No campus official wants to find themselves in a situation involving a missing student, but the reality is that you can’t predict everything. There are a number of factors to consider when such a situation arises – ensuring HEOA and Clery Act compliance, notifying the student’s family, handling the media – it can be difficult to manage the process. For that reason, it is essential to make sure your procedure for internal communication is at its best. With effective internal communication, you can ensure the coordination of campus security and resources, consistency in dealing with the media as well as keep order on your campus. Bowling Green State University’s Associate Dean of Students, Michael Ginsburg, shares some proven steps for handling internal communication.
When a missing student situation arises – or any campus crisis – people are going to have questions, whether it’s other students, the media, local community members or the family and friends of the missing student. The absence of clear information can give rise to incorrect and inaccurate information being circulated. The presence of online social communities greatly expedites this potential disbursement of disinformation. This can create a lot of confusion among university officials as they attempt to ascertain and evaluate information and then coordinate with one another.
It is for this reason that it is key to assign a single source for communication. This person (or office) will be the official “voice” of the situation. By establishing a single source for communication, that person will have the time to sift through the information coming in and determine which is credible and actionable and that which is hearsay, rumors, etc. This will play an important role in keeping local police and campus security on the right track, delivering accurate information to the missing student’s family (without over burdening them with too many “what-ifs”) and keeping a consistent narrative when talking to the media.
All Partners Should Still Contribute to the Message
While it is important to have a single source from which the information comes, others in your organization may be in a better position to delivery accurate information. Perhaps the student’s advisor has important information as to the student’s possible whereabouts. Maybe a police officer or security guard got an important interview from a close friend that produced a valuable insight. All of these resources should be heard and their information needs to become a part of the message being delivered by the single-source contact person.
Moreover, administrators and other campus personnel may want to have a hand in crafting the message as all parties would be concerned with ensuring the situation is resolved and handled in the most professional manner possible. It is important to listen to all parties in crafting the message, but make sure that only one party delivers it.
All Requests for Information Should be Directed to One Source
As your institution updates information on the potential missing student, questions will start arising. Just as you appointed one source as the authority on information coming from the institution, you must direct all questions to a single-source. Most likely this will be the same source. It is imperative that your institution is on the same page when updating information and answering questions.
While we all hope that missing students and other campus crises never happen, it is necessary to plan ahead in case something should go wrong. Having a plan, and keeping your administration, faculty, staff and police up-to-date and on that plan, will go a long way should you find yourself in a crisis situation.
Don’t miss out on Michael Ginsburg’s Upcoming Training With Higher Ed Hero “Protect Your Campus & Students: Clery Compliant Missing Student Policies” on October 2, 2013.