Over 400 students, staff members and guests were evacuated from the University Center on June 24. But during the ordeal, no information was released about the situation.
When reporters attempted to get this information, many staff members refused to disclose it, directing us to speak instead to UC director David Albart.
The Shorthorn never received a response from Albart despite emails, phone calls and in-person requests to his office staff for information.
For this situation, the incident itself was inconsequential — a food warmer inside a closet was smoking and triggered an automatic alarm response. However, for any event, big or small, the university shouldn’t keep its students in the dark. In this case, over 400 people were uprooted from what they were doing and were not provided an explanation.
The Shorthorn retrieved the cause of the fire from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety — not from the UC employees who had the information. This information was also received later in the day, delaying a brief story that could have been shared earlier in the day.
If in the future more dangerous situations occur, it is important to keep the public informed and to allow news media to do just that. The UC is one of the most visited spots on campus and for some, it is a daily destination. This makes it even more crucial for timeliness and consistency.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication manual, crises can cause uncertainty for those involved, and it’s important to get updates out immediately, even if it’s just that the incident is under investigation.
The manual also emphasizes the importance of having a consistent plan that organization leadership can carry out smoothly in the case of an emergency. A concrete crisis communication plan should be implemented to ensure timely release of information — or if one exists, it should be exercised in cases like this.
UTA has a variety of communication platforms, whether it’s MavAlerts, email or social media. There were also UC employees posted at the entrances and equipped with walkie-talkies. The ability to keep students informed was certainly there.
For this event specifically, numerous requests for information were denied by staff members who knew the situation but refused to disclose it. If we are being redirected to one person who is authorized to speak about the information, then that person should be available to comment, or another person should be delegated to speak.
A lack of disclosure can lead to misinformation, which serves no one. Timely and accurate information should be provided to students and media outlets as it becomes available.