PR Vet Unsatisfied with Report on Virginia Tech Tragedy

As a public relations practitioner during most of the past 20 years, I’ve been “knee deep” in my share of crises, many of which involved losses of life and property. Upon learning of Virginia Tech University’s release yesterday of a report about the April 16 tragedy, I was eager to compare their findings to my initial observations. After reading the report, however, I walked away unsatisfied.

On the day after the tragedy, I wrote a piece, PR Vet Traces Poor Handling of Crisis to Lawyers, and posted it at Bob McCarty Writes. The crux of my commentary was this:

Had (Virginia Tech officials) followed the communications plan that should have been in place following a deadly 2006 incident involving an escaped prisoner who found his way onto the campus of Virginia Tech, they might have avoided not only a public relations nightmare but, quite possibly, the 31 deaths that followed the initial two.

In reviewing yesterday’s Virginia Tech University report, now on the school’s web site, I found many positive recommendations worthy of praise — among them, the use of text messaging and other technologies to notify faculty, staff and students in the event of another such crisis.

At the same time, however, I found the report seemed to give very little attention to the issue of having a crisis response plan — containing terms and conditions agreed upon in advance by all of the “players” — that can be followed without delay and is independent of the personalities and human frailties of those in position to carry out such planning.

Only when you have such a plan can you expect your organization to be able to respond to crises in a reasonable and appropriate manner.

See if you agree. Click here to read the entire Virginia Tech report.

One thought on “PR Vet Unsatisfied with Report on Virginia Tech Tragedy

  1. Way back in the day when I was a young small-town reporter, one key thing that was emphasized was “get the name right.” Whine all you want about what the administration did or didn’t do on April 16, but note that this place IS NOT “Virginia Tech University”! The official name is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Because the name is a bit long, the university does permit “Virginia Tech” to be used in press releases and other references (see the university style guide at To add “university” to “Virginia Tech” sounds as ridiculous as the sports announcers who call the place “Vaa Tech” (but don’t mention “Gaa Tech” when Georgia Tech is on the field).

    A Proud Hokie

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