(Image courtesy of Virginia Tech Parking Services.)
Ten years ago this week, the unthinkable happened on the bucolic campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech.
A student with a personality disorder and several handguns went on a rampage that ended the lives of 32 people and wounded 17 others. Six people were injured attempting to escape the onslaught that finally ended with the suicide of the perpetrator as police closed in.
At the time, it was the deadliest shooting that had ever occurred in the U.S., until surpassed by yet another unthinkable tragedy the 2016 nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.
Yet the unthinkable happens. Every day. Somewhere. Whether an act of a deranged lone gunman or the concerted efforts of fanatical terrorists, the effects on the innocent are the same: Death, injury, permanent trauma.
Every day, we read about the unthinkable. Just recently, in Paris, Stockholm, Syria. Its tragic and sad, yet seems so far away.
But the unthinkable can happen while we are at work managing our mobility operations: parking, transportation, TDM, bike sharing and the like. We need to think about managing the unthinkable so that if it happens in our workplace, we can act rationally and with forethought. The midst of an unfolding and emotional disaster is no time for meetings and committees. Now is.
If you do not have a workable emergency plan for your operations, please minimize this screen right now. Please type an email to your boss, your subordinates, or whomever strongly urging them to work with you to create a plan. Set a date. Do it.
As if the Virginia Tech shootings weren’t traumatic enough, the arrival of the megaphones can hijack all efforts to return to “normal”. Here are a few lessons the parking and transportation professionals at Virginia Tech learned about dealing with the media:
- Choose a Location to Corral the Media – By choosing a suitably large location in advance, you can centralize media services and support; if you don’t choose one for them, they will choose many for you.
- Watch the Satellite Trucks – Don’t allow these behemoths on campus or designate small areas and rotate the trucks in and out. Use 24/7 guards to keep them in, and out of, designated areas.
- Communicate Internally – Make sure your public relations people know who you are and what you do, so they don’t make impossible demands of you or questionable concessions to the media.
- Feed the Media – Centralize news distribution. Remember, if the media are not easily and quickly provided what they came for, they will go looking for it where you don’t want them. Your staff should defer all comment to you; you, in turn, may also need to defer comment, according to your hierarchy.
- Be Consistent – Media are extremely competitive; if you make an exception for one, expect to make it for all. Try to make sure all permissions for access, credentials, etc., are centralized.
- Be Flexible – Be reasonable and sensitive to their deadlines. For example, if they are in the way, but promise to move in a few minutes after a live feed, consider giving them some slack.
- Be Firm – Be courteous, but politely insist they obey reasonable procedures on obstructing traffic, trespassing, or creating a hazard.
- Win Confrontations – Media types can be aggressive; have Public Safety/Police backup in case conflicts escalate; sometimes only the threat of arrest can deter them from their story. Sometimes that doesn’t even deter them.
Please think about the unthinkable.
Jarrett Lane’s mom was quoted by WDBJ-TV (Roanoke, VA, US) this week, saying, “. . . don’t take life for granted,” she told the station. “If you have a loved one, tell ’em that you love ’em. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because we’re not always given tomorrow.”
May the unthinkable never happen to you and yours . . .
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