Wednesday, Oct. 17, Jodi Phelps visited students enrolled in Crisis Communication to share her experiences in Public Relations Crises. (PN Photo/ Jessica Horne)
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, Jodi Phelps, executive director of university communications and marketing, shared her experiences with natural disaster crises, such as Hurricane Matthew, Florence and Michael with Dr. Emilia Bak's Crisis Communications class.
Phelps encouraged students to "communicate clearly with compassion," "tell important stuff and tell it upfront" and "to always come to the table with a solution" during a crisis situation.
Phelps said that after Hurricane Matthew, the Emergency Operations Center team met to evaluate how well the team handled the hurricane and what improvements could be made in the event of another similar disaster in the future. This meeting would help shape plans for the arrivals of Hurricane Florence and Michael just two years later.
"We knew almost immediately that Florence would be bad and that the severity of this storm would directly impact this area," Phelps said.
"There was no question in our minds to cancel class and to get students off-campus," she added.
She then shared how quickly the campus transitioned into disaster relief efforts.
According to Phelps, the cafeteria began to distribute non-perishables to residence halls and was able to do so successfully before the power went out on campus.
Additionally, "it's important for you to be there in the middle of it [the crisis and disaster relief operations] and to be able to respond to the media," she said.
Phelps also spoke on the "human factor" of a crisis and how challenging it is to communicate through a crisis.
It is important to communicate with a tone of "kindness and emotion," she shared. For, in the event of a crisis, people are panicking as they endure hardships and loss.
Additionally, not only does the communications practitioner "carry the brand of the organization on their back," but they also carry the pressure of sharing all the important information as quickly to those who need it most.
Often, Phelps shared, the pressure to do so when reports of fatalities and property loss begin to rise can be "paralyzing." However, she encouraged students to be "directed" by the emotions of people in need, but not "paralyzed" by them.
As long as "when your head hits the pillow at night, you can say you've done all you can to communicate information to those who needed it" you've done all you can, she shared.
Additionally, Phelps has two emergency "go bags" with supplies needed in the event of a crisis. These include things such as policies, procedures, checklists and external batteries that can keep devices charged and communication possible in the event of a power outage. She keeps one at work and home so that she can set up a "mobile command center" wherever she happens to be in the case of a crisis.
Phelps also spoke on the blackface incident that occurred on campus a year ago in which a photo of a Caucasian student in blackface surfaced.
"With that incident there were a lot of things we couldn't talk about because of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)," she said.
"What we could do was strengthen the campus and open dialogue," Phelps added.
A meeting was held and the SGA president at the time, Dajer Fernandez, voiced his concerns on the topic and helped provide insight and direction for the administration.
"Making sure you have all the voices in the room is important," she shared.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's website, "Once a student reaches 18 years of age or attends a postsecondary institution, he or she becomes an 'eligible student,' and all rights formerly given to parents under FERPA transfer to the student. The eligible student has the right to have access to his or her education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, the right to have control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the records... and the right to file a complaint with the Department. The term 'education records' is defined as those records that contain information directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution."
In addition, Phelps also shared that twice a year, usually when students are off campus, active shooter training is conducted.
Teams are then propelled into action as a real life active shooter scenario is played out on campus.
After the training exercise is completed, Emergency Operations Center personnel all gather together to evaluate and chart progress from previous training sessions.
Information on how students should react in the event of an active shooter on campus can be found at https://studentaffairs.uncp.edu/police-public-safety/emergency-information/surviving-an-active-shooter-situation/.