Crisis Management 101

It is kind of hard to believe that it has been a year since Hurricane Irene hit landfall last summer. For many people, Hurricane Irene was just another terrible storm, affecting some more than others. Hurricane Irene hit Marist pretty badly- power was lost to many buildings, areas were closed off to students due to severe flooding, and infrastructure was heavily damaged because of all of the water.
Marist students rescue a car from a flooded parking lot during Hurricane Irene

The day after Hurricane Irene ended, I received an intense crash course in crisis management that I will never forget. I woke up to a phone call at 7:00 in the morning, and it was an unknown number. I answered it, and it was the President of the college, Dr. Dennis Murray, asking me if I could come to a makeshift command center in the student center as soon as possible for an emergency meeting. About a half hour later, I got to the student center, and the entire senior administration alongside the student affairs staff was there. Our first task was establishing a direct line of communication with students, parents and staff.

            It never seeks to amaze me how important social media can be in communication during a crisis. I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to Tim Massie, then Chief Public Affairs Officer of Marist, who is a twitter master and knows the ins and outs of how to use social media in just about any situation. Tim says that, “during a crisis, social media is invaluable in keeping people informed and squelching rumors.” During the meeting, we had a twitter page up on a screen displaying the most up to date tweets with the #Marist hashtag. Every time someone would post something that was fabricated or exaggerated, we would confirm that the tweet was a rumor, than squash that tweet using social media. (I strongly recommend reading Tim’s perspective of the Hurricane Irene ordeal, which can be found on his blog here.)

            After President Murray gave everyone their tasks for the day, he asked me to go with him to visit the affected areas. We jumped into his car, drove and walked around to the worst hit areas of campus, assessing the damage first hand. After a few hours “in the field,” we reconvened with the entire group. Late in the afternoon at this point, each administrator had a POA (Plan of Attack) for what the next steps were going to be for getting Marist back to normal. It was great seeing how so many different departments came together to make the best out of a potential terrible situation, and it reminded me once again just how great the leadership team at Marist is.
A clip of the memorandum from Marist President Dr. Murray  

            The following day, Dr. Murray sent out a memorandum to the college community, which can be found in full here. As one Vice President told me early that morning, “you are going to learn more today than you will in an entire semester of college.” And he couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any better.