“We had set the expectation for where people could find information, and where we would be updating it. It was a much, much smoother process from our perspective. We have established ourselves, not only during emergencies, but just in general, as the source of [campus] information, and that we also provide accurate information as quickly as possible.”
In 2014, when nine infernos blazing in the San Diego region threatened California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), a school of 11,300 students, the rapid response skills of the Public Relations team were put to the test.
As they dealt with a deluge of information, and questions from concerned parties, the role of the PR team proved a textbook case of handling crisis communications: they established a Situation Room, where they gathered to share regular updates with the public. Social media was monitored 24/7, with the team’s social media specialist proactively providing updates, dispelling false information, and answering panicked questions. Crucially, the CSUSM Presspage newsroom was publicly positioned as the only official source of accurate and updated info.
The Presspage newsroom truly came into its own during these wildfires:
All press releases, posts and tweets referred back to this central newsroom hub, allowing consistent and coherent control of the message and minimizing misinformation.
Summing up the results of their crisis response efforts, CSUSM’s social media specialist, Katie Chappell concludes there were “fewer phone calls, fewer panicked people, and the media knew where to go”.
Once their community was out of danger, CSUSM put every member of the response team through crisis management training workshops. They ran simulations of potential crisis scenarios. All members of the PR team were also given extra training including press interviews, social media, and Presspage publishing. This way, every team member is prepared to fill emergency roles in at any time.