By Claire Hastings
We may be science communicators, but in any press office, preparing for and reacting in a crisis is our responsibility. Whether you’re the one fielding calls, writing statements or calling the shots – we all have to know what to do when disaster strikes.
But how can we prepare for something we hope will never happen, and that we (hopefully) have very little expertise in?
We invited Jamie Brown, Media Relations Manager at the University of Manchester, down to London to share his experiences and lessons learned from the two major events that affected the University in 2017 – a huge fire that devastated their cancer research building and the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.
Jamie started by telling us about the terrible fire in the University’s Patterson building, which houses the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and is next door to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, a tertiary cancer hospital. The fire ravaged the top floors of the building and more than a year later it’s still closed. They first heard about the fire at 10:45, they had their first call at 11 am, and they had 15 media enquiries about the fire within an hour of the fire starting. It was also all over social media.
How did the Manchester press office respond?
One month after the fire, Manchester faced one of the biggest tragedies in their history when a bomb killed 22 people at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena. The world’s media descended on the city, desperate for leads or new angles to keep the story going. Their student halls were evacuated and used as an emergency shelter. There were also raids on campus in the days and weeks followling the attack.
What happened in the Manchester press office?
We are really grateful to Jamie for coming down to London to share his experiences from what was a pretty difficult year for the Manchester press office, and indeed the entire city. For those who made it, I hope you all found something useful. For those who couldn’t make it, at the end of the talk, Jamie rounded up his lessons learned from the experience so that we might learn from them too.