Session Details

Lessons Learned from a Lockdown: Using the Web and Social Media in a Crisis

#MPD62 Management and Professional Development Track

Room 106B


On a bright Thursday morning in April 2013, the University of Rhode Island went from calm to calamitous in an instant when a report went out that there was a man with a gun in a full lecture hall. The campus went into lockdown with 300 students locked out. Twenty thousand scared people (and their families across the globe) wondered what was going on, looked to URI for answers, and filled in gaps in information with their own versions of what they'd heard from their roommate's cousin's friend's brother.

Cindy Sabato and Kerri Hicks will deliver some real-life lessons learned that day – and in its aftermath – about communicating online during a crisis. Everyone expects your website to hold all the answers they're looking for, but in a crisis, will your website be able to carry the load? We'll offer some simple (and extravagant) changes you can make to ensure your site is as stable as it can be during an emergency. We'll cover the value of making your social media leader a part of the crisis team, show examples of why even great social media communication isn't enough for some, and share a few chuckle-worthy moments of a community saying what you want to, but can't. And finally, some people aren't looking to social media or the web at all. We'll talk about how an emergency alert system can undermine the credibility of your communication response, and the pros and cons of having multiple messengers and tools.


Cindy Sabato, APR
Coordinator, Marketing & Advertising, University of Rhode Island

Cindy Sabato has been championing K-12 and higher education for 20 years, first in public relations and crisis communication and now marketing and social media. She's led her organizations' communication with news media, faculty/staff, and parents through such high-profile crises as threats of gang violence on an inner-city high school campus, discovery of a 5th grader's hit list, controversial policies on uniforms and behavior, and budget cuts in the tens of millions. More recently, at the University of Rhode Island, she led social media communication during Winter Storm Nemo and the gun scare that is the topic of this presentation.

Kerri Hicks
Manager, Web Communications, University of Rhode Island

Kerri Hicks has been a web developer for 19 years, and has spent 17 of those in higher ed. She's a usability, UX and HCI junkie, always striving to make user experiences as effective, enjoyable, and frictionless as possible. She's an early adopter of technologies, and swears she's iOS/Android agnostic.

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