The truth is, there’s risk in everything. Accidents can happen every day, and that’s just part of life. In the context of fraternity, there are more variables at play when it comes to risk. Knowing this, it’s best to prepare for the worst by always having a contingency plan in place. What happens when a crisis emerges at your chapter? Is there a plan in place? Who responds to the media when they call? Are you even supposed to respond to the media? Who meets with the university?

Fraternities often encounter incidents or face circumstances that require quick, smart, strategic decision-making. It is the role of the chapter president and the health & safety officer to make these decisions and manage the crisis, and it’s the responsibility of the public relations chairman to run point on crisis communication. This means using communication tactics to make sure a crisis does not develop into something bigger than it actually is.

Crisis Communication vs. Crisis Management

Crisis communication and crisis management are often confused as one in the same, however this is not the case. The president is involved in both areas, the risk awareness officer is responsible for crisis management and the public relations chairman is responsible for crisis communication. Let’s take a closer look at the responsibilities in crisis management and crisis communication:

Crisis Management

Step One: Create a Crisis Management Team and Assess Potential Crises

The Crisis Management Team can include legal counsel, chapter president, public relations chairman, risk chairman, treasure, alumni relations personnel and International Fraternity Staff. The chapter president should be the spokesperson to handle all internal and external communications. The team should meet at least once per day to access the situation and objectives.

Step Two: Develop Crisis Management Team Plans

The primary objective of any plan is to set up a flexible structure that is capable of responding to any type of crisis quickly, decisively and in a coordinated manner. The Crisis Management Team plan should establish relationships, responsibilities and continuity. It should include a notification system with a specific and up to date listing of current contact information on the team members, chain of command, outside relevant agencies.

Objectives and Components

  • Reduce tension during the incident
    • Work effectively with local emergency responders, city, state and federal agencies, university administration and fraternity’s headquarters staff in responding to events
    • Minimize the diversion of chapter executives and members
    • Demonstrate commitment to the situation
      • Assist investigating agencies without jeopardizing the fraternity’s legal position
      • Control the flow and accuracy of information
        • Form working relationships with media and officials that will help get the fraternity’s message to the public
        • Provide accurate and timely information
        • Manage resources effectively
          • Prepare for possible litigation and claims
          • Contain and minimize the incident’ effect on the company’s reputation

Crisis Communication

Objectives and Components

  • Responding to media inquiries
    • Form a press release with only the information you want to share (see negative press release template on page 25 of the public relations handbook)
    • Consult Crisis Management Team before releases any statement(s)
    • Coordinating with University officials
      • Ensure that there is one point of contact in the chapter (ideally president) for state and federal agencies, local and/or national news outlets, university administration and fraternity’s headquarters staff to communicate with
      • Briefing the chapter and alumni
        • Make regular updates to the situation to the immediate stakeholders
        • Monitoring chapter internal and external communication
          • Ensure that chapter members are updated on situational details

Having a plan for a crisis is invaluable, and can very well be the difference between being able to quickly control a minor mishap and letting a minor mishap turn into something bigger. You can never be too proactive with this area of programming! You can find additional information and a crisis checklist here.

Jarrett M. Way

Director of Educational Content & Strategy