Communicating from the Front Lines of a Five-Alarm Fire: A Case Study

Mary-Hope Vass


Mary-Hope Vass
James Madison University
Media Relations Manager



One afternoon in March 2019, a five-alarm blaze destroyed an off-campus student housing building, ultimately displacing 41 James Madison University students. This case study will offer key takeaways related to emergency communications preparedness, fundraising in a time of crisis and coordinated crisis communications with other agencies. Communicating with students, families, alumni, community members and private organizations is challenging enough even when something is not on fire.

This case study is a great example of how preparedness, coordination, technology and data converge to help a close-knit community through a time of need. Learn how one university handles the challenges of ensuring preparedness to respond to an emergency in a manner that protects both public safety and the reputation of the university.



  • Build upon their existing crisis communications plans with lessons learned from the front lines, and revisit the steps often overlooked in a crisis situation that can prove vitally important.
  • Plan for how to centralize an outpouring of support (monetary and otherwise) during a crisis situation.
  • Gain tips to more effectively partner with local and regional law enforcement, first responders, fire departments and other municipal agencies during an off-campus emergency situation.”