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Responding to Crises

There are many benefits working in student affairs and many reasons for us to want “get up” in the morning and go to work.  Undoubtedly, for many of us, it is the unknown that the day will bring working with students that offers much excitement to our work.  While we may have a schedule in mind and a plan for our day, we can never be sure that our day will go as expected.  Often times, it won’t.  Such was the case recently when I was on-call and had multiple serious situations occur over the course of only a few days.  The severity of the incidents and the emotions involved put a strain on all those involved.  However, it is at times like this that you make some hard realizations about yourself, your students, and your colleagues.

It is precisely because you can not plan for events to occur at a time most convenient for you that you need to position yourself, your staff, and your institution in the best position manner to respond and whether the storm.  This can be done by focusing on 3 key areas:  protocols; confidence; and relationships.

Protocols.  It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have solid, detailed protocols and procedures on how to respond to incidents on campus, whether they be routine drug/alcohol situations, or more serious ones such as mass gathers, student death, or crimes in progress.  Protocols provide a guideline for staff to follow during times when they might be feeling stress.  Knowing that there is a plan of action from beginning to end can help ease some of the anxiety staff feel when addressing incidents on campus.  Having solid, structured protocols, while a necessity to respond appropriately and provide appropriate levels of institutional risk management, have a calming effect on staff as they can refer to a plan of action.  It is our job to make sure that our staff know the procedures to follow in the event of a crisis or incident and how to refer to them as needed.

Confidence.  Of course we want our staff to be competent and of high quality.  More importantly, however, we need to have confidence in our staff and believe in them.  Our staff, particularly our entry-level level staff, feed off of our emotions as middle and upper administrators.  Our role is to shield them somewhat but also display confidence in their abilities to manage situations and connect with students.  The more we believe in our staff and give them opportunities to learn and grow, the more we are serving our students, being better supervisors, and serving the growth of the field.

Relationships.  You cannot underestimate the importance of relationship building on your campus.  During times of crisis, you will need to interface with many individuals from multiple areas of the institution.  It is important that you have worked to build connections with individuals outside of your immediate department for it is those relationships that will help to keep the process moving.  Knowing and understanding each other allows you to work as a team, to know in advance what the other person is or will be doing, thus hastening our response time.  It is the relationships that are the foundation of the teamwork necessary to enact the protocols.  The characteristic of relationships does not end with the management of the crisis, however.  Rather, we need to nurture those same relationships afterwards for them to continue to be effective and positive influences in our lives.

During my time on-call recently, it was these three components that allowed us to respond quickly, efficiently, and with compassion.  I could certainly spend more time expanding upon each of these, but, by now, I hope I have shared enough to stress the importance and value of them.  What do you think?  Do you have other aspects that you think are important in managing incidents or crises on campus?

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