Put yourself in the shoes of an RIT Public Safety Officer early Wednesday morning. You have three separate incidents happening at nearly the same time:
1) A student with mental health issues is despondent and is threatening to hurt himself.
2) Another student has had too much to drink and may need hospitalization due to alcohol poisoning.
3) Another student is distraught and is suicidal. A Monroe County 911 operator has information that tells you this student may have a weapon. You have other details from authorities that tell you this is a dangerous situation that may escalate.
Instinct and professional training kicked in for RIT Public Safety Wednesday morning. And they activated the RIT Alert notification system.
The language was blunt, as it should be for a credible threat: “R.I.T. Alert! Take Cover. Possible Armed suicidal person on campus. Go into nearest room. Lock or barricade the door. Follow instructions from authorities.”
When the crisis was resolved about an hour later, another alert went out detailing that the incident was over and all was clear. The distraught student was safe and in proper care (as were the other two students).
We heard from some of you who live off campus and were “inconvenienced” by losing some sleep. We heard your complaints and will use your feedback.
But you will get no apologies!
In today’s world, working 9 to 5 is a thing of the past. What if you were working in a lab or office late at night? What if this had transpired at 4:30 a.m. and extended into the start of the workday while you were commuting to campus? When Public Safety activates RIT Alert, every second counts. Segmenting messages was not an option (yet).
If there is one thing we learned from the massacre at Virginia Tech, it is that it is better to over communicate, than to offer no communication or instructions. A Virginia panel blamed the university for not alerting the VT campus between the first dorm shooting and the rampage occurring two hours later.
We’ve heard from some on campus that they are now going to opt out of RIT Alert. I caution you that this is a mistake. And if you have not done so already, please sign up.
Back to Wednesday morning: University News dealt with media crews for about 90 minutes. At Virginia Tech, media camped out for a month. Due to the strong relationships University News has built with the Rochester media (many UNS staff members have held leadership positions in previous jobs with these media outlets) the coverage was fair and accurate, as you will see from Channel 13 and Channel 8.
On to social media (Make sure to read the blog post of Mike Saffran, Associate Director/Manager of New Media) … University News was criticized somewhat for its use of social media. While we did post information on Facebook and Twitter, in retrospect we could have done a better job of combating some of the misinformation that was being communicated by so-called citizen journalists. This included the irresponsible act of broadcasting “2 dead” at Colony Manor.
We live by this mantra in University News: Accuracy, clarity of message, speed. Accuracy must trump speed every time.
So we will learn from Wednesday morning and continue to improve our emergency communications plan for the inevitable next crisis.
Here is the final headline: “RIT Wakes Up Wednesday to a Safe Campus.” Tweet that.