Dorothy, It’s a Twister: Communicating in a Crisis

Blog Post_brynn_1altJust as the skies outside our office building in Eagle Village were turning ominous, the alerts sounded: Fredericksburg was under a tornado warning and a severe thunderstorm warning until 3:30 p.m.

We understood the seriousness of the warnings – that the threat of a tornado was imminent – and knew we needed to take precautions.

We grabbed our laptops, cell phones and purses and headed to what we considered to be the safest place to ride out severe weather – the concrete stairwell of the building.

The Emergency Management team sent out notifications to the UMW community through the AlertUMW system, while we posted to the UMW website and to social media. As the wind whistled outside, the rain pounded the building, and the temperature rose to more than 90 degrees, we hoped our students, faculty and staff had heard the warnings and had decided to heed them. Within half an hour, we received the “all clear” and relayed the good news through our channels.

Thankfully, a tornado didn’t touch down that day. Nothing was damaged and no one was hurt. But that afternoon reminded me how quickly a normal day can turn to crisis mode.

As communications professionals, our job is to inform and build relationships with our constituents. Although often our communication takes the form of press releases, pitches or posts, sometimes we drop everything to do what we can in a tough situation.

When we have the opportunity to help in a small way, whether the situation is weather-related or a crisis of another type, I consider it both a responsibility and a privilege. We need to be as prepared as possible, so that when a crisis happens we can be ready to take action. That’s why when skies are clear and campus is quiet, we plan and practice. With every drill or test, we learn to trust our instincts in high pressure situations and to work together as a team. We talk to our colleagues at other universities about how they handle situations, and share our lessons learned outside the borders of our campus.

When the next alert sounds, as it inevitably will, our response won’t be 100 percent hesitation and anxiety-free – no amount of preparation can do that. But, we will jump into action quicker, collaborate better, and do everything in our power to help the university about which we are passionate.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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