During my time as a college student, very few crises struck our campus. Unfortunately, students at other universities can't say the same thing. Ever since the shooting at Virginia Tech, several colleges have taken new and necessary security precautions in order to their keep students safe and informed of anything out of the norm.
Auburn University uses a system called AU Alert, where students and families receive text messages, emails and phone calls during a university related emergency. Many other colleges use a similar emergency notification system to alert and inform students of crucial information.
Often times students take these notification systems for granted, not realizing they're for their safety, and remove their phone numbers from the list. It wasn't until my last year of college that I realized how effective and necessary they really are, but how they could be improved.
Word had gotten out about a bomb threat that would cause destruction of "biblical proportions" on campus. It was amazing to see how quickly the message spread through social media. I watched "viral" happen before my eyes. Within minutes of receiving a text message about it from a friend, I had received at least 10 more texts, a few phone calls and read several tweets and Facebook posts from disheveled students and parents. In the next half hour, the university released a statement via Twitter, Facebook and email saying the police were investigating the threat and that they would notify us of any updates. They sent out an AU alert that I didn't receive until several minutes later.
Understandably, it's nearly impossibly to get a message out to more than 30,000 people the second it happens. However, after seeing how quickly word traveled via social media that night, it opened my eyes to how universities could improve on getting the word out during a crisis and get it out fast, and it's only one word: TWITTER.
Within minutes (and probably even seconds) of the threat becoming public, it was on Twitter. Pictures of the threat itself, pictures of text messages about the threat, even sarcastic remarks about the situation we're filling my Twitter feed. My point: if you handle crisis management, it might be a good idea to create a Twitter and Facebook university alert account. Develop a campaign that will encourage students to follow and add these pages during orientations, through your college website, or put it on posters across campus. It's much better to be prepared for a crisis than to handle it after it happens, and with the amount of time students spend on the internet and social media, they're almost sure to see your message within minutes of it being sent.
So next time you send an alert out on your campus, you might be better off clicking "Send Tweet" before you do anything else.