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E-mail is old fashioned—Finding new tools for crisis communication PR musings

The cost of a stamp went from 39 cents to 41 cents this week. But the bigger news this past year is that e-mail is increasingly becoming the new “snail mail.”

We are seeing this more and more in our crisis communication strategy at RIT. The use of e-mail became even more glaring with the Virginia Tech tragedy.

RIT uses a layered approach to reach the campus community for emergency notifications. These can range from required crime alerts to school closings or class cancellations. Each situation will dictate the nature and method for releasing communications from University News Services. University News takes many steps to alert the RIT community.

Quite frankly, RIT’s methods of communications were very similar to Virginia Tech’s the day of the massacre. You may recall, VT took some heat in the way it alerted the campus to the shootings.

Even before the shooting rampage, both RIT and VT were in discussions with vendors regarding new methods of communication. This includes the use of text messaging via cell phones. Cell phones are the new “Town Crier” and among the best way to reach colleges students on their “Main Street.”

And many vendors are trying to get RIT on board with text messaging services.
The devil is always in the details as RIT works to figure an assortment of issues including how to manage cell phone numbers in a transient population and who would pay for the text messaging.

One thing is certain: RIT is ramping up its rapid emergency response. During a crisis, we are looking at communication in phases. For example, what would be the best way to communicate with the campus community in 0 to 5 minutes, 6 to 60 minutes, 60 minutes and beyond? The RIT Critical Incident Management Planning team is currently reviewing many options. Along with cell phones, we are looking at public address systems, sirens, the use of Facebook and a wireless alert notification system that would feature sirens, strobes and text display in strategic areas around campus.

The goal is to have many of these new forms of communication in place this summer, ready for the start of the new academic year. We will keep you posted as we progress.

I welcome any feedback and ideas to help the cause.

  1. John Follaco
    May 15

    Bob, text messaging is still the best method I've heard. However, has much thought been given to utilizing an instant messaging device like AIM? What if we created an RIT Emergency News screen name, and posted away messages during times of "crisis" conveying emergency information? This could include snow cancellations.

    There are some concerns, obviously. Who would operate it? What if the screen name accidentally got signed off (lost Internet connection) and some people missed the information?

    It's certainly not fool proof, but perhaps it's worth a look. Students are constantly monitoring their buddy lists. This might be another opportunity to meet them on their "Main Street."

  2. Bob
    May 21

    John, great ideas.

    No one form of communication will ever be fool proof. That is why we need to have multiple channels with different strategies.

    In terms of IM....Yes, we are talking with a vendor who could also provide this capability.

  3. lord visionz
    May 31

    if the emergency needs the students to be contacted in 0-5 mins then IM may be lacking a bit there...
    text messages seem the perfect choice.. rit could have a database of all student's cell phone numbers and an emergency message could be sent out as a broadcast message to all in the list..
    or maybe have a pre recorded voice message play over by initiating a call to everyone ... to make sure those who dont read text message are informed..

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