Campus crisis management must prioritize transparency

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Aarthi Muthukumar/Senior Staff

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Last Thursday, UC Berkeley students — some lucky to be in the comfort of their homes, some out and about on campus — received a heart-stopping notification from UCPD. Although the campus community is far too familiar with the subject line “UC Berkeley WarnMe,” this time it was followed by “SHELTER IN PLACE,” since revealed to reference credible threats from an individual to harm several people on campus. Out of 14 emails sent in the span of five hours to the student body, not a single WarnMe email explicitly stated this simple reality.

The emails did not provide details regarding the status of the situation, the perpetrator’s activity, specific areas of campus to avoid or even the outcome of the threat. Rather, many only promised to provide more updates later.

Many hoped the final email would compensate for the lack of information in the first 13. Instead, it merely stated: “The situation has been resolved. Thank you for your patience.”

The campus-wide shelter-in-place order last Thursday revealed many flaws with the WarnMe system. Instead of timely, specific and productive updates from campus and UCPD, the notifications were sent with no real details on the evolving situation. Much of the WarnMe’s content seemed to have been deliberately vague in phrasing to “protect the investigation.”

However, clear communication during emergency situations is one of the best ways to keep students safe and calm. Understanding the truth of the emergency is often the best way to begin to healthily cope with danger, as well as take appropriate action to stay safe.

Some students allegedly left their classrooms during the shelter-in-place order under the assumption that the threat was not serious enough to warrant staying in place. Some professors also continued to host lectures virtually, allegedly unaware of the magnitude of the threat and the overwhelming fear and anxiety among students.

Inadequate communication also opened up a host of misinformation on social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit. When authorities refused to make information publicly available during the event, social media — a place where many people feel they can turn to and trust — became a breeding ground for conspiracy and assumption. This spurred the most prominent rumor that there was an active shooter on campus, which forced UCPD to explicitly clarify on Twitter rather than email that it was untrue.

While the campus community was lucky to come out of the situation without any injury, campus and UCPD must do better to keep students adequately informed and updated during emergencies. Increased information will allow students, professors and staff to safely work through their individual situations. Only with full transparency can campus combat the existing distrust of authorities and police among students, as well as truly ensure their safety.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2022 opinion editor, Jessie Wu.