Published on December 16, 2010

The recent emergencies in Canadian Universities and Colleges have received a lot of attention within their local spheres. In the last two weeks, the University of Western Ontario, Georgian College and now more recently York University and Acadia University, have all been shut down to due unforeseen emergencies.

In the cases of Western, Georgian and Acadia, the campuses were closed due to extreme weather conditions. For York University, a fire in the central heating building shut down their Keele campus.

These shut downs were primarily announced via community e-mails, web news items and finally social media updates. The latter, is my point of interest.

All post-secondary institutions have some sort of Emergency Management plan, like this one from the University of Windsor, for example. Within these policies, processes are outlined to respond to emergencies. However, very few of them touch on communicating the messages to stakeholders past e-mail or web updates.

With students quickly consuming any messages provided, they will continue to look for instant access to information and they are turning to social media for answers. Are we ready for them?

In the most recent example, Western updated their 11,000+ Facebook community instantly on their official page and was able to address the issue head on. They received 55 likes and only 8 comments on a post updated at 5:14am announcing the school’s closure. Their feedback from students was largely positive and their community was informed before their morning coffee.

In other cases, infrequent updates can lead to unrest among students, confusion and many questions pilling up on official pages. With extra time on their hands and a topic in mind, students can get creative and having your institution on the right end of the joke can be crucial. In a most recent case, a shutdown became fodder for Twitter’s #1 trending topic in Toronto.

South of the border, our American counterparts have experienced this already. In September, Jessica Krywosa of http://doteduguru.com/ wrote about the #utshooter experience of the University of Texas at Austin. The University was able to quickly respond to an emergency and left many schools asking the question “Does your Campus Security Have a Place in Social Media?”.

In social media we always talk about providing value and being transparent, but in these cases being prepared and providing instant information to stakeholders is critical. Is your institution or company ready to respond to emergencies through social media?