Crisis Communications Checklist
The life and work of the Centre College community flows, for the most part, in predictable routines. From time to time, however, the College experiences an event that departs from our routine and/or poses a threat to our community well-being. During such times, communication—and, especially, dealings with the news media—take on special significance. News reports become a primary source of information for many of Centre's constituents and for the general public, so the College has a strong vested interest in the degree to which news reports are accurate. In addition, news stories and the news gathering process may have implications for subsequent administrative or legal action.
For those reasons and others, Centre has developed a set of guidelines for communicating during an emergency or crisis. These guidelines also are helpful in considering any type of communication concerning potentially sensitive information about the College or any of its constituents.
Centre College recognizes and values the right of college students and employees to exercise freedom of expression. These guidelines are intended not to curtail such freedom but to clarify circumstances in which an employee's words or actions might be construed as official communications of the College. The intent is to insure Centre's compliance with federal law concerning the confidentiality of student's records; to appropriately protect the privacy of Centre students, former students, and employees; and to avoid unnecessary legal problems that may flow from emergency situations.
2. Applicable situations
These guidelines are especially recommended for use in the event of an emergency on Centre's main campus in Danville, an off-campus emergency or crisis that has a direct bearing on Centre students or employees, any situation in which a police report is filed concerning a Centre student or employee, and other situations that deal with sensitive information or potential controversy.
3. Federal law regarding confidentiality of student records
Federal law protects the confidentiality of student records by placing restrictions on the release of certain kinds of information that the college maintains. Generally, the law declares that it is legal for the College to release certain types of “directory information,” but the law in no way requires the College to release such information. Centre College respects the privacy of student information and releases information only when that is the essential and appropriate thing to do. Also, the Centre Communications Office gives every student the opportunity to grant or deny permission for the office to publicize that student's honors and awards.
The following items are defined by federal law as “directory information”: student name, address, and telephone number; date and place of birth; major and minor fields of study; dates of attendance; degrees and awards received; most recent educational institution attended by the student; participation in officially recognized activities and sports; weight and height of members of athletic teams. As stated above, the College has the legal right to release or share such information but, in many cases, may choose not to do so in order to serve the best interest of our students. Routine (non-emergency) requests for directory information should be referred to the Centre Registrar's Office.
4. Provisions in the federal law for release of student health information in emergency situations
The federal law regarding student records does allow for institutional disclosure of protected information in emergency situations “when necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.” Such a release of information at Centre usually would require approval by a senior administrator except in those situations in which a staff member needs to quickly communicate health information about a particular student to a physician to protect the health of that student.
5. Implications of employee statements, comments, and observations
- Any time a Centre employee shares college-related information with someone who is not a Centre employee, the employee may be perceived as speaking in an official capacity. On a routine, day-to-day basis, most employees enjoy talking with their neighbors and friends about the College and find it easy to distinguish between information that can be shared and information that should remain confidential due to basic privacy rights and/or federal law. However, in the case of an emergency, a crisis, or any action of a sensitive nature, employees should exercise special caution in sharing information. Before speaking, the employee should ask himself/herself: Is this information absolutely factual and accurate? Could this information have bearing on a news report and/or future legal action?
- The College recommends that most employees refer official media inquiries to the Communications Office, especially in the early stages of a emergency when the College still is attempting to gather factual, complete information. In the instance of a media inquiry that causes concern to a college employee, the Centre Communications Office recommends that the employee's initial response be “I'll need a little time to respond to your question. Let me get back to you.” rather than “No comment.”
- In situations where media interest persists and employees have concerns about responding to media inquiries, employees and students may request guidance from a staff member in the Communications Office about what to expect in an interview situation.
In instances where a charge has been filed with the police—or charges may be pending—employees should exercise special caution in releasing information that could interfere with an investigation or subsequent legal proceeding.
6. Official college spokespersons
To insure the accuracy and consistency of information provided by Centre in a time of crisis, the College often designates a single office or person to issue official statements and respond to media inquiries. Most often that person will be a staff member in the Communications Office.
Amy Clark Wise (Assistant Director of Communications for Marketing and PR), Office: 238-5748
Diane Johnson (Associate Director of Communications and College Editor), Office: 238-5717
Mike Pritchard (Sports Information Director), Office: 238-5489, Home: 236-0937
Role of the Centre Department of Public Safety in Emergency Situations
The Centre Department of Public Safety (DPS) plays a unique role in campus emergencies and crises. Here is a listing of some of the department's duties and responsibilities.
- DPS officers often become the first college employees on the scene in case of an emergency. They have the right to assume “incident command” in a situation that is life-threatening and/or that brings local emergency personnel to the campus. This simply means that DPS officers are in charge of the physical location related to an emergency and are authorized to restrict an area, request or require an evacuation, or take other steps to protect people on campus.
- The officers accept responsibility for providing the first notification to key members of the faculty and staff about any emergency.
- DPS officers are the principal contacts and liaison with local emergency personnel during an emergency and during any subsequent investigation. They also serve as principal contact with the Norfolk Southern personnel in case of an emergency related to the railroad.
- DPS maintains an emergency response plan for community and takes responsibility for training those people who must implement the plan.
- DPS maintains maps, floor plans, and other information that can be essential in an emergency.
Communications Office Home Page
600 W. Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422