UNLV Shooting Misinformation Highlights Need for Effective Campus Emergency Notification Strategies

These nine best practices will help your college battle the flood of misinformation that often follows school shootings.
Published: December 21, 2023

The December 6 mass shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) led to a flood of social media posts filled with inaccuracies that led to the widespread dissemination of misinformation on the tragedy.

One post on X (formerly Twitter) claiming the FBI would engage in a cover up of the attack was reposted by more than 600 users and liked more than 1,500 times, reports the Las Vegas Sun. This one post pushed down in the tags legitimate updates from the campus, law enforcement, and real news organizations, making it more difficult for people to get accurate information on the unfolding situation.

CS Executive Editor Amy Rock and I can attest to the massive spread of misinformation about the UNLV shooting. As we were scrolling through all of our social media platforms immediately after the attack, Amy came across a post by an X user claiming they heard on a police scanner that there were 28 victims. In reality, four professors were shot… three fatally.

The Las Vegas Sun article perfectly describes how misinformation became such a problem immediately after the UNLV shooting, so I encourage you to read it.

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The flood of misinformation about this tragedy highlights the importance of effective emergency notification systems, policies, and procedures.

Here are some basic mass notification best practices that CS has covered over the years that will help to ensure your campus community receives accurate information when an emergency happens.

  1. Acquire multiple types of advanced emergency notification technologies so that the vulnerabilities of one type of solution can be compensated for by other systems. The systems should include text messaging, email, intercoms/overhead paging, digital signage, website announcement, external loudspeakers, social networking sites, fire systems with voice evacuation, and more.
  2. If your campus has a text message (SMS) alert system, find ways to get as many students and staff members as possible to sign up to receive emergency texts. Consider letting parents and neighbors in the surrounding community receive at least some of your text alerts.
  3. Cater your text messages to specific audiences when appropriate. This can be done by setting up several recipient groups, such as students, faculty and staff, neighbors, parents, facilities, IT, etc.
  4. Pre-script messages before an emergency happens. Each message should be incident type-specific and cover emergencies like active shooter attacks, tornadoes, building fires, wildfires, earthquakes, HAZMAT incidents, other crimes, and more. When an incident happens, you can then just fill in more specifics about that particular emergency.
  5. Cater messages for the specific type of technology being used. The message formats used for text alerts will be different than for robocalls, loudspeaker announcements, social media posts, etc.
  6. Hire someone who is tech-savvy, understands the emergency notification technology being used by your campus, and understands how to communicate effectively on various social media platforms. This person should probably NOT be the public information officer (PIO).
  7. Before an incident, encourage students, faculty, staff, parents, and the surrounding community to follow your institution’s official social media platforms. This should be done at the start of the school year and several times throughout the school year.
  8. When an incident happens, frequently provide updates and let everyone know where they can get additional accurate information, such as the campus website, official campus Facebook page, official campus Instagram page, official LinkedIn page, official X page, etc.
  9. Immediately address and fact-check rumors.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series