Crisis Communications at Oregon State University

Oregon State University (OSU) issues a timely warning whenever: (1) a crime specified under the Jeanne Clery Act (Clery Act) is reported to the Oregon State University Department of Public Safety (DPS), a campus security authority (CSA), or OSU is informed by law enforcement; (2) there is a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees because of the crime and (3) the crime occurred at a reportable location defined by the Clery Act.

OSU may also send additional safety notifications not required by the Clery Act to increase safety and awareness for the OSU community.

Reportable locations defined by the Clery Act include, but are not limited to, the Corvallis campus, Cascade campus, Hatfield Marine Science Center, OSU Portland Center, OSU at Eastern Oregon University, areas adjacent to OSU campus properties, non-campus property owned or controlled by OSU or OSU recognized student organizations, and certain other areas covered by the Clery Act.

Crisis Communication Principles

  1. OSU departmental  messages informing the university community about safety matters carry significant weight and represent the university as an institution.
     
  2. OSU safety messages are used when university leaders believe a communication is necessary to inform the university community and contribute to community safety.
     
  3. When a public safety matter does not meet all criteria required of a Clery Timely Warning, university leaders may still determine a safety message is appropriate.
     
  4. Safety messages may best be sent to specific audiences and not to all community members.
     
  5. All safety-related messages will contain specific and actionable content. If it is not possible to provide specific and actionable information, university leaders will assess whether a safety message is appropriate.
     
  6. All safety messaging decisions will include consideration of additional impacts and unintended consequences on university departments and community members.
     
  7. University safety messages should address the current matter and audience impacted.
     
  8. Templates with  standard messaging are encouraged. However, specific information based on the current matter should be included when using templates.
     
  9. The decision-making process for communicating safety matters will respect the multiple roles and professional responsibilities within the university.

Crisis Communications Plan Elements

A. Assessment:

A crisis is defined as an event or situation that:

  • Could affect or has affected negatively the health, safety or welfare of students, faculty, staff, campus visitors or the larger Corvallis community.
  • Severely impedes or limits the core function of the university.
  • Could or has negatively affected the reputation/image of the university and/or public confidence in the institution.
  • Causes disruption of normal campus operations.

B. Mobilization:

To facilitate a timely communication response, the Vice President for University Relations and Marketing (URM) (or their delegate) is authorized to mobilize the Crisis Communication Plan (CCP) in consultation with the university’s Immediate Response Group (IRG). The IRG is staffed by the chief assistant to the OSU president and includes:

  • Provost and Executive Vice President.
  • Vice President for Finance and Administration.
  • Vice President for University Relations and Marketing.
  • General Counsel.

VP for URM also informs university leaders dependent upon the crisis occurring, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Assistant Vice President of Human Resources.
  • Associate Vice President for Public Safety/Chief of Police.
  • Vice President for Research.

In the absence of the VP for URM, the delegated authority hierarchy is:

  1. Associate VP for URM
  2. Director of News & Research Communications

OSU’s president and IRG members must be fully apprised of the plan throughout the crisis and clearly informed of identified communication strategies and messaging. When developing campus-wide crisis communications, OSU may activate the Crisis Communication Team to assist in development of the message. The team typically consists of designated representatives from:

  • University Relations and Marketing.
  • Department of Public Safety.
  • Office of General Counsel.
  • Dean of Student’s Office.
  • Emergency Management.

Certain crises may require the authorization or guidance of agencies and organizations outside of OSU prior to initiating any communications. These may include the Corvallis Police Department, Corvallis Fire Department, Benton County Sherriff’s Office or Health Department and other agencies.

Some crises may require the involvement of other OSU units and communications professionals on campus as determined by the vice president for URM. The vice president will designate a project team to coordinate with others on and off campus, guided by the communication matrix (See Crisis Communication Contact Matrix, Appendix A).

In the event of a major crisis or emergency (e.g. earthquake, rampant infectious disease outbreak, catastrophic building loss, etc.), the OSU Emergency Operation Center (EOC) may be activated. When the EOC is activated, information management will be necessary to support a unified campus communication effort. Under the leadership of URM, campus communication experts may be asked to work from a common location, typically called a Joint Information Center (JIC). By co-locating communication expertise and resources, efficiency, accuracy, and message consistency over a longer timeframe can be achieved.

C. Action plan:

Once the need for crisis communications has been identified, target audiences and appropriate methods of communication will be determined and compliance with the Clery Act, HIPAA, and FERPA will be ensured. These steps may include some or all of the following actions:

  • URM coordinates the release of all external institutional communication, including official statements from appropriate university officials.
  • Share official messages with key communications personnel with responsibilities related to this plan. The following distribution channels may be used (See Appendix A for contact information):
    • Official OSU social media platforms.
    • University home page and https://oregonstate.edu/alerts
    • Emergency Notification System (ENS) – OSU Alert.
    • OSU Inform email lists.
    • OSU Campus Status line (541-737-8000).
    • News media notification (including Flash Alert).
    • Student and employee email lists.
  • Designate an official spokesperson. The vice president of URM (or designee) is the lead OSU official to communicate with the media and public in crisis situations. In some instances, experts or other sources may be designated to complement the university’s official response.
  • Provide regular and continuous updates and communicate closures.
  • Debrief and evaluate communications after crisis.

This plan will be updated and revised on an annual basis or after a major incident or training exercise.

This plan is located on the university website at https://communications.oregonstate.edu/crisis, and notification sent to key personnel regarding updates

OSU has additional crisis response and crisis communication plans specific to unique crisis situations. The Corvallis Campus Crisis Communication Plan is created with sufficient flexibility to address communications functions articulated in these plans. Other OSU plans include, but are not limited to: