REG 04.00.01 – Standard Operating Procedures for Crisis Communications

Authority: Vice Chancellor for University Advancement

History: First Issued: September 1, 2001. Last Revised: March 17, 2015.

Related Policies:
NCSU REG04.20.07 – Adverse Weather and Other Emergency Conditions

Additional References: 
Emergency Information
NC State Emergency Operations Plan

Contact Info: Chief Communication Officer (919-515-7373)

NC State Emergency Notification and Communication Protocols


1.1       This crisis communications plan serves as an additional component of the Emergency Operations Plan. This plan is intended for use in conjunction with the normal decision-making structure within the university. This plan further describes key protocols and responsibilities, but is to be utilized flexibly with specific emergency decision-making procedures of the university as outlined in the Emergency Operations Plan to appropriately address any actual or potential emergency or crisis situation.

1.2       Key elements and communications vehicles contained within this plan are to be tested in conjunction with targeted and campus-wide emergency preparedness exercises.


Following are meanings of key terms and team descriptions as used in this Plan:

A crisis means an incident that requires responsive action to preserve business services.

2.1       Crisis Communications Team (CCT) refers to a group consisting of, at a minimum, the Chief Communications Officer, Public Relations Director, Associate Director of News Services, Director of Web Communications, and representatives from Environmental Health and Public Safety, Human Resources, General Counsel, the Chancellor’s Office, Division of Academic and Student Affairs, and Enrollment Management and Services, whose strategy is to collaborate and communicate across all appropriate channels to ensure effective ongoing communications to targeted audiences. Other campus representatives can be asked to serve on the CCT on a case-by-case basis as determined appropriate.

2.2       Emergencies are incidents, either natural or manmade, that pose an imminent threat or danger to the campus and require responsive action to protect life or property. Emergencies may constitute incidents of major crimes, natural disasters and severe weather, fires, bomb threats and other situations as determined necessary and appropriate by the Emergency Operations Group.

2.3       The Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) establishes a management framework for NC State to follow during an emergency. The EOP is the management system that defines the organization structure and general procedures for the management of people, information, activities, and operations during an emergency to facilitate effective response and recovery from the emergency. The EOP is modeled on the Wake County EOP and follows the framework established by the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

2.4       The Emergency Operations Group (EOG) is authorized by the Chancellor to staff the Emergency Operations Center and to exercise decision-making authority during an emergency. The EOG has the authority to assign University resources, make operational decisions and coordinate with external emergency agencies to provide the most efficient response and recovery possible.  In the early stages of an emergency, before the EOG convenes or in a time limited emergency, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Environmental Health and Public Safety, University Police Chief or their designees are authorized to make decisions impacting life safety.

2.5       The Emergency Operations Group is comprised of, but not limited to, the following:

Associate Vice Chancellor for Environmental Health & Public Safety – Lead
Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities
Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Enterprise
Assistant to the Chancellor and Secretary of the University
Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources
Vice Provost for Campus Life, Division of Academic and Student Affairs
Vice Chancellor and General Counsel
Vice Provost and University Registrar
Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer
Chief Communications Officer
Director of Environmental Health and Safety
Department Head or chief contact in area affected (university-related, or non-university related)
Others as the emergency warrants

2.6       The Emergency Operations Group reports to the Emergency Operations Center (location determined by the EOC Manager) dependent on the level of activation.


2.7       WolfAlert refers to the University’s primary brand for emergency notification systems. WolfAlert’s uses include notifications for emergencies as well as non-emergency situations causing a significant and real or perceived threat to the campus community.

2.8       WolfAlert Emergency Notifications are issued to immediately notify the campus community, upon confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees, occurring on campus. Examples of such significant emergencies or dangerous situations include, but are not limited to, shooters on campus or tornado warnings.  Emergency Notifications are issued by the University Police Department by a combination of methods that may include broadcast e-mail, audible alert, campus billboards, desktop notifications, or text message. In addition, University Communications may issue emergency information via the University Home Page and social media, and the Crisis Communications Team and University Communications should direct any follow-up communications.

2.9       WolfAlert Crime Warnings are issued to notify the campus community for Clery crimes occurring anywhere on NC State’s Clery geography that are considered to be a serious or continuing threat to students and employees. The crime may have occurred in the past but constitutes an ongoing threat. Examples of crimes where crime warnings may be, issued include, but are not limited to, sexual assaults, burglary, robbery, or aggravated assaults.  Distribution of a Crime Warning is generally by broadcast e-mail or text message by University Police and may include social media by University Communications.

2.10     WolfAlert Safety Notices are communications to the campus community for crimes that do not occur on NC State’s Clery geography but are determined to require the awareness of campus for safety purposes, or for situations that are not deemed an emergency or dangerous situation, but are determined to require the awareness of campus for notification reasons. WolfAlert safety notices are distributed when non-emergency information could help the campus community, or subsets of the community, either on or off campus, make safe choices regarding a health or safety issue. Distribution of a Safety Notice is generally by broadcast e-mail by University Police or University Communications.


3.1       The Chief Communications Officer (CCO) or Public Relations Director will be the primary spokesperson during all crisis situations, unless otherwise assigned by the aforementioned or by the Chancellor.  The CCO or Public Relations Director, along with the CCT if activated, has primary responsibility for managing ongoing communications with key audiences throughout an emergency or crisis situation.

3.2       The CCT, under direction of the CCO or Public Relations Director, will manage all initial communications in a crisis situation, and determine appropriate second-level spokespersons as the situation develops. To ensure accuracy and reduce confusion, it is vital that all communications are consistent, coordinated, and delivered (written or spoken) with one voice.

3.3       Reliable dissemination of information to the public may become difficult during a disaster. Multiple methods of communication must be used to provide the greatest possibility of getting accurate information to the campus community and other key constituents.

3.4       During a campus emergency requiring activation of the Emergency Operations Plan, communications activities are coordinated through the EOG and Incident Command established by emergency response agencies. In an emergency, the EOG may have already been convened. If so, the functions of the CCT would be transferred to the EOG.


4.1       Assessment: The CCO and/or Public Relations Director will join the EOG  (either leadership or full group depending on situation) in a swift and thorough assessment of the situation to determine whether a communications response is warranted, and if so, the type of communications and scope of commitment needed.

4.2       Action: The CCO or Public Relations Director will be responsible for activating the CCT as appropriate to the specific situation.

4.3       Media: A strategy for managing media relations will be part of the overall communication platform, and may include tactics to address media onsite and via typical distribution channels. Provisions may be set up, depending on the severity and proximity of the crisis, to provide for an ongoing information center to keep the media, and public, abreast of key developments throughout the crisis response efforts. Examples of the types of provisions may include:

4.3.1.   Creation of a single, safe outpost, as designated in collaboration with University Police, where media may gather to report their stories and/or receive updates from the University;

4.3.2    Preparation to operate the media center on a 24-hour basis for the duration of the crisis until Emergency Operations Group declares an all clear and normal university operations have resumed.

4.4       The CCO, Public Relations Director or designee will keep media staff members briefed continually on developments related to the crisis. He/she or designee will also keep the EOG apprised of information that may come in from outside the campus. The flow of information to and from all parties involved in the crisis response is essential to the success of that response.


5.1       As described in the NC State Emergency Notification and Communication Protocols, the University Police have primary responsibility for issuing both WolfAlert Emergency Notifications and WolfAlert Crime Warnings. University Communications has the primary responsibility to issue WolfAlert Safety Notices.

5.2       University Police should immediately notify the Associate Vice Chancellor of Environmental Health and Public Safety of the situation, notifications authorized/issued and any other actions taken to contain the emergency, and then immediately notify the Chief Communications Officer.

5.3       The Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) is responsible for maintaining contacts for parents. Additional channels can be used, such as Web and social media, to keep parents and families informed. During an emergency or crisis situation, communications to parents and families will be coordinated through and approved by the CCT.

5.4       During any crisis, emergency or other campus-wide notification situation, the Secretary of the University or other designee, in coordination with the Chancellor, will notify the UNC Board of Governors, the NC State Board of Trustees, the Governor’s Office and other public officials.

5.5       The CCT, as a component of the EOG, will determine key constituent groups, and call in other staff (such as Development, Athletics or Greek Life) to determine and distribute appropriate alerts and/or ongoing communications to those groups given the particular situation.


6.1       Depending on the type and severity of the situation, the CCO or Public Relations Director will be responsible engaging the CCT in the creation, execution and/or dissemination of an appropriate communications platform to address the crisis The team will determine which audiences to communicate with, via which appropriate channels, at what times, during an emergency or crisis situation.

6.2       There will be incidents, such as Crime Warnings, when the CCT is not engaged, other than receiving updated information. In an imminent danger situation, the CCT will often not be engaged as the initial alert or warning is being distributed by University Police.

6.3       The CCT will meet on a regular basis to develop and improve effective, collaborative communications channels and strategies to reach specific audiences, as well as to identify and implement opportunities to continually improve crisis communications at NC State.

6.4       Representatives of the CCT will meet annually with representatives of Environmental Health and Public Safety to review the Emergency Notification and Communication Protocols.


The CCO, Public Relations Director, or CCT are responsible for the following communications functions:

7.1       Creating Clear Messages – As soon as possible, a fact sheet and key messages will be prepared as base documents for communications to constituents. These “living documents” will be continually updated as the situation continues. The messages will be checked for accuracy by those with a direct knowledge of the crisis, and approved by the EOG. Fact sheets released publicly or posted to a designated University Web page will be time stamped and updated as information changes.

7.2       Establishing a Situation Web Presence – Although Web communication is one of many message distribution options available, the NC State Emergency Information site at also serves as the key information repository for public information during an emergency or crisis situation. All other communications should drive the public to this site for updated information throughout the entirety of a situation. Therefore, it is imperative that the information regarding an emergency or crisis situation be immediately posted and consistently updated. The Director of Web Communications or designee will be responsible for keeping the Emergency Information site updated during an emergency or crisis situation.

7.3       Informing the Campus Community – Within the campus community, ongoing messages often require being tailored to specific groups, such as students, faculty and staff, and even different categories within these groups, such as on-campus students. Determinations must quickly be made about audience appropriate segments, channels and messaging for continual communications.

Communications to the campus community can be posted on the university home page, circulated via broadcast email and/or text messaging, distributed through social media, posted across campus on the electronic Billboard system, submitted for publication in the Technician, the campus radio station, and through mass meetings if needed.

7.4       Communicating with the Media and managing Media Relations – As described above, during any emergency or crisis situation, information spreads quickly. Utilizing media outlets to help distribute accurate information in a timely manner is a vital strategy in a crisis situation. Factual communication with the media must occur as quickly as possible, and be updated regularly during a crisis situation.

7.4.1    The CCO, Public Relations Director or designee will determine which messages will be released to the media, through which channels, at what times. The CCO, University Police and News Services will manage all media requests. All media relations will flow through the CCT and the CCO or Public Relations Director will approve interviews and message distribution.

7.4.2    The CCO and News Services staff will also be responsible for arranging and managing any necessary on-site press conferences or briefings. News Services will also provide appropriate accommodations for media professionals (parking passes, water, etc.).

7.5       Deciding necessity and type of long-term communications – During a significant crisis, decisions must be made as to the level and types of ongoing, long-term or follow-up communications with key constituent groups. The CCT will work to identify these needs and ensure plans are in place to address.

7.6       Developing Message Templates – Pre-planning is necessary to help assure timely notification and communication in an emergency. The CCT will develop and/or review message templates to be used in emergency and crisis situations.

7.7       Deciding whether to assign videographers and photographers – This may prove helpful in responding to media inquiries, to possible later litigation, as well as documenting events.  The CCT will work with the Emergency Operations Group to determine any needs to supply video and/or photography support.


8.1       Informing Switchboards.  The following locations, which receive high volumes of incoming telephone calls to the university, should be notified regarding the key facts of the crisis and instructions where to refer calls pertaining to the crisis:


Campus Switchboard 919/515-2011
University Police 919/515-3000
Talley Student Center Student Information 919/515-3138
OIT Help Desk 919/515-HELP (4357)
Human Resources 919/515-2135
McKimmon Center 919/515-2277
Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Teaching Hospital 919/513-6500


8.2       Informing Key Offices. In addition to switchboards, fact sheets and instructions should be provided to key offices on campus, depending on the specific situation, which would be likely to receive calls from students, parents, employees or the media. These could include offices of the Chancellor, Provost, DASA, University Advancement, Alumni Association, Student Government and others.

8.3       Tracking. A University Communications staff member will be responsible for monitoring and documenting related media coverage. Media reports will be delivered to the CCO, university leadership and others as determined necessary and appropriate.

8.4       Documenting. University Communications will obtain external Information files on the crisis. These should include material related to the crisis, including clippings, statements, letters, memos, screen shots of Web sites and any other relevant documents.

8.5       Review. Unless otherwise convened as part of the EOG, the CCT shall meet within 10 business days following a crisis and review all actions taken as a result of the crisis to determine effectiveness and efficiency of operations and make any needed changes to this Plan. At a minimum, this Plan will be reviewed on an annual basis.