On Friday, 23 May, in what is unfortunately becoming more and more common, the world was devastated by the news of another shooting near an American university. Elliot Roger, a 22-year-old student at the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, killed six and injured thirteen before taking his own life.
Like most disasters that are perpetuated by people, the saddest part about the shooting is that it was potentially preventable. Unlike other cases where a mentally ill person went unnoticed, the police, Roger’s family and a number of psychiatrists expressed concernabout his mental state.
One of the aspects that make this case especially chilling is the fact that Rogers uploaded a video before the shooting discussing his plans and expressing his anger at the women who didn’t find him attractive. This, accompanied by a manifesto that he sent to the media, has made the incident even more tragic and raised issues internationally about mental health care and gun control in the US.
Though first priority in an instance like this is safety and the well-being of students, there is also the additional challenge of communicating with worried parents and students as well as an inquiring media.
Though it’s impossible to know everything that’s going on behind the scenes in a crisis, there have been reports that point to a disorganised communication approach. Often, this is due to a lack of coordination between involved organisations – in this case, the university, the town, local police and federal law enforcement.
One father, for example, was unable to get any information about the well-being of his daughter. It was only after tracking her iPhone himself that he realised she had been killed due to its location in the center of the crime zone. After driving to the campus, it took several hours to get confirmation of this.
While it’s difficult for organisations to work flawlessly together, something as serious as notifying the loved ones of victims can’t be missed. From the 9/11 attacks to the Black Saturday Fires, we know that the consequences can be horrible when agencies do not work together.
Internationally, the UCSB shooting garnered even more international media coverage than previous cases. This is likely due to a number of factors: Roger’s shocking videos and manifesto, his father’s high profile position as a major Hollywood director, and the fact that Roger had made so many public threats and comments but still was able to go through with the killings.
For a university that’s best known for its beautiful beach-side location, the past week has seen UCSB put on the global stage.
The media often finds itself caught between the public’s right to know and victims’ rights to privacy. At UCSB, students and residents have become increasingly frustrated with the international media’s presence, protesting with signs that state “our tragedy is not your commodity” and “news crews go home.”
For the media, satisfying the public’s desire for information is a key priority and it’s critical that organisations are aware of this. Just as there needs to be a coordinated approach to communicating with parents and students, organisations also need a coordinated media approach. By providing regular and timely updates to the media, organisations can fill this need for information while hopefully diverting some of the attention from grieving students and families.
It’s a sad fact that universities around the globe must be prepared for crises like the attack at UCSB. These cases require an immediate response and ongoing communication partnered with a inter-organisational approach.
As specialists in crisis communications Briggs Communications works with our clients to ensure they have the best people, best systems and training to communicate effectively during a time of crisis. While this preparatory work will not stop crises from happening, it will greatly assist in the professional management and speed up the recovery.
How prepared is your team to handle a crisis? We offer a range of crisis training, planning, and testing services; Click here to get in touch with our team today.
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