“Run Hide Fight”: #SMEM During the Ohio State University Attack

The Ohio State University attack, view from Dreese Lab.

The Ohio State University attack, view from Dreese Lab.

When a then-unidentified man used his vehicle as a weapon on the campus of the Ohio State University Monday, then got out of it and attacked people with a knife, authorities acted quickly: both the first responders who stopped the violence within minutes and school officials responsible for ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors to the campus.

Ohio State should get high grades for using social media in emergency management (SMEM) tactics and techniques to help keep people on campus safe and inform off-campus stakeholders of the quickly evolving incident and its conclusion.

Here’s a few lessons learned for you to consider when doing SMEM planning for your next critical incident:

Be the first and best source of information:



During public safety incidents, give clear instructions in a timely manner:



Understand that initial reports are almost always wrong – correct rumors and only release verified facts:


Rely on third-party support, through relationships developed before crisis strikes, to help get important information to the people who need it (NOTE: I didn’t have to search for all the tweets embedded here – I follow some individuals/organizations with ties to the school, and most of these embeds were retweets that popped up on my personal account timeline):



The news media will quickly begin releasing information when they get it:




Reporters won’t just rely on “official sources” to tell the story:



Consider non-traditional news sources when building your engagement list – they’ll be reporting on your critical incident:



Voices other than those of officials and the media add to the narrative on SM:




Make sure leadership engages, when the time is right (in this case, after the emergency phase):

Keep providing information until the critical incident is resolved:




Provide follow-up information:


If you’re at a large institution, like Ohio State, empower business units to release vital, specialized information via branded, non-emergency channels (and, understand that SMEM activities extend into the recovery phase of operations):




Understand that SMEM and social media is just one way to pass critical information:


If an organization like yours is mitigating crisis, your stakeholders will want to know what you’ll do if a critical incident strikes your organization. Tell them, but wait until after the emergency is over at the similar organization:



Photo by Addis Wang. The original image has not been altered and is used under Creative Commons license.

2 thoughts on ““Run Hide Fight”: #SMEM During the Ohio State University Attack

  1. Thanks, Brandon. Good stuff. My only gripe is the sources (apparently not official) that used the term “active shooter” for an event that clearly was not a shooter event. Words do matter.



    • Thank you, Ed. Yep, that’s exactly why I put it in there under the “initial reports are almost always wrong” category. OSU did report “active shooter” intially and then corrected it. From an EM and PIO perspective, I don’t have a problem with that — “fog of war,” erring on the side of caution, given the circumstances, and the typical MO of someone committing a mass attack in this day and age (sadly) made that initial release of information, and how it was worded, logical. Fixing it quickly was smart, considering the on-campus impacts, as well as THOUSANDS of worried friends and families off campus!


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