Yesterday’s horrific happenings at Virginia Tech reinforced my belief that every college and university needs a crisis response & communications plan in place. And, as Ron Alsop’s article (subscription required) points out in today’s Wall Street Journal, schools need to simulate various potential scenarios in order to gauge their ability to react and respond.
Yesterday’s two-hour gap at V-Tech between the first and second series of shootings is a good indication of why crisis planning is needed. While all the facts aren’t known, one thing is clear: the only student communication came in the form of an e-mail some two hours after the first shooting. How many lives could have been saved if university officials had practiced response procedures in advance? What if they knew exactly what to do and how to communicate it?
VT administrators are in full spin doctoring right now, trying to defend their decisions. But, clearly, angry parents and others will demand changes in the massacre’s aftermath.
I believe more and more parents will be demanding that their children’s schools have a crisis plan in place. It’s not just a discussion about campus security. It’s now part of every college’s image and reputation, and each and every one should take the time to prepare and report back to parents on those preparations. A good crisis plan — and regular examination of it — not only makes students safer but also contributes to the overall image, an important and differentiating factor in recruitment, fund-raising, etc.
Sadly, as was the case in the private sector with 9/11, it has to take a mega disaster to get the attention of the powers that be before changes are made.