By Aclaimant

May 09, 2022

The headline-making events at institutions of higher education, such as sexual abuse and active shooter situations, have elevated risk management to a mission-critical state and tested these institutions' response speed and competency. The new priority for the risk manager is to rise above past practices and creatively adapt to a demanding and highly visible environment.

What actions can the risk manager take to meet this unprecedented challenge? Here are some important initiatives to consider.


  1. Real-Time Collaboration Is a Must

Ordinary programs and practices might be sufficient for ordinary circumstances, but extraordinary events will put the risk management program to the true test. In those instances there is no substitute for the ability for multiple stakeholders to collaborate in real time. 


Security staff, law enforcement agencies, facilities managers, legal counsel, operations leadership and senior executives are among the parties with critical roles in emerging situations. They need immediate access to timely, accurate, comprehensive and coordinated information, and a way to eventually disseminate that information for students and faculty to feel safe. Once a major event unfolds, it’s too late to lay the groundwork for this capability. 


  1. Test Out Multiple Scenarios

Nobody can anticipate all the particulars of a crisis situation or identify all the operational and legal issues that might arise. But thoughtful scenario planning, such as tabletop discussions and simulated response exercises, can dramatically improve an organization’s ability to respond.


It’s important to strike a balance between learning from the experience of others and precisely replicating past events. Moreover, one should avoid providing too much detail when constructing scenarios because information will always be incomplete or ambiguous. These scenarios, along with adding new twists and incorporating unique circumstances, can help people grow beyond past conceptions and learn to act in the absence of perfect information.


  1. Get Multi-Party Participation and Buy-In

A serious event is likely to consume the organization’s energy and attention for an extended period.  Everyone who has a prominent role in responding to a major adverse event needs to be represented in the preparation and planning process. 

Organizational and financial leadership needs to make pre-event preparation a high priority. If senior management doesn’t exhibit full commitment, neither will their subordinates.


  1. Message Control, Vendor Participation and Documentation Are Critical

A crisis event is likely to have multi-year implications and can be financially devastating. Words spoken in the midst of a high-profile event can have lasting and regrettable consequences, especially with the added pressures of immediate social media feedback. It is therefore necessary to carefully control messaging, including identifying who is authorized to speak on behalf of the organization. The needs of the public for timely and accurate information, the unintended consequences of statements based on incomplete information, and the implications for future litigation are among the key factors to consider.

Message control extends beyond the organization’s own staff. Even if not directly involved in an event, vendors and contractors may be witnesses or transmitters of inaccurate or incomplete information. Awareness of organizational policy begins during the contracting and onboarding process and needs periodic review, reinforcement, and updating.

Finally, for both the extraordinary event and daily matters, documentation is critical. Unless hard evidence is produced, there may be a presumption that claimed activities didn’t happen or even that adverse information is being covered up. The mere evidence of proper planning, including employee education and effective communication of appropriate policies, can make a dramatic difference in an organization’s liability exposure and its ability to respond to regulatory inquiries.


  1. Systems Are A Must

As technology becomes more pervasive and the organization’s risk exposure more concerning, it is incumbent upon the risk management practice to raise its game with respect to systems. This is true both for the extraordinary event that hopefully never happens (for which speed and accuracy is the goal), and for the tasks that risk managers address on a daily basis where documentation and preparation may be the focus. 

Manual processes, siloed approaches and obsolete technologies are more than an inefficient inconvenience: they are symptoms of organizational indifference and impediments to effective event responses. Handling these situations poorly can impact an institution’s long term reputation, and affect its ability to attract and retain not only employees, but students as well. The time to evaluate technology, and to make sure that systems are up to the task, is now.


Aclaimant’s insight-driven workflow solutions can be the backbone of your risk management best practices. We invite you to contact us to learn more about how Aclaimant can help the higher education risk manager achieve demonstrably better outcomes and new levels of efficiency while being prepared to effectively manage crisis situations.