The University of Texas at Austin

Communicating on the Web during a Crisis

Successes, challenges, lessons learned, and tips from the Sept. 28, 2010 shooting.
Connect with us on Twitter before, during and after the core conversation via #webcrisis

Download our presentation (PDF) from HighEdWeb 2011.

Presenters

Nyleva Corley, Web Manager for University Communications
Chris Latham, Web Designer for University Operations/Technology Resources

Background

Last fall the emergency communications plan for The University of Texas at Austin was put to the test. On Tuesday, Sept. 28, just after 8 a.m. the first reports of an armed suspect on campus were made to 911. When a shooter was confirmed, the campus went into lockdown mode. As the day unfolded, we learned that Colton Tooley, a 19-year-old mathematics sophomore, brought an AK-47 to campus, randomly fired shots into the ground and then ran into the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL), where he turned his gun on himself. No one else on campus was physically harmed.

We learned very quickly that day what works well — and not so well — when communicating a crisis of that magnitude to a community of about 80,000 people, as well as to the world beyond the Forty Acres.

Our university already had emergency and crisis communications plans in place. We’re staff members in two of the campus units — University Operations and the Office of Public Affairs — that play central roles in those plans. We’ve had experience communicating emergencies to the campus community prior to Sept. 28, and many of the procedures, roles and technologies already existed to support the emergency and crisis communications plans.

Procedures

The emergency procedures come directly from the university’s Emergency Management Plan, maintained by the Office of Campus Safety and Security in University Operations.

Roles

University Operations

Office of Public Affairs

Points of contact in

Technologies

The technologies and channels include the university’s Web presence, the Emergency Information Web site, social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, emergency text messages, telephone system, and the siren and loudspeaker system.


Lessons Learned

The challenges came in the form of the unpredictable things that happened, as well as those items that always seem to be on your to-do list as Web professionals but you never have enough time to implement them.

To manage all the intricacies of this complex discussion for ourselves, we broke it down into three manageable chunks: Preparedness, During and Post-Event.