Course A Review


Challenges for Emergency Campus Communication

U.S. campuses can experience many types of emergencies and disasters.  All emergency, disaster, or other incidents on campus require quick and effective emergency communications.

Emergency Communications on Campus

Communications are vital when emergencies and disasters occur.

  • Information: confirmed, meaningful, up-to-date and useful data or facts, organized for a specific purpose
  • Emergency information: information about an emergency or a disaster or about preparing for one
  • Communications: exchange of information, thoughts, graphics, or feelings between individuals or groups
  • Emergency communications: communications directly relevant to mitigating, preparing for, responding to or recovering from emergencies or disasters

Campus emergency communications: emergency communications involving people on campus, including administrators, staff, faculty, students, visitors and on-scene partners from other agencies or organizations

Leaders, Staff, and the Public

Depending on circumstances, campus emergency communications may need to take place within or between the following groups of stakeholders:

  • Campus leaders and staff: on-campus administrators and others who may be tasked with emergency decision making, emergency communications, or first response
  • Off-campus leaders and staff: emergency managers, emergency communicators, and first responders of coordinating agencies; and city, county, and state leaders
  • Campus public: administrators, staff, faculty, students, and visitors
  • Off-campus public: parents of students, the community, local news media, the state, and the nation


Challenges and Opportunities for Each Campus

Each campus has factors which could affect emergency communications. Several factors to consider are:

  • Hazards: different campuses are vulnerable to different hazards.
  • Leadership style: leadership styles affect ways in which emergency communications can take place.
  • Language and culture: languages, backgrounds and cultures affect how communications are understood
  • Event facilities: large facilities will require more intensive and coordinated communications than smaller ones
  • Building infrastructure: building construction may not permit certain types of cellular or radio communications
  • Level of funding available: some colleges and universities have much funding for staff and emergency communications systems, whereas others have little
  • Interface with the community: the physical interface may affect communication between campus and community
  • Campus research facilities: risks associated with some research may require development of a much more sophisticated emergency communications approach

By enhancing emergency communications capabilities, you can more effectively save lives, diminish injury and illness, and protect property on your college or university campus.



The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a nationwide approach for government agencies to work together to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergency situations (FEMA IS-700 NIMS). It provides the foundation needed to ensure we work together when our communities need us.

NIMS Components:

Preparedness involves an integrated combination of planning, procedures and protocols, training and exercises, personnel qualification and certification, in advance of any potential incident.

Communications and Information Management provides a standardized framework for communications emphasizing the need for a common operating picture.

Resource Management ensures the flow of resources needed to support critical incident objectives.

Command and Management is designed to enable effective incident management by providing standardized incident management structures, including incident command systems, multiagency coordination systems, and public information.

Ongoing Management and Maintenance includes developing NIMS programs and keeping the NIMS document current.


Incident Command System and Personnel

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized, on-scene incident management system adopted to deal with incidents without hindrance by agency or jurisdictional boundaries. It can handle any size or kind of incident, allows personnel to rapidly form a common management structure, provides administrative support, and minimizes costs by avoiding duplication of efforts. The ICS has a general staff, a command staff, a PIO and a unified command system.

NIMS and ICS can foster better responses to incidents, emergencies, and disasters on campus if adopted.  It is important to develop and implement NIMS, establish NIMS strategies, participate in all-hazard exercises, and institutionalize ICS for emergency incident management.

Key personnel on campuses include individuals that would be involved in the response and incident command structure.

  • General personnel such as emergency management team members, health officials, school staff, faculty, etc.
  • Critical personnel such as an incident commander or staff.
  • Leadership personnel such as the university President, Provost or Campus Chief of Police


Challenges with Implementing NIMS/ICS

Each campus is unique and institutional characteristics may pose a variety of challenges when adopting NIMS/ICS. Some of these are:

  • Traditionally ways of addressing incidents not consistent with NIMS/ICS may be deeply rooted in practice and difficult to change.
  • A campus culture of minimizing structured command and control tends to complicate NIMS/ICS adoption.
  • The philosophy of academic freedom fosters individuality, which complicates adopting directed emergency response philosophies.
  • Personnel in positions of longtime tenure tend to resist organizational change.
  • Because crisis or emergency leadership is seldom required on campus, it may be deemed of less importance to develop and maintain.


Planning and Goals of Communication

Good Communications Begins with Planning

Proper planning for campus emergency communications involves (1) incorporation of the assessments of campus hazards, threats and vulnerabilities, (2) inclusion of input from relevant stakeholders, (3) development of a communications framework consistent with NIMS/ICS, (4) provision for communications in the phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Overall Goals of Campus Emergency Communications

There are two types of emergency communications: (1) internal and (2) external. Internal emergency communications are between campus administrators and emergency managers/responders. External emergency communications are with the public. Some information may be classified; permit access to it only by authorized individuals..


Stakeholders and the Communications Team

Stakeholders are individuals on or off campus who may have a legitimate and vital interest in emergency communications on campus. On-campus stakeholders include administrators, staff, faculty, and students. Off-campus stakeholders, such as parents, community members, news media, and elected officials.

A Campus Emergency Communications Team plans for and coordinates emergency communications. Team members may include some or all members of an incident, emergency or risk management team along with others potentially involved in campus communications. The team members

  • seeks emergency communications that will protect life, health, property and freedom of the stakeholders
  • meets regularly and develops, reviews and revises emergency communication plans as needed
  • documents the planning process in a plan available to all team members, providing references and operational details


One Emergency Communications Team: Many Organizations

Potential members of the emergency communications team may come from a wide variety of campus organizations, including these:

Academic affairs Information technology
Athletics management Office of the President
Business affairs Planning office
Campus police/security Public affairs/relations
Environmental Health& Safety Residential housing
Emergency management Risk management
Emergency services Student affairs
Facilities management Student senate or council
Faculty senate or council Telecommunications
Financial services Volunteer organizations
Health services


Developing Emergency Communication Plans

Plan for coordination, management, and dissemination of campus emergency information. Develop appropriate policies, plans, procedures, and systems in advance.

Components of the Plan

  • policies and provisions for the public welfare and  the college’s or university’s integrity and image
  • emergency communications positions, roles
  • command structure
  • personnel, equipment, supplies and other resources
  • redundant, supplemental and backup systems
  • emergency communications systems
  • personnel and vendor contact information
  • drills and exercises to be regularly held
  • consider personnel shortages in an emergency
  • notification of emergency staff and public
  • a common operating picture for the team
  • Interoperability and agreements with other agencies
  • public information officers (PIOs)
  • a demonstration of responsibility and caring
  • solicitation of public feedback (e.g., about threats)
  • assessment of risk for noted hazards and threats
  • pre-event readiness and
  • recovery (returning to normalcy)


Campus Emergency Communications Training

Campus personnel who may be involved in emergency communications need to learn:

  • concepts of  emergency communications for all hazards  and all phases of emergency management
  • public information officer (PIO) responsibilities
  • implementing the campus emergency communications plan (roles, policies, procedures and practices)
  • use of various emergency communications devices
  • how to function in both an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and a joint information center (JIC)
  • how to switch over to redundant communications systems, if primary systems fail
  • assessment, after either a training event or a real event, of strengths and weaknesses of plans and training and of a need for any changes


Training for Operable and Interoperable Emergency Communications

Leaders as well as staff receive training in both operable and interoperable communications policies and practices.

Operable communications denote effective, reliable means of exchanging emergency information with others within the same organization, at any time, and at any location needed. Interoperable communications refer to capabilities for similar exchanges between members of different organizations (e.g., police and fire). In training for emergency communications, personnel need to learn to use plain language communications.

Where feasible, policies, systems and practices can be extended to everyday workplace communications, thus reinforcing and supporting training knowledge and skills.


Multi-Jurisdictional, Multi-Agency Drills and Exercises

In drills and exercises, policies, systems and procedures are used/practiced, evaluated, and reviewed and may include:

  • networking and communication systems
  • primary systems intended for use in emergencies
  • alternate or redundant systems planned for potential use in case primary systems fail
  • accessories or subsystems designed for support of emergency communications systems
  • systems used for last resort if all other systems fail

Drills and exercises are meant to be challenging and test the emergency communications plan.  They help emergency managers understand the capabilities of participants, as well as the reliability and usability of emergency communications policies, procedures, systems, and equipment.


Tabletop, Functional, and Operational Exercises

A tabletop exercise involves a meeting of multiple participants who discuss a simulated emergency and potential responses to it.

A functional exercise tests one or more functions and evaluates the plan associated with these functions during an organized, interactive simulation of an emergency without moving people or equipment to a site.

An operational exercise is a lengthy, full-scale, “on location” exercise involving key personnel from all or nearly all disciplines:

  • All plans, procedures, and systems are tested under conditions as realistic as possible
  • Various organizations coordinate their efforts and interact
  • An EOC is frequently activated for the exercise


EOCs, Exercises and Emergency Communications

An emergency operations center (EOC) should be located on or near campus and is used in exercises designed to test emergency communications capabilities.

  • Select a secure site for the campus EOC
  • Stock the EOC with extensive operable, interoperable and redundant emergency systems
  • Plan for selected participants to regularly practice
  • Make sure that all equipment in the EOC is tested

During and after an exercise:

  • Make sure participants understand responsibilities
  • Test all critical systems and arrange for repair of mission critical or important systems or services that are not functional
  • Do exercises involving how to deal with loss of systems, facilities, utilities, or human services
  • Have at least one observer in each exercise
  • Evaluate strengths and weaknesses afterwards
  • Develop a corrective measures plan and specify functions for future



Public Information Officers (PIOs) on campus exchange information with the public before, during and after an emergency. As described in Federal National Incident Management (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) documents, the role of the PIO is inherent in most public safety and emergency management organizations. PIOs provide input about shared public information and media relations to an Incident Commander, and share information with the public, generally through the news media.

A PIO’s audience may include on-campus public, off-campus public and internal emergency management organization. His or her duties include informing and educating, answering questions, alerting others, persuading people to change, installing confidence in campus emergency management and responders, and requesting others to take action.

In most cases, a PIO publicly represents the incident commander and the university. There should be multiple people on campus who can function as PIOs in an emergency.

A campus PIO could be from any of a number of campus departments. Campus police almost always have their own PIO, who can work with the campus PIO when there is an incident. PIOs are also often from public relations or communications.

PIOs are trained in effective emergency communications.

PIOs have duties prior, during and following incidents.  They include monitoring the media throughout the incident to get public views.

A number of duties outlined in the DHS Target Capabilities List are potential PIO responsibilities, including issuing public information and alerts, providing rumor control, establishing a JIC, and shutting down public information systems when they are no longer needed.


Credibility and Trust; Background

A PIO must be credible and trustworthy.  It is important to only speak to what is known, without speculating or guessing.  A PIO needs to honest, concise, available, timely, fair, flexible, objective, positive, informed, and professional.

An understanding of emergency management and campus culture facilitates fulfilling a campus PIO’s responsibilities.  This includes campus leadership structure, key emergency personnel and response groups on and off campus, campus demographics, history and culture, NIMS and ICS, the campus emergency communications and operations plan, and the names and contact information for other PIOs.

PIOs can mitigate possible communication challenges by educating the public about campus hazards, emergency management and response capabilities, preparedness actions, and methods of emergency notification.  They can do this through the use of press releases, interview, broadcasts, panel discussions, printed materials, and new media outlets like Facebook or a blog.

FEMA offers PIO training to authorized personnel.


Emergency Notification

Emergency notification on a campus can quickly provide information to the on- and off-campus public to allow them to make appropriate and timely decisions.  Notification may also allow help a campus to comply with applicable laws and regulations (e.g., the Clery Act).

It is now largely done through commercial multimodal emergency notification systems (ENSs) using more than one notification mode.  A combination of text messaging, cellular voice, VOIP voice, landline voice, email, sirens, PA or intercoms, social media, radio, TV, and LED signage is used to ensure that the most people are reached in the shortest time. These systems are automated and provide real-time information, alerts, warnings, and instructions via messages to on- and off-campus audiences.

Single modes of communication are still sometimes used:

  • Telephone (landline, VOIP or cellular)
  • Text messaging
  • Sirens
  • Public address systems, intercoms or loudspeakers
  • TV/radio
  • Web pages


Other Tools for Emergency Notifications

New Media provide nearly instantaneous information and almost anyone in the public can contribute either as a viewer or reporter. Examples of New Media include the following:

  • Short Message Service (SMS)
  • Microblogs (e.g., Twitter)
  • Social networking (e.g., Facebook)
  • News alerts (e.g., Google, Yahoo)
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
  • Podcasts and Webcasts
  • Photo and video sharing (e.g., Flickr, YouTube)
  • Blogs

There are concerns about the reliability of messages in New Media sources, however. These include:

  • The focus is on immediacy
  • Often, facts are not checked
  • It is easy for people to present information as if they represent agencies or organizations that they do not actually represent
  • Information can be intentionally misleading
  • Publishing sites can be high-jacked


Composing and Sending Emergency Notifications

Authorities on campus usually decide to send emergency notifications out.  This might include the Campus Police/Security Chief or a delegated rep, the University or College President or Chancellor, the University or College VP or Vice-Chancellor, or the Emergency Manager.

The emergency notification process:

  • Information (who, what, where, when, etc.) is collected from dispatch, incident commanders, PIOs, etc.
  • Leaders are updated with current information
  • The public is notified via ENSs and the news media
  • Updates are generally posted on the Web

Composing Emergency Notification Messages

Emergency notification messages can be pre-scripted and then sent out as is, modified and sent, or they can be composed on-the-fly. A good emergency notification message answers the questions: Who?, What?, Where?, and When?

  • Keep language simple and accurate for high impact
  • Clarify: is it a real emergency or an exercise?
  • Identify the office/position sending the message
  • Include contact information (e.g., for more info)
  • Document the date and time of the message


Composing and Sending Emergency Notifications (cont.)

Communication Effectiveness

For emergency notifications and for all other emergency communications, practice good writing skills

  • Organize to make it clear, simple and concise
  • Tell your story . . . accurately
  • Emphasize the most important, or key, messages
  • Use appropriate format, style, grammar, spelling
  • Use graphics when helpful

Problems with Getting the Message Out

Numerous issues can reduce the effectiveness of an emergency notification message, or cause a delay, or prevent a message from getting to its intended recipients.

  • System failure, overload or incompatibilities
  • Quantity of messages to be sent out
  • Service providers blocking messages as spam
  • Poor system operator skills
  • Database with contact info not up to date
  • Lack of authorization to send a message
  • Loss of power or Internet outages


System Efficiency, Cost, and Reliability

When a system is used for emergency notification, its efficiency, cost and reliability are of key concern.

A  reliable ENS must be

  • accessible from nearly anywhere
  • able to be activated by any of at least several authorized officials
  • created with redundant communication lines and power sources
  • secure from hacker/cracker attacks

An ENS is considered efficient if it

  • alerts as many people as possible under normal conditions
  • alerts as many people as possible if electrical power, phone service or local internet is disrupted
  • delivers alerts to specific groups in different geographic locations in a consistent manner


Planning for Emergency Communications Interviews

Planning for Radio, TV Interviews

To quickly and efficiently disseminate information to the public, work on communication skills.  Incorporate natural variety in rhythm, pitch, inflection, loudness of voice.  Use appropriate eye contact with the interviewer.  Keep hand gestures subdued. Assume that the camera is always on.

People want to know three things about an emergency:

  • What happened?
  • How does it affect me?
  • What is being done to fix the problem?

Key messages are the most important concepts that you want the public to understand.  Message mapping helps deliver emergency information rapidly and efficiently. Analyze your audience’s likely concerns and questions and prepare key messages to address them. Clearly, consistently, and repetitively share key messages.

A PIO needs to stay on objective during an interview by:

  • craft several key messages in advance
  • use “bridging” to transition to a key message after briefly answering a reporter’s question
  • get your main points across in quotable “sound bites”



Talking Points for an Interview

Make talking points (your key messages and your answers to anticipated questions) short and clear that almost anyone will be able to understand them.  Make them memorable and interesting enough that reporters may want to quote them.

Preparing for an Interview

Prepare for an interview:  research, prepare, and then present.

What to Avoid in Interviews

Speaking in a professional manner is critical to ensuring that your crisis communications are effective.

  • Speak only on behalf of your own organization
  • Avoid speculation, hypothesizing, or editorializing
  • Do not ever give false or misleading information
  • Do not express anger or rage if provoked
  • Never speak “off-record”
  • Do not say anything that you don’t want to be on the news

Comments on “No Comment”

People often perceive a “no comment” response as suggesting ignorance or being unprepared or as an attempt to hide something.

Dealing with Misleading, Hostile or Negative Questions

The media may attempt to generate controversy through ignorant, speculative, hostile, accusatory, or misleading questions.  If so,

  • Stay calm
  • Answer adverse questions briefly, positively
  • Then bridge or transition to your key messages
  • If you do not know an answer, say so
  • If a question is inappropriate, say why you cannot answer
  • Do not repeat a reporter’s negatively skewed question as part of your answer

Interviews: Live or Taped

Interviews may be live, and viewers see everything or they may be taped, and only very short edited selections may be shown in the news media – thus silences, repeats, and possibly even important information may be edited out.  Many news media have begun putting up interviews in their entirety on the Web.  Consider providing equal access to information by posting vital information to the campus’ Website at the same time as it is given to the media.


Joint Information System

NIMS recommends the creation of a Joint Information System (JIS) and a Joint Information Center (JIC) when communication responsibilities are shared between organizations. Communications coordination within incident command structure, with other PIOs and with the news media – both on and off campus, helps prevent public confusion arising from messages being inconsistent and helps prevent the perception of a lack of candor.

Incident Commander and News Media Coordination
A PIO should be available immediately after an incident and should arrive on scene prepared and able to gather incident background information from an incident commander and an operations section chief. The PIO will help news media set up in a safe staging area, one not infringing on a crime scene, and, as soon as possible, should talk to media after obtaining reliable information.


Approval for Messages

PIOs and the Approval Process
Prior to disseminating messages, PIOs get approval from an incident commander. This helps ensure that messages are fact-checked, proofread, and complete. Approval from a campus attorney may be needed when information is legally sensitive. Document approvals and the messages themselves in writing.

Working with On-Campus PIOs and Media
When an incident occurs on campus, it is essential for multiple campus PIOs (Fire, Police, Campus Administration) to speak with one voice. This requires collaboration. Develop and maintain a contact list of on-campus PIOs and on-campus media which includes after hour and special event contact information.


PIOs and JICs

Off-campus PIOs
If external agencies or jurisdictions are also affected, then one or more external PIOs may also be involved in emergency communications collaboration with a campus PIO.

Contact Information for other PIOs and Responders
Keep and updated regularly contact information for other PIOs and key emergency personnel available both in electronic and paper format.  Maintain names, positions, organizations, landline phone numbers, cell numbers, email addresses, web URLs, Twitter accounts, and other useful information.

Joint information Center (JIC) Purpose
The NIMS/ICS structure known as the Joint Information System (JIS)is designed for coordination among PIOs and for consistency in public communications. Under JIS, PIOs may meet in a Joint Information Center (JIC). From a JIC, a single spokesperson is chosen to speak through the media to the public.


News Media and Their Needs

Utilizing the news media is the most effective way for a campus PIO to convey emergency information to the external public:
Types of news media and needs:

  • Newspaper: detailed info, photos
  • Television: visuals, sound bytes
  • Radio: phone interviews, sound clips
  • Internet: breaking news, video, photos

Needs of the News Media

  • spokesperson accessibility and responsiveness
  • most current information with ability to confirm
  • quick answers to questions
  • cooperation with meeting news deadlines
  • access to key players, newsmakers, scene of emergency
  • equal treatment for all news media
  • background information, including maps and graphics
  • multiplex sound box for audio feed
  • ample power and lighting


News Media and Their Needs (cont.)

The PIO should have a list of media contact information.

Is a story newsworthy? Is it timely? Is it local? Does it present conflict? Does it have human impact? Does it feature a prominent personality? Is it unique? Does it have a human interest angle? Is it about animals?

Establish relationships with news media:

  • Get to know media who cover news stories on your campus
  • Be proactive – provide media personnel with timely information, before, during and after an emergency
  • Respect news media deadlines
  • Know when not to answer and when to rephrase a question
  • Use news briefings, press releases, fact sheets, media advisories, web media, brochures or fliers, and/or newsletters, as needed
  • Provide assistance to the news media, including a secure staging area, line of sight access to an incident scene, and a quiet indoor setting with a backdrop for interviews
  • Monitor media coverage to see if it is accurate, fair, balanced, and effective — if not, then quickly address the problems by providing accurate information


Leadership and Management


Common Leadership positions within higher education include President/Chancellor, Vice President/Vice Chancellor, Police Chief, Emergency Manager or Environmental Health &Safety Manager.  Campus emergency management and communication team members may vary based on the type of emergency and include the individuals just mentioned as well as others such as a Facilities Manager, an IT Manager, a Student Health Director and one or more PIOs.

Leadership and Management

Management is the process of coordinating work activities so that they are completed effectively. Leadership is the process of motivating individuals to facilitate the movement of a group as a whole toward a common goal.


Leaders delegate assignments to others in an emergency communications team by setting parameters for them and appointing them to the team with specific responsibilities and authority to make decisions. Three common styles of leadership are democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire. With democratic leadership, team members earn leaders’ trust, while leaders delegate authority and responsibility to the team members.


Ethics in Decision Making

Ethical commitment: possessing a strong desire to “do the right thing”

Ethical consciousness: having an awareness of the ethical implications of one’s decisions, communications and actions and realizing that respect for one’s leadership tends to be eroded or destroyed by unethical behavior

Ethical competence: being competent in ethical decision-making skills, having a keen sense for both perceived and actual conflict-of-interest situations, and taking actions immediately to avoid any conflicts of interest

Ethical decision making: acting within one’s role, working cooperatively with others, and avoiding behaviors likely to shift potential disaster risks to others


Decision Making

Role Relationships and Agreements in Decision Making

It is important to define roles and responsibilities of management teams.  Failure to clearly define roles and responsibilities can lead to conflict and a lack of decision-making. Managers should understand the capabilities of each partner and team member.  Relationship building helps create a collaborative environment, leading to better decisions.  Effective use of internal and external communications supports decision making.

Decision Making Processes

The decision making process may be autocratic, democratic or team-based, depending upon the situation or incident. An incident commander normally makes decisions and communicates situational intelligence to section leaders and his command staff, which includes a PIO, on a real-time, or near-real-time basis. The speed with which a situation is developing may determine the type of leadership style used. For example, a fast-moving, threatening situation may necessitate use of an autocratic decision-making and communication style.”

Effects of Goals and Expectations on Outcomes

Goals and expectations improve team-member decision making and response. Emergency leaders on a campus can include within their emergency operations plan performance expectations for individuals and groups under their jurisdiction. Those involved in emergency management and communications should utilize these metrics to self-evaluate their performance after every incident or exercise.”


Value of Drills and Exercises; Continuous Improvement

The Value for Executives of Drills and Exercises
Each drill and exercise provides an opportunity for an executive to build competence, develop crisis decision-making skills, and enhance relationships. Executives who actively participate in drills and exercises generally earn leadership respect.

How Can Continuous Improvement be Incorporated into Decision Making?
Strategic planning, fact finding, relationship building and leadership skill development are among several best practices for executive level campus leaders dealing with emergency management and communications. Participating in drills and exercises and then reviewing after-action reports tends to reveal to an executive an organization’s strengths and vulnerabilities. College and university executives also need to review actual emergency response performance to determine where improvements to an institution’s approaches to emergency prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery may be needed.