The old adage that the key to a good relationship is communication applies to large organizations as much as it does to a happy home. Communicating in a time of crisis could not be more imperative, or more challenging.
During Hurricane Harvey, communicating was a massive exercise of gathering all essential information, funneling it to one central point and disseminating what’s most relevant to a multitude of audiences split across multiple platforms.
Behind the scenes, days of conference calls and endless emails told the story of UH operations. This road is impassable. That building is on generator power. These three basements have water intrusion. The bayou behind the residence hall might jump its banks overnight. The deadline to drop a class is extended. Residence dining hours are changing due to the city’s curfew. Contrary to social media posts, Dining is not running out of food; it ran out of french fries at lunch.
While most of this information was for internal consumption, one of the most critical jobs was to mine for nuggets of actionable intelligence that impact those we serve.
In addition to students, faculty and staff who make up the immediate UH Community, there are others. Students’ parents are concerned about their safety and that they have essentials. News media, emergency management officials, research partners and even elected officials need to know whether we’re open, closed or have damage.
To satisfy these needs, the University communicated on multiple fronts. A Harvey FAQ page established on the UH website became the hub for external information. A “Daily Harvey Update” was emailed each afternoon to all students, faculty and staff. A dedicated Harvey email account was established to address specific concerns that the FAQ could not. But it was social media that patrolled the front lines of listening for concerns, answering questions, providing updates and tempering the rumor mill.
Combing our social accounts, we found the people we teach and work with had flooded cars, were evacuated by boat, lost their homes and were displaced for extended periods. They faced great uncertainty in their lives, their jobs and their classwork. The overwhelming takeaway was that many needed time to address life’s essentials. And as they returned, to borrow a phrase from President Renu Khator, they needed support, flexibility and compassion.
What we knew—and what Harvey affirmed—is that the University of Houston is not a campus full of buildings. It is a community of people who teach, learn, transport, cook, clean, repair and protect, especially in the most challenging of times. Ensuring their safety, understanding their needs and providing prompt resolution is paramount.