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Emergency Text Messaging Systems and Higher Education Campuses: Expanding Crisis Communication Theories and Best Practices

Ickowitz, Tanya E
Committee Members: 
Dr. Michael Palancher
May 2012

Abstract: Recent public safety threats affecting college and university campuses during episodes of natural disasters and mass violence have exposed numerous challenges and opportunities in crisis and risk communication. The evacuation of college campuses during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and episodes of mass violence such as the shootings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2010, among others, have revealed how even the most well-developed campus communication plans leave room for improvement during actual crisis events (Catullo, Walker, & Floyd, 2009). Through in-depth interviews (N=10) of crisis communication managers at U. S. colleges and universities, as well as document reviews of media coverage (N=36) of the events surrounding previous natural and manmade campus emergencies, the purpose of this paper is to examine how colleges and universities have integrated a relatively new communication technology, emergency text messaging, into their planned crisis communication response to disseminate emergency information to stakeholders, such as students, faculty, staff, and parents, during crises affecting their campuses. Through grounded theory, data systematically obtained and analyzed offer: (1) a running theoretical discussion using conceptual categories and their properties related to crisis communication adaptations of existing theories and models, including chaos theory, power, theory, and complexity theory, and (2) additional best practices for integrating emergency text messaging with other communication channels that can be applied in a university setting to increase the likelihood of a successful emergency response.