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Volume 3, Issue 4


Stay Connected During a Natural Disaster

A New Jersey community college impacted by Hurricane Sandy used social media to provide its community with a sense of stability during a tumultuous time.

Three officials from Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, N.J., spoke at this month's Conference for Community College Advancement about the strategies they implemented and the lessons they learned last year during Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall about 90 miles south of the institution. Among their advice:

  • Never underestimate the power or impact of a storm. Christine Busacca, social media and advertising administrator, says that Hurricane Sandy became a topic of conversation in the media about a week before it hit. This helped the college start to plan for its impact.
  • Identify every possible scenario and plan in advance. Avis McMillon, director of communications and public relations, says a team of key college officials met via conference calls every two days to determine the best course of action during the storm and its aftermath.
  • Stay connected. McMillon notes that the college maintained communication with the community via its on-campus radio station, a local newspaper and its social media outlets.
  • Communicate often with regular updates and ensure accuracy. McMillon says the college frequently updated students about the track of the storm, its impact on the college and what college officials were doing to help the community.
  • Communicate with compassion. Aside from answering as many questions as possible via social media, Busacca says simple messages to students such as "How are you?" and "How is your family?" were powerful. These messages showed students "that we were there to provide reassurance" and "provide resources they need."
  • Harness the power of social media. Busacca says the two-way nature of social media helped the college understand students' key concerns following the storm, such as staying up-to-date on classwork and overcoming logistical obstacles that could keep them from campus.
  • Create a rallying point. Tim Zeiss, executive director of the college's foundation and alumni affairs, says the college started a hurricane relief fund for students in the aftermath of the storm. It garnered about $144,000 from 177 faculty and staff donors. This effort, he says, shows the community that "Brookdale supports its own." McMillon adds that the college also took out an ad in a local paper outlining the ways the college was helping rebuild the community after the storm.

For more information, Busacca suggests reading a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the lessons it learned from social media use during Hurricane Sandy.

Please share your questions and comments with Marc Westenburg via email at mwestenburg@case.org or +1 202 478 5570.

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This article is from the October 2013 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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