Duke News & Communications

Duke University Crisis Communications Plan

What this plan is, and why we have it
Duke University’s crisis communications plan outlines the roles, responsibilities and protocols that will guide the university in promptly sharing information with all of Duke’s audiences during an emergency or crisis. The audiences for this plan include undergraduates, graduate and professional school students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, trustees, neighbors, city leaders, media, our Durham community, and state and federal officials.

This plan is a part of the university’s overall Emergency Management Response Plan, coordinated through the Office of the Executive Vice President, who serves as Emergency Director under the Emergency Plan. It is designed primarily for the university rather than the Duke University Health System, which has its own plan. However, it will be carried out in close coordination with the Health System to align messages and operations, promoting effective communications across the entire Duke community.

Our guiding principle will be to communicate facts as quickly as possible, updating information regularly as circumstances change, to ensure the safety of the Duke community and the continued operation of essential services. Our efforts to be simultaneously accurate and quick may mean that some communications are incomplete. We accept this, knowing that how we communicate in an emergency or a crisis will affect public perceptions of the university. Honesty and speed are the most effective means to avoid lasting damage to the institution and widespread second-guessing by the public, which expects immediate access to accurate information. A good offense is the best defense. At the same time, we realize that in a crisis, people will likely expect us to have more information than we may actually have. That makes it imperative to speak with accuracy about what we know and not to speculate about details we do not know.

We will use multiple mediums to reach as many people as possible with accurate, timely information. This is especially important in the first hours and days of an emergency or a crisis. Our goal is to be open, accountable and accessible to all audiences, although mindful of legal and privacy concerns.

For the purposes of this plan, a crisis is defined as a significant event that prompts significant, often sustained, news coverage and public scrutiny and has the potential to damage the institution’s reputation, image or financial stability. A crisis could be precipitated by an emergency or a controversy. An emergency is a fire, hurricane, crime that presents an ongoing threat or other event that involves a response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel. A controversy could be student protests or employee misconduct.

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Putting the plan into action
Our Crisis Communications Team will convene when the Emergency Director or his/her designee officially declares an emergency. In the event of an ongoing threat, the Clery Act requires universities to make timely notifications to the campus community. Our goal is to make that notification within 30 minutes. Depending on the nature of the emergency or crisis, it may not be possible for Emergency Leadership Team, the Emergency Director or his/her designee to convene or make quick decisions. Given the urgency of rapid communications, the senior vice president of public affairs and government relations or his/her designee has the authority to begin taking action immediately, in consultation with the executive vice president or his/her designee, until a broader decision can be made about how the university should proceed. Also, the senior vice president of public affairs and government relations may identify a potential crisis or controversy that is not an immediate emergency and assemble the Crisis Communications Team to prepare a communications strategy – again, as part of a coordinated university response.

Once senior leaders do meet and have the opportunity to determine whether the university is facing a crisis, execution of this plan can be adjusted accordingly.

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Who is on the crisis communications team?

•    Senior vice president for public affairs and government relations or his/her designee, chair
•    Associate vice president for News and Communications
•    Assistant vice president for Medical Center News Office
•    Assistant vice president for Communications Services, or other designee of the executive
      vice president
•    Associate vice president for Federal Relations
•    Assistant vice president for Community Affairs
•    Executive director of Alumni and Development Communications
•    Designee from Provost’s Office
•    Director of media relations for News and Communications
•    Director of communications for undergraduate education
•    Director of communications for Student Affairs
•    Director of communications for undergraduate/graduate/professional schools, as appropriate
•    Director for Sports Information
•    Senior communications strategist for Campus Services
•    Manager of internal communications for News and Communications
•    Manager of internal communications for Duke Medicine
•    Manager of web projects for News and Communications
•    Senior communications specialist, Office of the President

The senior vice president or his/her designee will add other team members, as appropriate under the circumstances. The senior vice president or his/her designee will contact each member by phone and/or email to convene immediately.

The Crisis Communications Team headquarters for most crises will be the conference room of the Office of News and Communications, 615 Chapel Dr. The conference room is equipped with cell phones and batteries, laptop computers, conference-call capabilities for members who can’t attend meetings, press packets, press identification badges and parking passes, and copies of this plan.

The back-up location will be the media room at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The team may move its headquarters to Cameron in a number of circumstances, including technical problems at the news office or a need to be in close proximity to the news media if they are set up at Wilson Recreation Center.

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What the crisis communications team is expected to do
The Crisis Communications Team will implement some, or all, of the steps outlined below based on the circumstances, coordinating with the Emergency Leadership Team. Throughout a crisis, the team will meet frequently to review changing facts, assess whether key messages are reaching audiences and determine whether strategies need to change. Success of this plan rests on open and frequent communications between Duke’s Emergency Leadership Team, the Emergency Operations Group and the Crisis Communications Team.

In an emergency, our goal is to issue our first communication to key university audiences within 30 minutes of notification of the event, with regular updates as needed. Some situations may require even faster initial communications.

The team will carry out these tasks:

Designate a secretary who can maintain meeting notes, to-do lists, information files on the ongoing crisis and other items.

Review and write down known facts – those that can and cannot be released to the public -- and determine whether a response is needed, and if that response is needed for all of the university’s key audiences. These facts will be used to fill in templates for news releases, text messages and other items that have already been developed. A list of potential crises is included in this plan’s appendix, along with a list of audiences and who will be responsible for coordinating communications to each. It is critical as the situation changes for new fact sheets to be developed.

WHY? These fact sheets can be used to update websites, emails, news releases and other communication channels. They will also help guide the team’s overall strategy as events unfold.

Develop several key messages that will be included in all university communications. One message typically will address what Duke is doing to ensure the safety of students and other community members. Another may need to be forward-looking and address what we are doing to make sure the crisis, or a problem with our response, doesn’t happen again. All of the messages should evolve as circumstances change but will always aim to restore and maintain confidence and calm, balancing a sense of concern with resolve and action. Sample messages are included in the approved templates.

Determine who will act as spokespeople – both a senior leader of the university and someone charged primarily with communications responsibilities. The senior leader will be the public face of the university, while the communicator will run briefings and handle media questions between such formal press gatherings.

Designate a member of the Crisis Communications Team to communicate key messages and emerging facts to those spokespeople and handle any last-minute media training. It is critical that senior leaders, including deans and faculty leaders, have copies of the most recent news releases and other messages so everyone is clear on what is being shared with the public.

WHY? In a time of emergency, it is critical for a high-ranking leader of the university – in most cases, the president – to be the university’s public face and take the lead in communicating key messages and answering questions. Such action illustrates that the situation is under control and that efforts are being made to address any questions that have arisen. It also serves to calm various audiences. As the situation evolves, the senior leader acting as the key spokesperson may change.

Assign responsibilities to the Crisis Communications Team to communicate the facts of the situation and our response to key audiences. Each member will use approved messages and templates for this effort. Whenever possible, the first groups that should be informed about a crisis are internal audiences directly affected, such as students, employees, faculty and trustees. The next groups typically would include parents, alumni, community leaders and other audiences, as well as the media.

The channels used to communicate to each audience may be different, so each team member will be expected to develop detailed plans to reach his/her designated audience. A complete list of the people responsible for each audience, and suggested channels to reach them, is included in Appendix A. An abbreviated list is here:

Students (Vice president for student affairs or his/her designee, in collaboration with dean of undergraduate education or his/her designee)
Faculty and staff (Assistant vice president for communications services)
Senior leaders and trustees (Senior vice president for public affairs and government relations or university secretary, as appropriate)
Deans (Provost)
Parents (Vice president for student affairs or his/her designee)
Alumni (Executive director of alumni and development communications)
Durham community, neighbors and city leaders (Assistant vice president for community relations)
Local law enforcement (Director for Duke University Police Department or his/her designee)
Media (ONC director of media relations/Assistant vice president for the Medical Center News Office)
Federal leaders, agencies and contacts (Assistant vice president for federal relations)
State leaders, agencies and contacts (Senior vice president for public affairs and government relations)
Visitors (Assistant vice president for communications services in collaboration with manager of internal communications for News & Communications)

The Crisis Communications Team, depending on the circumstances, may identify other audiences and assign responsibility for them.

Carry out web response. ONC will use DukeToday as a primary source of updates, linking from there to other pages with detailed information. ONC may also create special pages or sites about a situation, linking to these from DukeToday and www.duke.edu.

ONC has developed a template for a crisis website, with limited navigation, message boards and other features, that can be used as needed. It also has developed a “lite” homepage. Other possible online steps may include removing Flash features, taking down images or seeking backup web support from colleagues at Stanford University to ensure that download speeds and web effectiveness remain acceptable even as traffic demands increase.

The manager of internal communications, working with the ONC web projects manager and in consultation with the Office of Information Technology, will take responsibility for overseeing all of these changes and needed updates.

Assign communicators, as needed, to handle phone calls, using a script they develop from the key messages and facts the Crisis Communications Team has developed. These staffers should reach out to other units that handle multiple calls during a crisis, including our general number, Student Affairs, admissions and the communicators list. These employees will also monitor and update the recorded message on university hotline(s).

As part of this effort, a separate log will be maintained to record all calls and interview requests from members of the media. These staffers will be responsible for ensuring that all calls are returned.

WHY? Our policy is always to be as responsive as possible to news media. During a crisis, it is important to maintain an organized log of interview requests so that calls are returned promptly. It is a missed opportunity if members of the media don’t know our key messages and facts as we understand them.

Develop communications from the president, as appropriate. It may be necessary for the president to communicate to the Duke community about the emergency. The senior vice president for public affairs and government relations will assign a communicator to draft presidential correspondence and any other written materials, such as talking points, speeches or op-eds.

Open the media center, and determine whether press conference(s) should be held. During most news events, news reporters and photographers are allowed to interview members of the Duke community at a staging area between the Bryan Center and the Chapel. During a severe crisis or in severe weather, the media area may be moved to Wilson Recreation Center. ONC may also use other rooms for press events, as needed.

ONC’s director of media relations or assistant vice president for the Medical Center News Office will be responsible for opening this facility, bringing needed supplies from the Office of News & Communications (including identification badges, parking passes, media guidelines and press packets) and determining a schedule for 24-hour staffing. The director of media relations/associate vice president will coordinate press conferences (including arranging needed equipment, such as microphones, mult box, etc.), and related media advisories, as needed.

If the emergency requires the opening of a media center, the university must treat equipping this center – with such items as tables and chairs – as a high priority. Some emergencies may require that this media center remain open 24 hours a day for an indefinite period. Should that occur, the senior vice president for public affairs and government relations has the authority to use communicators from around the university for staffing. In such a situation, no single person can or should be expected to work around the clock. Rather, the senior vice president or his/her designee must tap and empower other senior-level communicators to assist with managing the facility and answering media requests.

WHY? Wilson Recreation Center was chosen because of its technological infrastructure, its food and bathroom facilities, and proximate parking for news crews and satellite trucks. Members of the media will be able to set up on the basketball court and have access to the interview room for private interviews. A security officer should be assigned to prevent access to other parts of the building.

Assign an ONC staffer to monitor media coverage to anticipate any problems in the way information is flowing to the news media. ONC already has a system for daily monitoring of print coverage, broadcast media and blogs, and that system will be put to use for this effort. Daily summaries of relevant media coverage will be provided to the university’s senior leadership and Crisis Communications Team.

WHY? It will be critical to be aware of how the university is being portrayed in early and ongoing coverage to adjust the communications response as needed to limit rumors, correct errors and maintain confidence in the university.

Determine how we should report on the situation for internal audiences. For instance, are there town meetings, or protests or vigils? The manager of internal communications will be responsible for coordinating print, video and audio coverage, working with the Office of Communications Services, University Photography and ONC’s Radio-TV Services, of the events for internal publications and for web posting.

Evaluate how to help our community recover, return to normal and, if needed, regain faith in the university after the trigger event of the crisis is over, in coordination with the senior leadership. This may include the need for town hall meetings, letters from the president expressing sympathy, detailed plans to prevent another such crisis, etc.

Within 10 days of the end of the event, assess how this plan functioned, address any needed updates and recognize the work of partners whose help was invaluable. (i.e., assistance from communicators from other units or universities)

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Approvals of outgoing information
Typically, we use a collegial approach of multiple approvals before we distribute communications pieces, including emails and news releases. That system will not work in a crisis. Seconds matter in a crisis, and we will be judged by how quickly we share information with key audiences.

As a matter of policy, Duke is committed to trying to meet these expectations. It recognizes the need for unusually crisp decision-making during a crisis to enable rapid, accurate communication in coordination with the institution’s broader process. We have developed templates that have been approved in advance by senior officers and legal counsel to expedite the approval process during a crisis. Final approval for all communications – for the university and health system – rests with the senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, or his/her designee.

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When a crisis has been declared, employees of the Office of Public Affairs, Office of News & Communications, and Office of Communications Services will be relieved of their typical job responsibilities to help execute this plan.

It may also be necessary to have additional help. The senior vice president has the authority to enlist the help of communicators from across Duke and assign them as needed to the crisis response.

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The end of the crisis
The Emergency Director (EVP) will determine when the crisis has ended and routine communications processes can resume. The decision to declare the emergency over will trigger a review of how the crisis was handled and how communications can improve.

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Education and testing
The assistant vice president for communications services will take the lead in educating our community about how and when members would get messages from Duke in a crisis. The procedures may be similar to those used to educate the community about the university’s severe weather policy.

The university will conduct an annual drill of emergency management with participation by members of the Emergency Leadership Team. The crisis communications plan will be tested at these times with participation by members of the Crisis Communications Team.

As part of this process, the associate vice president for news and communications and assistant vice president for communications services will schedule media training sessions for senior administrators and key team members. After the initial session to train all key officials, sessions will be scheduled annually for people who are new to the Emergency Leadership Team, the Emergency Operations Group or the Crisis Communications Team. Every two years, all members will attend a refresher course in media training.

Media training also will be necessary for certain officials who are neither part of the Emergency Leadership Team nor the Crisis Communications Team. For instance, the executive director of Counseling & Psychological Services, the director of occupational and environmental safety and the sexual assault support services coordinator may be among those needed to speak to the media in the event of an emergency. The associate vice president for news and communications or his/her designee will develop a list of such officials and offer media training on an annual basis.

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Twice a year, we will need to update a number of items contained in the appendix of this plan.

The assistant vice president for communications services, or his/her designee, will update phone lists for members of the Emergency Leadership Team, Emergency Operations Group and Crisis Communications Team. The assistant vice president, working with the Office of Information Technology, will oversee updates and improvements to email lists for internal audiences.

The associate vice president for news and communications, or his/her designee, will oversee updates of media lists and fact sheets.

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