In the unfortunate event that an incident that is dangerous and harmful to the members, chapter, or guests arises it is extremely important to have a plan in place that is crafted to respond to the situation properly. Crisis management is a process in which the chapter, house corporation, and Fraternity respond to an incident, such as injury, fire, property damage, assault, fall, fight or vandalism. The initial steps taken immediately following an incident can be beneficial in the assistance of the injured persons.

Each chapter should have a prescribed crisis management plan. If the chapter has a plan, it is important that each member be educated on the plan and practice regularly to prepare for potential incidents in the future. It is important to note that health and safety is the education that is aimed at making members and chapters aware and prepared for possible risks, whereas crisis management is an action plan on how the chapter and members respond to the unfortunate event of a crisis.

The Fraternity provides sample outlines of procedures that your chapter should have in place. Crisis management procedures should be major components of all event plans to ensure proper chapter or colony response to an incident. It is the Fraternity’s hope that the chapter membership will read and review the crisis management plan and never have to use them. By constantly educating the membership on potential risks and by taking the appropriate preventive measures the chapter could potentially avoid many crises. To help your chapter or colony craft a crisis management procedure, reach out to your chapter consultant for a sample outline of a crisis management plan.

Dealing with the Media

In many situations, good and bad, the media will get involved. Many have a strong opinion about the media – some think that reporters have political bias; interested in sensationalism and they distort the truth.

The media is a business, not unlike any other business. Reporters are doing a job, asking questions in a way they think will elicit both information and colorful answers. The chapter or colony can make the media work to its advantage, but only if the chapter or colony is properly prepared. The new media is fundamentally interested in three things: conflict, controversy and innovation. While the “power of the press” can seem overwhelming at times, it is possible for the chapter or colony to get through to the news-gatherers, to tell the story positively and effectively.

There are three key impacts from today’s media environment on those who speak to the media:

  • It’s harder to get coverage for a serious idea or message.
  • If you are targeted by an investigative piece, you have less assurance than ever that your side of the story will be fairly represented.
  • It’s more important than ever to do your homework before starting an interview and to be prepared.

When agreeing to an interview, you should recognize that the reporter is not going to summarize what you have said. He or she may even have a story written and be looking for one or two quotes to bring it to life. In other cases, the reporter may be fishing for a news angle or headline that could make a good story.

If the media contacts the chapter, only the chapter president, the chapter advisor or the chapter’s attorney should speak for the chapter. Before speaking to the media, it is imperative that the chapter or colony make a list of the key issues facing the organization and the fraternity that are of concern to the media audiences. Never assume that a reporter doesn’t know about a problem or issue with the organization and don’t think that the reporter won’t bring up other issues as well.

Once the list of key issues has been developed it is important that the chapter or colony develop at least three positive messages that depending on the situation, is a general message, specific message responding to a particular issue, or a combination of both. Messages should be:

  • Concise – no more than two short sentences.
  • Memorable – something that will make a “good quote” for the reporter and stick in the reader or listener’s mind.
  • Appropriate for the particular audience or audiences you are trying to reach. There are several times when dealing with an emotional situation or tough and hostile questions, whether from the media or from the public, there are several guidelines that will help you get your point across and remain credible.
  • Show concern. In crisis situations particularly, this can do a lot to defuse the issue. It shows that you understand the audience’s needs and concerns.
  • Be responsive. This goes hand in hand with showing concern. Your comments and your manner should be responsive to the people, their feelings and the situation. Appearing evasive will destroy your credibility.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Do not argue or become critical. Do not make the interviewer appear wrong or guilty for not understanding or agreeing with you.
  • Stop talking and listen. The interviewer may want to express his point of view before he can receive yours.
  • Break the rhythm. It’s important to break the “rhythm” of an adversary interview when you realize that the reporter is asking increasingly volatile questions. In this way, you are literally interrupting the pace and flow of his questions and thus defusing a threatening style. Although you still must answer the question, this tactic helps take the emotional “edge” off a heated exchange.
  • Be aware of your body language and have it say the same thing that your words do.
  • Bridge to get out of a difficult area of questioning. By bridging to get out of a difficult question you first answer the question, but you answer it briefly and then move, or bridge, to what you want to discuss.

What to Remember

  • Designate one member, preferably the president or vice president, to respond on behalf of the chapter.
  • Any media statements should express and convey sympathy; however, never admit liability or fault.
  • When talking with the media, be honest, factual and prompt. avoid saying “no comment;” as it conveys guilt. Saying, “I don’t know” is the preferred response. Do not get mad, frustrated and certainly do not place blame.
  • In the instance of an on-site interview with television cameras or photographers, avoid wearing any apparel which displays your Greek letters. Dress professionally in a shirt and tie and display the utmost professional manner and appearance.
  • Be sure to assemble and verify facts and have an appropriate statement prepared as soon as possible once a crisis arises.
  • Be wary of allowing media into your chapter house or other premises. It’s okay to tell them to stay out.
  • Do not assume anything especially that a conversation is “off the record.”
  • Reporters may phrase questions in negative or disparaging words. Don’t repeat those in your answers.
  • Be honest. Never lie.
  • Remain calm and composed – don’t argue with the reporter

Serious Injury or Death of a Member

In the unfortunate situation a death or injury occurs, police or school administrators, who are trained to deal with such events, should notify the family. The chapter should not notify the family. The chapter should always maintain a file on each member with parent or next of kin information for this purpose. The chapter president should contact the family after they have been appropriately notified in order to express the sympathy and concerns of the chapter.

When dealing with a death or injury it is strongly recommended that the chapter members utilize the following individuals in this order for support and comfort:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Faith/Religious Figure
  4. University Counselors

With regards to personal property in the event of a death, the chapter should not remove any personal items from the room. Any roommate should be temporarily moved to another room in the chapter facility. The chapter president should lock the door and only allow authorized personnel to enter the room. The president should seek the advice of the member’s family regarding the member’s belongings and have empty boxes available and offer to help. Likewise, the chapter should understand this is a very difficult time for the member’s family and they may want some privacy.

Members’ attendance at the funeral or memorial service should be coordinated with the mortuary and the family, along with your chapter advisor or the family’s clergyman. The possibility of conducting a separate memorial service for the deceased member at a later time might be considered.

In the case of a serious injury or illness, the chapter president should contact the member’s family regarding their desires for visitation by chapter members. The chapter should always respect the wishes and desires of the family even if the member might insist on more visits.

Jarrett M. Way

Director of Educational Content & Strategy