Are You Ready? Web Operation Planning for Crisis Situations

Today’s guest post is written by Matt Herzberger, Director of Web Communications at Florida International University. He is also co-founder of BlogHighEd–a great source of information for higher ed professionals on planning for crisis. Thanks to Matt for sharing his expertise. 

April 17, 2007 – What is the significance of this date? Probably the most important date in the history of university crisis management planning. In case you are still unsure, April 17, 2007 was one day after the Virginia Tech shooting. It was a day that most universities’ communication vehicles were woefully unequipped to deal with crisis situations.

Matt Herzberger

A few months after, I sat in on a presentation by Michael Dame, Director at Web Communications at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting. He gave lessons learned and helpful tips that I keep in my drawer. I reference them on a regular basis when I talk about infrastructure planning.

What are we talking about?

  • Redundancy of Systems – have more than one location for your core information systems (e.g., university homepage, email systems).

  • High-Capacity Server(s) – servers with the ability to handle large bandwidth as a benchmark 432GB at VA Tech (NOTE: there were very few twitter users at this point). Be able to spool up to meet demand if needed.

  • Light Templates – these are light html templates with no bells and whistles or embeds at all, they are used when CNN is pointing to your site to minimize the server load. Essentially it will be a running news wall, essential contact information with very few additional links and images.

  • Link Out to Multimedia Sources – let YouTube, Ustream, Flickr, etc., take the bandwidth hit.

  • Text Alert System – this market has grown dramatically since VA Tech. Require students to sign up upon admittance to the university. Let parents know about it as well.

  • Clear Communication Plan – know the who and how of getting your vetted messages posted.

  • Plan Responses to Scenarios – a shooting is different than a hurricane – have different communications and operations plans.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice – hold drills for sample situations regularly to keep everyone on their toes.

Who to focus on?

You need to realize that, in a split second, the main audience of your site has gone from prospective students to an entirely new audience who needs your undivided attention. They include:

  • Students

  • Faculty and staff

  • Parents and family of students

  • Local community

What to focus on?

  • Keep your servers up

  • Communicate essential info clearly

  • Put the affected people first in all decisions

I hope that most of this is not new info to you, but it may trigger a reminder to start a dialogue at your respective organization on planning for crisis. The best time to prepare for the inevitable is before it happens. Make a date to sit down with your team and take a look at your web preparedness now. What tips do you have for setting up a web presence for a crisis? Please share them in the comments.

Matt is the Director of Web Communication at Florida International University. He has more than thirteen years of Web experience with ten years in higher education. He started in the corporate world as a production assistant for a higher ed web design agency where he produced sites for various universities and colleges. He then moved into higher education as a designer and strategist for various higher ed institutions. Matt is active in both the higher ed and local Miami communities in advocating for the use of web technologies as a speaker and community leader in both. He is also a co-founder of the BlogHighEd blog network. You can follow Matt at his blog

3 Responses to “Are You Ready? Web Operation Planning for Crisis Situations”

  1. Deborah Edwards-Onoro February 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    How timely! After last night’s Crisis Communications talk on HigherEdLive, I had several follow up questions. Thanks Matt and Chris for this helpful post.

    • cksyme February 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks so much, Deborah. You’d think I planned that, but I didn’t. :) I appreciate Matt’s technical expertise–web operations are #1 critical for a crisis.


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