Working with Your P3 Partner in a Moment of Crisis

CommunicationAnyone who has worked in student housing long enough, knows that it’s not a question of if, but when the next student crisis will occur in your community.  The excitement of move-in day and newness of a fresh school year can soon be interrupted with an unfortunate critical incident that can impact not just individual residents, but an entire community.  While a student crisis will always be unpredictable in terms of timing and severity, the fact that a crisis will occur in the near future is certain. Preparing for that moment in a P3 community requires effective collaboration and communication between the University and Partner.  Together, you can effectively plan for and execute a thoughtful and thorough response to critical student incidents when they arise. Here are three keys to a successful joint response to any critical student incident in a P3 student housing community.

1. Role Clarity: P3 relationships are generally well documented in terms of operational responsibilities, and with this as a foundation it is essential that both the University and Partner have clarity on the role each will play during a critical incident. Generally, the University takes the lead and responses are based on the institution’s existing emergency procedures and protocols.  This allows for consistency in terms of response across the institution’s housing facilities, and reduces the potential for confusion in a moment of crisis.  The Partner should take on a support role, and stand ready to assist the campus with resources, personnel and effort that complements the response of the campus. Students, parents, staff and the local community will look to the leadership of the campus to manage the response and media inquiries, and the Partner should only take the lead on items the University has delegated to it.  Articulating expectations and reinforcing roles for critical incidents will minimize the potential for confusion and ensure students receive the support and communication they need.

2. Preparation: Because we know a critical incident is likely to happen in any given year, preparing the staff with adequate training, resources and support is important. The University and Partner should work together on written emergency protocols and training programs to ensure staff are well prepared for the myriad of potential incidents that may occur. The initial training that staff receive should be reinforced with periodic reviews of policies and procedures as well as annual training exercises that allow staff to apply that information and training.  Failing to plan is a plan to fail, and with annual staff turnover being the norm in student housing, we must continually train and reinforce expectations for our team members.

3. Communication: Critical incidents can be very fluid and evolve quickly over a short period of time. Clear and consistent communication is important to ensure those who are responding initially to the incident, and as well as those who will continue to manage the ongoing response, are informed of the latest developments, decisions and actions implemented by the University and Partner.  This will minimize the potential for misinformation and confusion. Even the best developed policies and procedures can be disrupted by unforeseen circumstances during a critical incident, so consistent communication will allow for collective decision making that is well-informed and timely.

In conclusion, critical incidents happen in student housing and successfully responding when they occur in a P3 student housing community requires clarity on roles and responsibilities, continuous training of staff and consistent communication.  Excelling in these three areas will ensure your P3 student housing community is prepared for that emergency phone call this year.

Author: Dr. Matthew Brown, President Capstone Management Partners