Feeding the media machine during the Virginia Tech crisis

I can remember the fear and terror I felt as a college student when I first heard of the Virginia Tech massacre.  It is a sad reality that I was used to hearing about high school shootings, and nearly every school established a lockdown protocol to handle those situations as they arise. 

Virginia Tech was widely criticized for failing to notify students and faculty immediately after the first incident had occured.  The shooting issue had grown legs, now college campuses had to have a response plan so that students and faculty would be safe if such a crisis occured at their school.

In the midst of finger-pointing and the “blame game,” Jeffrey Douglas kept his composure and utilized effective communication after the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus last April.  Douglas disclosed the logistics of handling a “tragedy of monumental proportions” to a large crowd at the PRSSA National Conference 2008 in Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 25.  On April 16, 2007, the media frenzy included over 1,000 reporters, 150 satelite trucks and 150,000 web hits per hour on the school’s homepage.

He shared with the audience the three phases of crisis communications: managing the emergency, stabilizing the wounded and resurrection.  They had to instill confidence that the university was in control of the situation, while making the care and concern of the victims and family priority one. 

His advice for those who will be in similar situations is to communicate as soon as you can.  Because of the Virginia Tech massacre we now have HawkAlert at the University of Iowa, which sends text messages and makes automated phone calls when there is an emergency on campus.

A year and a half later, Virginia Tech is focusing on recovery and rebuilding a stronger community.

Stay tuned for more posts about the PRSSA National Conference 2008!