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Student Critical Incident Policy

Category Student Services
Type Policy
Approved by Vice-Chancellor's Advisory Group, 17 April 2013
Date Policy Took Effect 17 April 2013
Last Approved Revision 12 September 2016
Sponsor Vice-Chancellor
Responsible Officer Director, Student Services
Review Date 12 September 2021

Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide a framework for delivering a timely, compassionate and coordinated response to critical incidents that pertain to students studying at the University of Otago. To ensure an appropriate response to the range of potential critical incidents, a team of experienced centrally-based staff will oversee all critical incidents. Other relevant staff, including departmental, divisional and/or support staff and staff on campuses other than Dunedin will be co-opted to assist with the response to each specific critical incident as required.

Organisational Scope

University-wide

Definitions

Student Critical Incident: A traumatic event which causes serious distress or harm to a student or group of students at the University.

Student Critical Incident Contact List: A list of University staff to be standardly advised in the case of a Student Critical Incident.

Critical Incident Response Team: A group chaired by the Director, Student Services, made up of permanent members and members specific to a given incident, which is responsible for planning and assisting with tasks in response to a Student Critical Incident.

Policy Content

1.   General Principles

(a) A Student Critical Incident is a traumatic event which causes serious distress or harm to a student or group of students at the University, whether:

• directly, through a student or students being the immediate victim(s) of a traumatic event (e.g. student death or serious injury), or
• indirectly, through students being affected by, but not directly involved in, a traumatic event (e.g. natural disasters in a student’s home country or region, death of a staff member, threat to staff or students).

(b) Where a traumatic event occurs which has impacted on, or has the potential to impact upon, students a determination shall be made as to whether the event is a Student Critical Incident to be responded

i. whether any students are directly involved in the traumatic event and to what degree,
ii. whether the event has occurred in the context of the University (i.e. in relation to the operations of the University or activities associated with the University such as student accommodation or events),
iii. the number of students indirectly affected by the event, and
iv. the extent of potential distress for students indirectly affected by the event.

The death of a current student, or the serious injury of a current student in a University context, shall be considered a Student Critical Incident.

(c) The University shall seek to respond to a Student Critical Incident in a coordinated and appropriate manner, taking into account the nature of the incident and the needs of students, their families, staff and the University. It is acknowledged that the level of University involvement may vary depending on the circumstances of the incident in question.

(d) Student Critical Incidents will be managed by the Director, Student Services, who shall convene the Student Critical Incident Response Team as required (see clauses 2(f) and (g) below).

(e) A significant event on campus may lead the Vice-Chancellor to declare a ‘State of Campus Emergency’, which invokes the University’s Emergency Management Plan. In such cases the provisions of the Emergency Management Plan shall take precedence over the provisions in this Policy; however, the Student Critical Incident provisions may still be applied as appropriate.

(f) Student information will be disclosed only in accordance with the Privacy Act 1993, the Health Information Privacy Code and the Policy on Access to and use of, Personal Information.

2.   Roles and Responsibilities

(a) The Director, Student Services is responsible for:

i. in consultation with the Proctor, determining if an event is to be considered a Student Critical Incident on all University of Otago campuses,
ii. maintaining a Student Critical Incident Contact List of University staff to be advised in the event of a Student Critical Incident,
iii. ensuring that relevant parties are made aware of a Student Critical Incident in a timely fashion, subject to privacy and confidentiality restrictions,
iv. the overall management and coordination of activities related to a Student Critical Incident.

(b) The Proctor is responsible for:

i. verifying any event which may provide grounds for a declaration of a Student Critical Incident (e.g. an alleged student death or serious injury),
ii. deputising for the Director, Student Services, if the Director is unavailable, and
iii. ensuring that processes are in place so that a senior staff member from within the Proctor’s Office is available at all times to act for the Proctor if he or she is unavailable.

(c) The Head of Communications is responsible for:

i. co-ordinating external communications with the media for Student Critical Incidents on all campuses.
ii. supporting OUSA as requested and required to deal with media communications and requests.

(d) Academic Services is responsible for:

i. communication with students and the public through the University Information Centre, and
ii. any necessary updating of e-Vision-based official student records in light of a Student Critical Incident.

(e) The Student Critical Incident Response Team, which may meet or otherwise liaise at the request of the Director, Student Services, is responsible for assisting the Director and other relevant parties in the planning and carrying out of tasks relating to a Student Critical Incident.

(f) The Student Critical Incident Response Team shall normally comprise:

• the Director, Student Services (in the Chair)
• the Proctor
• the Lead Staff Member(s)
• the Head of Communications
• the Director, International or their nominee if the incident involves an international student(s)
• the Dean of the Graduate Research School if the incident involves a graduate research student(s)

In addition, other relevant staff may be co-opted onto the Team as required based on the specific circumstances of any particular Student Critical Incident.

(g) As required for a given Student Critical Incident, Lead Staff Member(s) shall be selected from relevant staff (e.g. Heads of Departments, Pro-Vice-Chancellors or nominees, Heads of Colleges, the Chaplain and OUSA representatives as appropriate) by the Director, Student Services, following appropriate consultation and taking into account:

i. the nature of the Student Critical Incident (senior management representation may be appropriate for very significant and/or wide-reaching incidents),
ii. the impacted student and staff groups,
iii. the relationship of the staff member to impacted groups they may be working with (it is preferred that the staff member has an existing relationship and/or is well known to the student or staff groups they may be liaising with), and
iv. any distress a potential Lead Staff Member may be experiencing as a result of the incident which may impact on their ability to act in this role.

Lead Staff Members shall be the main point(s) of liaison with designated groups of affected students, staff and/or other parties.

3.   Events at University of Otago Campuses outside Dunedin

(a) For Student Critical Incidents primarily affecting University of Otago campuses other than the Dunedin campus, the Director Student Services will normally delegate responsibility for establishing a Campus Critical Incident Response team and/or appointing lead staff members to:

i. The Dean of the University of Otago, Wellington (or nominee), where a Student Critical Incident primarily impacts on the University’s Wellington campus,
ii. The Dean of the University of Otago, Christchurch (or nominee), where a Student Critical Incident primarily impacts on the University’s Christchurch campus,
iii. The Academic Programmes Co-ordinator, Southland Campus, (or nominee), where a Student Critical Incident primarily impacts on the University’s Southland campus,
iv. External Engagement Manager, Auckland, (or nominee) where a Student Critical Incident primarily impacts on the University’s Auckland campus,

who will manage and co-ordinate all activities related to the Student Critical Incident on their campus.

(b) The Student Critical Response team will retain an overview of the Student Critical Incident relating to the campus outside Dunedin and provide support and back up as required.

4.   Notification of a Student Critical Incident to the University

(a) Potential critical incidents should be reported to the Proctor, who shall verify that the event in question has taken place. If so, and it is possible that the event may be considered a Student Critical Incident, the Proctor shall notify the Director, Student Services.

(b) On determining that an event is to be considered a Student Critical Incident, the Director, Student Services shall:

i. contact relevant staff to advise them of the incident, including all staff on the Critical Incident Contact List and other key staff as appropriate to the incident and student(s) in question,
ii. convene the Student Critical Incident Response Team if required, and
iii. following any appropriate consultation, contact and enlist Lead Staff Member(s) as required.

(c) All stages of notification of a Student Critical Incident shall be carried out in a timely fashion with respect to the specific circumstances of the incident in question; in some cases this will mean communications should be carried out with urgency.

5.   University Response to a Student Critical Incident

(a) The Director, Student Services and/or the Student Critical Incident Response Team shall decide on, coordinate and direct the response to a Student Critical Incident.

(b) Response activities will vary depending on the nature of the Critical Incident, but may include:

i. communication with the wider University community (staff and/or students) on the incident,
ii. an appropriate Lead Staff Member meeting or otherwise communicating with an injured student,
iii. appropriate Lead Staff Member(s) meeting or otherwise communicating with relevant staff to ensure they are supported in case of a critical incident and are aware of the support they can offer to affected students,
iv. an appropriate Lead Staff Member meeting or otherwise communicating with those closest to an injured or deceased student, such as friends, flatmates and/or family,
v. appropriate Lead Staff Member(s) meeting or otherwise communicating with relevant student groups, such as students from the same department or Residential College as an injured or deceased student, and
vi. the planning of acknowledgement activities (e.g. the sending of flowers, memorials).

(c) Communications with affected groups may include, as appropriate:

i. factual information about the Student Critical Incident including update information to staff and students where a Student Critical Incident is ongoing (care should be taken to ensure the veracity of any information communicated and that the privacy of those involved is not breached),
ii. information on support services available to students and staff (see clause 6 below),
iii. advice to staff and students on the appropriate use of social media to prevent increased distress to the friends and family of an injured or deceased student, and/or the spread of rumours,
iv. the conveying of condolences and sympathy to affected parties,
v. information on and/or invitation to participate in planned acknowledgement activities.

(d) Staff are encouraged to be available to students who may be distressed following a Student Critical Incident, subject to staff managing their own emotional wellbeing. However, staff should also be aware of professional support services that students may be directed to as detailed in clause 6.

(e) The Head of Communications, in consultation with the Student Critical Incident Response Team, shall advise:

i. the University Information Centre on appropriate responses to enquiries, and
ii. the senior management of the University on statements to be made to media and/or on the University website.

(f) All media enquiries regarding a Student Critical Incident shall be directed to the Head of Communications.

(g) It may be appropriate to complete additional tasks some weeks or months after a Student Critical Incident, for example a memorial service as per the University’s Campus Memorial Policy.

(h) A debrief shall be carried out by the Director, Student Services, with involved staff, following:

i. all Student Critical Incidents which require the convening of the Student Critical Incident Response Team, or
ii. any other Student Critical Incidents, at the discretion of the Director, Student Services.

Any issues identified or recommendations for improvements shall be noted.

6.   Sources of Support

(a) The Chaplains can assist with pastoral and spiritual support, with the arrangement of memorial services, and with the provision of resources on death and grieving.

(b) Counselling Services in Student Health can assist students experiencing distress following a Student Critical Incident.

(c) Disability Information & Support can assist students experiencing distress following a Student Critical Incident.

(d) The Employee Assistance Programme can provide counselling support for staff following a Student Critical Incident.

(e) International Student Advisers in the International Office can provide pastoral support to international students.

(f) The Māori Centre and Pacific Islands Centre can provide cultural and pastoral support to Māori and Pasifika students.

(g) The Office of Māori Development is available to advise and assist with a blessing if appropriate.

(h) OUSA Student Support Centre can provide pastoral and hardship support to students following a Student Critical Incident.

(i) The Proctor’s Office is responsible for a safe campus, and can be contacted if a staff member has concerns about the safety of a student.

(j) Residential Colleges through the respective Heads of College, can assist and support their college residents affected by a Student Critical Incident.

Related Policies, Procedures and Forms

Contact for Further Information

If you have any queries regarding the content of this policy or need further clarification, contact the Director, Student Services on karyn.thomson@otago.ac.nz