation procedures. Among other things, institutions must have a plan to immediately notify the campus community when there is a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees.
Under the direction of the Police Chief, Weber State conducts a campus-wide, Code Purple, emergency training each fall as part of Public Safety Week. The text message instructs students, faculty and staff to either Lockdown or Shelter In Place. The campus has been educated about those terms in various publications and messages.
Should a hostile or armed intruder come to campus, you will be alerted by Code Purple (the university’s emergency notification system). RUN away if it is safe to do so. If not, seek shelter and LOCKDOWN. Go to a room that can be locked or barricaded by using available material. Close the window blinds; turn off the lights; spread out, and seek concealment behind walls, desks, file cabinets, etc. Get everyone down on the floor, so no one is visible from outside the room. Silence your cell phone. Be ready to FIGHT if necessary. Code Purple will send additional instruction as soon as possible. Do not leave area until you receive an all-clear message.
SHELTER IN PLACE
In the event of severe weather conditions or a hazardous material spill, you will be advised to SHELTER IN PLACE. This means you should stay in a safe place indoors in order to avoid dangerous conditions outside the building. In the event of a hazardous material spill, you may be directed to turn off ventilation systems or seal off areas where outside air could get into the room. Do not leave area until you receive an all-clear message.
When Weber State receives a report of certain crimes (such as sexual assault, armed robbery, hate crimes, etc.) occurring on institutional property that represent a serious or continuing threat to students and employees, the Clery Act requires the university alert the campus community. A SAFETY ALERT will be issued promptly — that is, as soon as pertinent information is available to assist people in protecting themselves and preventing future crime. A Safety Alert will specify the type of reported crime, the time and location at which the crime occurred and specific advice to the campus community regarding steps to take to avoid becoming a victim.
Marketing & Communications maintains a robust list of social media channels on behalf of Weber State, which are updated regularly and could be employed quickly and effectively to reach a wide and diverse audience. Channels in which we are most active include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Social media could be used to deliver and correct messages and exchange information with the public and the media.
In addition, the social media manager maintains a close connection with many of the individuals on campus who manage social media accounts for various colleges, departments, programs and groups. Those account administrators also would be asked to share official messages from the university as well as monitor and correct information as warranted.
During times of crisis, disaster or emergency, traditional media outlets would be a valuable resource for sharing information.
All announcements and alerts affecting the entire campus and surrounding population would be shared with Ogden and Salt Lake City media outlets. A list of emergency media contacts is maintained in Gmail, in Go-Kits and in Google Drive under Emergency Kit Documents. The list includes the Associated Press, KSL, KUTV, KTVX, KSTU, KSL Radio, KSL.com, Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Standard-Examiner, The Signpost and My Weber Media.
The main campus switchboard at 801-626-6000 is a resource for information regarding a crisis. In the event of an emergency, Marketing & Communications will provide switchboard operators with statements and updates pertaining to the ongoing situation. In the event call volume is heavy, statements could be recorded for playback. In addition, a dedicated toll-free number has also been established for use in a crisis where there is a large number of calls over an extended period of time. The director of Advancement Services will manage call center personnel and coordinate messages with the crisis communication team.
In addition to Code Purple email, a campus-wide or group-specific email communication may be used to provide detailed information. This communication may include instructions or steps to follow.
Targeted emails may communicate with a specific group or provide specific response instruction. This option might be less useful during a developing crisis, but could be beneficial during the recovery process as the university attempts to return to normal business operation.
Canvas is the software application Weber State faculty use to deliver material to the students, administer tests and other assignments, track student progress, and manage record-keeping. If internet access is available, faculty could effectively communicate information and course material with students in the event classrooms and buildings were inaccessible.
The eWeber portal allows communication and messages directed at specific audiences. The password-protected access allows the information communicated to be restricted to only those groups or audiences that need the information. This form of communication might have minimal value during an actual crisis, but would be beneficial during the recovery phase.
Monitors and Marquees
Approximately 50 digital display monitors are located in various campus buildings, as well as the electronic marquees outside the Shepherd Union and at the Dee Events Center entrance may have limited value during an actual emergency. If a message could be entered and displayed in a timely manner, they might be used to let audiences know campus is closed or classes are canceled.
If a disaster left the university closed for an extended period, the marquee at the Dee might be an effective way to let visitors or the public know the status of the university. Following a tragedy, it also could be used as a way to express sympathy or acknowledge loss.
Monitors are managed by the Digital Signage Administrator in the Office of Infrastructure Services. The Shepherd Union marquee is managed by Student Involvement & Leadership. Dee Events Center staff control messages on the marquee at the entrance to the Dee on Harrison Boulevard.
Due to the time required to deliver a printed flyer, this means of communication would not be used in a time of crisis. However, flyers are used periodically to alert the campus to emergency plans, preparation and training in the event of a disaster. Following a crisis, a flyer might also provide a way to debrief the campus community.
WSU News (the university's faculty and staff newsletter) is a communication tool used to raise awareness about crisis planning, preparation and training. A special issue of WSU News could be created to debrief faculty and staff following an incident.
Within a week of the crisis, the Marketing & Communications Director will convene the crisis communications team for an After Action Review to assess the university’s handling of the situation and to make recommendations in order to streamline and improve future events. This review may provide summary information for a campus-wide, comprehensive evaluation coordinated through Weber State’s Emergency Manager.