Appendix A: Crisis Communication Plan

Crisis Communications Plan

  • Introduction

    The Youngstown State University Crisis Communications Plan provides procedures for the coordination of communications both internally and externally in the event of a crisis situation. The plan outlines the roles, responsibilities and protocols to guide the university in sharing information with all of YSU’s audiences during an emergency or crisis.

    The crisis communication plan is part of a larger set of plans to manage the university’s affairs during situations that threaten operations, the safety of the community and/or the reputation of YSU. This document focuses on the communications aspect of potential crisis situations. (Please also refer to YSU communications procedures under the federal Clery Act, specifically “Emergency Notifications” and “Timely Warnings,” attached as Appendix 1 and Appendix 2.)

    This plan is not intended to change the manner in which emergencies are initially reported. All emergencies on campus should be reported immediately to YSU Police.

  • Guiding Principles

    In all communications during a crisis, the university strives to be accessible, prompt, compassionate, honest and informative. While such tenets may seem to be self-evident, it can be difficult to adhere to a clear style of communication when in crisis mode. One of the most important requirements for effective communications during an urgent situation is gathering and understanding the facts and implications of a given situation and then providing accurate and consistent information to all parties concerned. Communications from the university must be honest and forthright. It is crucial in a crisis to tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. Since a crisis may be sudden and without warning, this plan is designed to be flexible in order to accommodate contingencies of various types and magnitudes.

  • Operational Definition of Crisis

    For the purpose of this plan, the word crisis refers to:

    A significant emergency, dangerous situation or disturbance in the university's activities which has the potential to have a significant impact on the university’s operations and public image and which results in extensive news coverage and public scrutiny.

    A crisis may fall into one of two categories for the purpose of crisis communications at YSU.


    Imminent Danger/Major Disruptions

    Examples: natural disaster, active shooter/power outages, tornados

    Public Relations/Reputational Crisis

    Examples: Penn State Beta Theta Pi fraternity, UNC cheating


    A crisis includes serious threats to life, limb and/or property, significant threats to the university’s reputation or serious threats of interruption to university business. 

    A crisis may include, but is not limited to: active shooter or hostage situations, weather, disease or other health threat, fire, natural disaster, violent crime, civil disturbance, sexual or physical assault, homicide and the threat of danger. (The federal Clery Act provides the following examples of significant emergencies or dangerous situations: fire, outbreak of a serious illness, earthquake, gas leak, terrorist incident, armed intruder, bomb threat, civil unrest or rioting, explosion, nearby chemical or hazardous waste spill.)

    There is bound to be a degree of judgment required to determine whether any one or more of such threats are serious enough as to constitute a crisis.

  • Initial Response

    Many crises occur quickly, without notice and may require immediate communications, particularly to students, employees and others on campus who are threatened or impacted by the crisis. As per the university’s Clery Act Emergency Notification procedures and Penguin Alert Protocol, the YSU Police Department has the authority to assess the crisis at hand, determine what immediate communication is needed, and move forward to deliver that communication to the campus. For instance, if there is a major fire in an academic building, YSUPD would be responsible for initial communications (via Penguin Alert and other means) with the campus.

  • Crisis Communications Team (CCT)

    In the event of a crisis, a core group of people will constitute the university’s Crisis Communications Team:

    Associate Vice President, University Relations – The Associate Vice President, University Relations will serve as the liaison between the team and the President or her/his designee.

    Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer – The Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer will serve as the direct contact and liaison between the CCT and the Incident Command Center and will provide the CCT with the most up-to-date information on the crisis.

    Assistant Director of Communications

    The team will develop a plan of action and oversee communications issues throughout the crisis. The team will assess the facts of the crisis to determine the appropriate response/action and to determine a plan of action for both internal and external communications. Depending on the nature of the crisis, others can and should be drawn into the crisis communications process as appropriate to address the specific issues and threats that need to be managed.

  • Convening the Team

    In the event of a crisis that falls under the category of Imminent Danger/Major Disruptions, the CCT will convene immediately upon notification of the crisis.

    If a Public Relations Crisis should occur, the President has the primary responsibility for convening the CCT. If the President is not available to make the convening decision, then the Provost, Vice President for Finance and Business Operations, General Counsel and Vice President for Legal Affairs and Human Resources can make that decision.  Any member of the CCT or Tod Hall Leaders may also, upon discovery of a situation that she/he believes constitutes a crisis (as defined above), recommend to the President that she/he convene the Team.

  • Team Communications

    All members of the CCT should have cell phones in their possession at all times.

    Upon activation of the CCT, the Associate Vice President for University Relations will notify the Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer. Other individuals will be notified as needed.

    If it is feasible to do so (depending on the time of day or night and/or any physical limitations of the situation), the team should gather together in person. If it is not feasible to meet physically, the Team may be convened initially by telephone.

    In the event of a major campus crisis or disaster, an Emergency Operations Center will be set up in the YSU Police Department. In such a situation, the YSUPD will become the center of all information for the crisis at hand; therefore, it is advisable that the CCT convene at the YSU Police Department. The Police Department will dedicate space and resources (i.e. telephones and computers) for the Team in the PD during the crisis.

    In the event of a public relations crisis, the President will call the Associate Vice President for University Relations who will then notify the Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer. Other individuals will be notified as needed. The Team will convene in the Leaders Conference Room in Tod Hall. (It is possible that the Team would first convene in Tod Hall and then move to the YSUPD as the crisis evolves, or vice versa.)

  • Responding to the crisis

    Among the duties of the Crisis Communications Team:

    • Assess the facts of the crisis.
    • Create a plan of action for both internal and external communications.
    • Determine what and how messages will be communicated.
    • Determine how to react as the crisis evolves.
    • Keep the appropriate spokespeople informed of the latest developments and messages to be conveyed.
    • Determine to whom messages will be communicated, both internally and externally. Among the key constituencies:
      • Students
      • Faculty
      • Staff
      • Parents of the students
      • News Media
      • Trustees
      • Public officials-Gov., Mayors, etc.
      • Alumni
      • Community
      • General Public

    The Team will develop several key messages to be included in all university communications. The messages will evolve as the crisis evolves and circumstances change. The messages must be communicated as quickly as possible and regularly updated.

  • University Spokespeople

    The chief spokespeople in the event of a crisis will be a senior leader of the university, most likely the President, as well as the Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer.

    • In most situations, the Director of University Communications/Public Information Officer will act as the chief spokesperson and will be the point person for news media communications during a crisis. He/she will organize and run press briefings and handle general media questions. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the person possessing the direct knowledge of the crisis (for example: The chief of police in the event of a campus crime) can also be designated as spokesperson.
    • In the time of a significant crisis, it is critical for a high-ranking leader of the university such as the President to become the face of the university and to take the lead in communicating key messages. Only a high-ranking leader such as the President can convey that a situation is under control, provide a sense of calm and set an example for the entire campus.
    • The release of information and comments to the news media and the public should be limited to the designated spokespeople. All other staff should be professional and helpful to the news media by connecting them with the spokespeople, but should refrain from speaking to and providing any information. As the crisis evolves, it is likely that secondary spokespeople will need to be appointed.
  • Media Relations

    Often the only information the public receives about an emergency is through the news media; therefore, media relations is an essential component of any crisis plan. Timing is critical. Responses to a crisis must be issued as soon as possible and along as many communications channels as possible. Remember that the news media is borderless and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    The CCT will develop appropriate statements and other communications for the news media. The Team will also arrange and lead news conferences and media briefings. Keeping the news media informed gives the university a certain amount of control over the message. The media's job is to report the latest information available. If reporters don't get that information directly from the organization in crisis, they will look elsewhere and be more likely to report inaccurate facts and even rumors. The location of news conferences and briefings may largely depend on the location and nature of the crisis. One location could be the Board of Trustees Meeting Room in Tod Hall. Ideally, however, the location should be away from the crisis, the Emergency Operations Center and the University’s administrative offices. Other suitable locations could be the Chestnut Room or Ohio Room in Kilcawley Center or in larger areas in either Beeghly Center or Stambaugh Stadium.

  • Communications Tools

    Effective university crisis communications programs employ multiple and layered methods of communication with its constituencies, including students, employees, parents, alumni, trustees and community members. In the event of a crisis, the Crisis Communications Team can deploy one or all of these communications vehicles:

    • Penguin Alert allows the university to notify students and employees via text message and email. (Responsibility: YSU Police and Office of Marketing and Communications)
    • Campus-wide mass communications and alarm system broadcasts emergency voice notifications targeted to specific buildings via loudspeaker. (Responsibility: YSU Police)
    • YSU homepage, (Responsibility: Office of Marketing and Communications)
    • Emergency Information Line (330-941-2222) will include updated information. (Responsibility: Office of Marketing and Communications)
    • Campus Marquees. (Responsibility: Office of Marketing and Communications)
    • Social media. Regular updates will be posted on the YSU Facebook, Twitter and other social media venues. (Responsibility: Office of Marketing and Communications) (See Appendix 3, “Crisis Communications Best Practices for YSU Social Media”)
    • WYSU-FM.  WYSU 88.5 (Ashtabula 90.1, New Wilmington 97.5) is the official radio source regarding information about university operations. In addition, WYSU can provide information on its website, WYSU has an extensive Disaster Response and Recovery Plan that includes a backup generator and a backup transmitter and studio at Stambaugh Stadium. With these capabilities, WYSU could be a 24/7, real time, interactive critical source of information to the campus and the community in the event of a crisis.
    • News media. The university has a detailed news media call list that would be activated in the event of an emergency. (Responsibility: Office of Marketing and communications)

    The offices/departments listed as responsible for each of these communications vehicles are responsible for developing individual implementation plans for each of the vehicles.

  • Awareness, Training and Assessment

    It is imperative that all members of the CCT, Tod Hall Leaders and others on campus are familiar with the details of this plan prior to a campus crisis. The team should also undergo regular training, including running simulations in the actual use of the plan’s procedures and principles, and the training of spokespeople in communicating with the media during crisis moments. Routine simulation training should be provided.

    Finally, the CCT should meet at least once after the emergency situation has subsided to assess the university’s handling of the situation and to make future recommendations to streamline and improve its procedures and communications tools.

    The Crisis Communications Plan was initially developed in December 2007 as recommendations to the President and President’s Cabinet. The Plan was developed by a Crisis Communications Planning Group, chaired by the Vice President of University Advancement. The Office of Marketing and Communications modified the Plan in October 2008. The plan was revamped in June 2011, updated again in March and September 2012, in January 2016, in April 2017 and again in November 2017. This version was updated April 2018 .


  2.  Appendix 2 - TIMELY WARNINGS
  4.  Appendix 4 - GLOSSARY OF TERMS
  5.  Appendix 5 - GLOSSARY OF TERMS (Continued)