Policy 55

University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Managing Communication During A Time of Crisis
Crisis Communication Plan
Policy #55

Communication is a key factor in the University's response to any crisis situation. Good communications policy and practice can assist in the management of the crisis; provide direction to faculty, staff and students; and disseminate information to appropriate constituents and the general public while maintaining the University's credibility. 

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside will take every step to be forthright and timely in its communications with the University community, the media, and the general public during a time of crisis. Decisions and actions will be guided by responsible concern for the right of privacy, personal security, legal liability, and the public's legitimate right to be informed.

Authority of the Chancellor

During a crisis, communications--both internal and external--will be under the direction of the Chancellor or his/her designee. In a time of crisis, all written or oral statements (including news conferences, news releases, open memoranda or letters, interviews, and messages from information desks) to campus groups, the media, and the public require authorization of the Chancellor or her/his designee.

Definition of Crisis  

A crisis may be the result of catastrophe or the result of circumstances with potential for adverse public relations. Some examples of possible crises are violent or criminal behaviors, civil disturbances, political or racial-oriented controversies, sexual harassment, accidental death or suicide, explosion or fire, storm damage, employee misconduct, and bomb threats.

Relationship to Disaster Action Plans

This crisis communication plan, while dealing with a broader range of concerns than those covered by campus disaster action plans*, shall be incorporated into each disaster plan. Where necessary, steps specific to any given type of disaster will be added. The campus   risk manager and the director of public relations shall be responsible for developing disaster-specific action plans.

* Disaster action plans   pertain to events or actions that have the potential for bodily harm, e.g. Bomb   Threats, Tornado Warnings and Alerts, Fire, Chemical Spills or Smoke Evacuations.

Before A Crisis   Occurs

1. Orientation. Annually, the University will provide organized training on managing campus communication in times of crisis for campus leaders. Persons required to participate will include but not be limited to members of the Chancellor's Cabinet, deans, dean of students, director of university police, risk manager, director of physical plant, director of student health and counseling, and the director of public relations.

2. Crisis Management Team. The Crisis Management Team (CMT) shall serve as the group responsible for advising the Chancellor and coordinating the University's actions in time of crisis or potential crisis. The Chancellor shall designate persons to a CMT. In addition to the Chancellor, the standing members of the CMT will be the Provost/Vice Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor and the Executive Director of University Advancement. Other members of the University community most likely to be designated to a CMT, depending upon the circumstances, include college deans, dean of students, director of university police, risk manager, director of physical plant, director of student health and counseling, and the director of public relations. Others may also be designated by the Chancellor.

3. Communication Chain. A list of names, titles, and phone numbers of those persons most likely to serve on the CMT (see designated positions in 1 and 2 above) and a procedure for contacting each person, regardless of when a crisis occurs, will be distributed to the Chancellor and her/his Cabinet. Lists of other persons to be contacted in case of a crisis--both those working for the University and key community people including media representatives--need to be prepared in advance and distributed to the Chancellor and His/her Cabinet. These lists should include names, titles, affiliations, office and home phone numbers, and alternate contacts in case a particular individual is not reachable. The director of public relations shall be responsible for developing and maintaining accurate lists and providing them to the Chancellor for distribution.

4. Logistical Details. The director of public relations will prepare, in advance, logistical arrangements for such things as potential news conference/media availability sites, designated phone lines for media representatives, inventory and availability of equipment and space, parking for media including satellite broadcast trucks, and names and availability of support and technical staff so the director of public relations can deal directly with media representatives. The director will provide written outlines of these arrangements to the Chancellor and His/her Cabinet and keep them up-to-date. 

Anticipating a Crisis  

5. Situation Analysis. Whenever possible, staff and faculty should assess situations for their potential to result in a crisis, using the definitions in the first paragraph of this document to determine the meaning of crisis.

6. Briefings. When staff anticipate potential for a crisis, they should brief (a) their senior administrative officer (dean, provost, vice chancellor, executive director) who will, in turn, be responsible for briefing the chancellor and (b) the executive director of university advancement. In the absence of the executive director of university advancement, they should brief the director of public relations. When time permits, as when potential for crisis is determined, the situation analysis and briefing should be prepared in writing and used for future reference.

Briefings should include all relevant information, including but not limited to: 

  • Who is involved and what are their titles or responsibilities?
  • How, when, and where did the problem begin or occur?
  • What's happening now?    
  • What are the possible ways in which this situation could play out?
  • Are there legal or ethical ramifications? How does the open records law apply?
  • What are the existing University plans, procedures and time lines for dealing with such a crisis?    
  • Is there a history of similar problems? If so, how were they resolved or what resulted?
  • Are outside parties aware of this potential problem/crisis? If so, who are they?

Responding to a Crisis

7. Develop a Communication Plan. Discuss these briefing facts with the chancellor, the appropriate senior administrative officers, and the director of public relations in order to develop a strategy for communicating with the media and other campus constituencies,   including the designation of spokespersons.

8. Report Changes in Circumstances. Whenever the potential crisis dissipates or begins to escalate, the Chancellor, the senior officer, and the Executive Director of University Advancement should be notified immediately.

9. Coordinate Communications. During a crisis the Division of University Relations will be responsible for working closely with the Chancellor and those directly involved in executing communications strategies, including:

coordinating inquiries from media representatives preparing and distributing statements to both internal and external audiences answering inquiries from internal and external audiences serving as the collection point for up-to-date information assisting/controlling media representatives, including working with University Police to designate a safe place at which they can learn about the situation in case of an emergency correcting false information

When the Crisis   is Over

10. Debrief. The Crisis Management Team should convene to discuss what the crisis means for the University and its constituents, faculty and staff, the communities, etc., and to develop a follow-up communication plan to give closure to the incident or to keep people informed of post crisis developments.


1. NOTIFY THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNIVERSITY ADVANCEMENT (OR DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN HER/HIS ABSENCE) when potential exists for a crisis situation to develop or   when a crisis occurs.

2. ASSEMBLE ALL PERTINENT FACTS AND COMMIT THEM TO WRITING. Be sure to determine what University, System and/or legal provision/procedures apply to the circumstances. Keep these for future reference.


4. ACT QUICKLY. Give highest priority to completing these action steps.

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