Crisis Communication

Archive for the ‘Crisis In The News’ Category

Mexico warns no kissing as 81 dead in swine flu outbreak

To date, there have been about 81 deaths linked to the swine flu. It has made its way into the US, infecting several people including students in New York. Schools and universities in Mexico City have been closed and airlines are asking people to not travel to Mexico.

The World Health Organization needs to handle communication about this outbreak, but there also are many other smaller organizations that will need to be quick to communicate.

For example, hospitals need to communicate with people in the communities about what the symptoms are, but also not scare them into thinking they have the swine flu if it is something else.

Schools and universities also will need to have communication in place. What will they do if a student contracts the swine flu? What if a student dies? How will they let parents and the community know that they are handling the problem appropriately.

Doctor’s offices also need to have a plan in place. What if a person comes in feeling sick and they are diagnosed with the swine flu? How will they inform their other patients that they may have been infected?

I recall coming across a flu epidemic plan for CMU during an internet search for an interview I was doing for a class. Although it seemed a little morbid to have a plan on what they would do if many students died, I think their plan was well thought out. I imagine that CMU and other schools are probably reviewing these crisis plans in case there is a large-scale epidemic.

There was a swine flu scare in 1976 as well.


Looking at the news today, one crisis situation sticks out the most to me: Murder-suicide at college.

My first thought is that all colleges are affected by situations like this one. As a college student, my immediate thought is “this could happen here too.” I can’t imagine how a parent might feel.

A student was shot at Henry Ford Community College last Friday. The shooter then shot himself.

The school quickly used its emergency cell phone and e-mail system to alert students. Classes later in the day were cancelled.

Having worked for a university’s public relations department, I know how important student safety is. Central Michigan University has an emergency alert system that students can sign up for to receive e-mail, text or a phone call in the case of an emergency. At the beginning of the fall semester, we had computers in the university center and encouraged students and their parents to sign up.

The front page of the HFCC Web site. The first two paragraphs conscisely explain what happened. Below it is the “important information” section about classes resuming, grief counseling, the closing of the building that the shooting took place in, and information about contributions to the funeral. This is followed by a two-paragraph message from the president.

At the 2008 PRSSA National Conference, I sat through a session with Jeffrey Douglas, who handled the Virginia Tech shootings and have written a blog post about it.

Although this is a much smaller event, I recall Douglas’ discussion about the school’s Web site. It was one of the most important places to have information available for the students. I think this school has done a great job with it.

I haven’t been able to find much additional information about the crisis yet. It seemed to have been handled efficiently at HFCC. But, I think other schools are going to be doing their own crisis communication to reassure students and parents that their campuses are safe and that there are systems in place in case of emergency.

WebMD article

LA Times Blog

Genentech could have a possible crisis on its hands due to the recent public health advisory for its drug Raptiva, which treats psoriasis. The company appears to be handling it well.

WebMD says, “According to the FDA, there have been three confirmed and one possible case of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in people taking Raptiva; three of those people died.”

The FDA issued a warning about Raptiva last October.

There is not yet much information about this. In the articles I have come across have responses from spokespeople, who assure readers that Genentech is working with the FDA.

I think this could evolve into a problem if Raptiva is found to be the cause of PML, and if more people die from the drug.

Facebook’s about face

Facebook backs into a “Bill of Rights

Controversy followed the reorganization of Facebook’s terms of service last week.

I recall seeing several posts on Twitter about “Facebook TOS.” There also were many blog posts and coverage in traditional media.

Facebook handled this crisis well. As criticism became apparent, Facebook polled users and then evaluated the options. Further work could be done to clarify the new terms of service, or, Facebook could return to its previous terms of service.

I think returning to its previous terms of service was the best choice. Facebook let its users know that their concerns were heard. Facebook also found ways to take action. It is inviting users to contribute to the next terms of service.

Lastly, the Facebook founder and CEO was visible. He wrote a blog post about the concerns of the users.

Crisis in the News
Facebook status gets public school employee fired

What’s in the news

What you say isn’t as private as it used to be, especially with the use of social media.

In December, Morgan Wyhowski updated her Facebook status to say: “Morgan wants to kill her ninth grade flute player who stole the school’s $900 dollar piccolo, and is denying it.”

Wyhowski, the band director for grades six through 12, resigned from Bangor Public Schools after being placed on administrative leave. Criminal charges are not being pursued.

The police chief said it was not an actual threat.

See the entire story here: Bangor band director resigns after posting message on Facebook page she wanted to ‘kill’ student

Crisis communication perspective

Wyhowski, who is 23 according to Wood TV 8, resigned from Bangor Public Schools. This was probably best route for both her and the schools because:

  • It stopped the situation from becoming a crisis
  • It avoided them having to terminate a teacher
  • She will likely be able to find another job
  • The crisis will likely evaporate because parents won’t be arguing that the teacher should leave

Millenials, like Wyhowski, use social media to communicate with friends. I’m sure Wyhowski did not expect that anyone, other than friends, would see her post. For this generation, posting a Facebook status in an everyday activity.

Unfortunately, school employees getting fired due to their Facebook postings isn’t unusual. One teacher faced termination after posting “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.” The Washington Post reported on several teachers who had derogatory and inappropriate things posted on the MySpace, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

The best route for schools and other employers to go in the future is the provide warnings to all employees about what is and isn’t appropriate. It might also be suggested that employees place all of their social networks to a private setting if they might post something inappropriate.

Perhaps there should be a “social media” section in the employee handbook. Some argue that workplace life and social life are two separate places, but even outside of work an employee is a representative of their employer.