A Valuable Lesson in Crisis Communication

Last night, I had the pleasure to hear Dr. Mary Coburn, Florida State University’s Vice President of Student Affairs, speak about crisis communication at the FPRA student chapter meeting.

Dr. Coburn detailed her involvement in the aftermath of the Nov. 20 shooting at Strozier Library on FSU’s campus. The shooter, an FSU alum, wounded three students.

Coburn shared the six crucial elements of crisis communication. Though her list is focused on campus emergencies, its contents are important considerations for any crisis.

  1. Have a system in place–and practice regularly
    • According to Dr. Coburn, the FSU Police Department had an active shooter drill just two weeks prior to the shooting. The FSUPD were prepared and able to secure the situation just four minutes after notification.
  2. Emergency notices are vital
    • All employees and affected publics must be informed immediately. FSU’s emergency notification system informed 69,000 individuals about the situation within 30 minutes.
  3. Continuously update community stakeholders
    • Though the shooting took place on campus, Dr. Coburn explained the importance of informing the Tallahassee community about the event. Nearby ministries, schools and Leon County citizens were frequently updated throughout the following weeks.
  4. Be open and accessible to the press
    • When it comes to the media, transparency is key.
  5. Follow-up with affected parties
    • First, Dr. Coburn ensured that FSU’s students were aware of the coping resources available. Immediately after the shooting was resolved, she emailed University staff to detail her expectations for the days following the event. For example, she required trained professionals, rather than student workers, to answer FSU phone lines to ensure callers received clear, correct information.
  6. Evaluate and update systems
    • Evaluation is perhaps the most important part of a crisis communications plan, according to Dr. Coburn. She assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the University’s response and made necessary changes to the current crisis plan.

The evening was moving, and the fear and sadness I felt in the aftermath of the shooting came rushing back during Dr. Coburn’s speech. Most importantly, however, I was reminded of the strength and capability of FSU’s student body, faculty and police department.

I am proud to be #FSUnited

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