Montreal College appears to earn an F in crisis communication

September 13, 2006

Dawson College of Montreal is suddenly all over the news. News reports are telling the story of the wounding of 20 students and the panic caused by a gunman who was apparently killed by police. The problems we see so far:

– where is the presence of college representatives in the news stories? If they are not visible how can we know their reaction and what they are doing about it?

Well, I guess you could go their website to see what they have to say about it. If I was a parent or a friend of a student or someone remotely connected with the university, I would go to their site expecting it to have information about the event and what the school is doing in response. What do you get when you go there?

Big red type that says they will be closed until September 18. Click on the “Read More” button and it gives an old message from the Director General.

Now, I’m writing this at 6 pm on Wednesday, Sept 13 so by the time you read this and check their site hopefully things will have changed. But the story has been on the news for hours. And that’s my point. If you cannot communicate in the first hours after a major event, if you are silent, or oblivious or invisible, you have not only lost critical opportunities for the people important to your future to form positive impressions, you most likely have left a lot of people disappointed. It leads to questions about the competence and caring of the leadership. If it was something where they had culpability (in this case I’m certain not) then it would also lead to questions about responsibility to those impacted.

I hope there is more to this story from a communication standpoint, but I have to say as a total outside observer of the communication effort, it is a dismal failure.


4 Responses to “Montreal College appears to earn an F in crisis communication”

  1. mroussin Says:

    you’r totally ryght

    Helas in France on thurdays , Sept 14 at 2 pm nothing changed on their website 😦


  2. Valerie Lucus Says:

    Hmmm … as someone involved with emergency management in a major US university, I think you are being pretty harsh. You were looking at this — when? Maybe 3-4 hours after the event? I think that was pretty quick, considering. The website this morning (8 am US Pacific) has info about events cancelled and numbers to call for assistance.

    This was a police action, which means law enforcement was basically securing the entire institution, kicking everybody out and not letting anyone go back in. This was a police action, and if you have ever been involved in one of those, you know the degree of difficulty in getting ANYTHING AT ALL about the incident from ANY law enforcement agency until they have completed their entire security process (which took 4-6 hours depending on what you read).

    What you are saying is that having the PIER system would have allowed someone with their wits about them, who had executive access AND could get approval from the executives AND who could get to a computer could send a message to everyone saying: “Something bad has happened and we’ll get back to you as soon as we know something.” Wow. Very helpful. Really.

    Maybe they could have handled this better. There are lots of things we can look at and do better after the fact. But this is harsh criticism. Really, really harsh. Let’s make sure your comments get to the mainstream media so we can see the headlines about how the college gets an
    “F” in handling this crisis according to an “expert” in the field. Let’s perpetuate the image that everybody out there in authority is stupid, add to the liability suits already being readied, and see how badly we can make that entire community feel. So we can sell them more products.

    That is EXACTLY what this reads like to me …

  3. mroussin Says:

    Sorry valerie

    I can’t really understand your whole point of view

    I think that Gerald wanted only to stress the point not on a specific situation but on a GENERAL crisis situation.

    We have to stand back from this tragical crisis

    In france we often say ” il vaut mieux prévenir que guérir” I could translate that by ” to prevent is better than to cure”

    I’m working in competitive business that include crisis competition

    and the vision i have from my job is ” how can I imaging the worse situations my customers have to face up ”

    So when I meet a company that canno’t even imaging one little trouble

    I say myself that there is a lot of work to do

    The first time is to imagine, the second time is to create a kind of war room , the third time vhen the Crisis is comming is to react as soon as possible to show to the rest oh the world that the firm is responsible

    Simple vision from France may be ….

    It’s up to you to judge 🙂


  4. Patrick VdW Says:

    Well, as a PR guy and occasional crisis bail-out guy myself and, as luck would have it, an alumni of the college where the shooting took place, I have to offer some feedback here. The word “college” is misleading for Americans, and is perhaps contributing to an expectation of resources and professionalism that is simply out of line with reality. In Quebec, students do 11 years schooling through high school, then 2 years at a “college” like Dawson, followed by a bachelors in university (3 years for arts). So Dawson College, despite the name, is in fact half-high school and half-freshman, but in terms of resources is far closer to what Americans would perceive as a high school than a university. Holding them to standards that are being applied in the largest universities is ludicrous.

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