Delta University Tragedy – Communications Load Balancing, Load Testing and Dark Websites

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The day after thousands of people gathered for a candlelight vigil memorializing a professor killed by a colleague, investigators continued to search for a motive.

The police believe that Ethan A. Schmidt, an assistant professor at Delta State University, was shot on Monday by Shannon S. Lamb, who taught geography and social science at the college. Dr. Lamb is also suspected of fatally shooting his girlfriend and, later that day, himself, the police said.

While there are many lessons from this latest incident of workplace violence, there are stark and immediate lessons regarding communications during an active crisis.

Delta2First, significant credit must be given to the person or persons who manage the Delta University Twitter account; under great duress, the messages delivered were clear, direct, and continuous during the crisis.

The social account’s management however, was made more crucial in that, as in almost every reviewed case of violence on a campus or a company property, the primary website of the central authority crashed due to increased load.

Next week, our guest technology advisor Jeff Lantz, CEO of EsquireInteractive will review the options available to organizations to assure they are able to deliver critical messaging during times of crisis while continuing operations.

On a high level, these options include:

Load Testing

Load testing is the process of putting demand on a system or device and measuring its response. Load testing is performed to determine a system’s behavior under both normal and anticipated peak load conditions.

Load Balancing:

Load balancing is a core networking solution responsible for distributing incoming traffic among servers hosting the same application content. By balancing application requests across multiple servers, a load balancer prevents any application server from becoming a single point of failure, thus improving overall application availability and responsiveness. For example, when one application server becomes unavailable, the load balancer simply directs all new application requests to other available servers in the pool.

Load balancers also improve server utilization and maximize availability. Load balancing is the most straightforward method of scaling out an application server infrastructure. As application demand increases, new servers can be easily added to the resource pool, and the load balancer will immediately begin sending traffic to the new server. Load balancing allows you to:

  • Scale your application
  • Support heavy traffic
  • Detect unhealthy virtual machines instances
  • Balance loads across regions
  • Route traffic to the closest virtual machine
  • Support content-based routing

Work with your system administrators to ensure you have adequate load balancing and server capacity in place, and explore off-site hosting (or backup hosting) options if necessary.

Dark Websites:

One of the most common and useful tools in any crisis or emergency communication management strategy is a dark web site. This practice is fairly common in the private sector.

By definition, a dark web site is a pre-made, non-visible web site that is activated when a crisis or emergency occurs. The site stores written-in-advance information, as the specific details of the event are added immediately before the site is activated. It should have a simple Content Management System (CMS) to allow for ease in rapid updating.

Prior to deployment, decisions must be made to ascertain whether to use a sub-domain of your current domain, or to register the dark website at its own URL to allow traffic to be diverted directly to it via a link shared on the primary domain, and across social media.

A quickly deployed dark website allows you to continue normal operations on your primary domain, deliver critical messages needed to protect people and property, demonstrate transparency while controlling the messaging of the crisis and:

  • Build, maintain or restore trust
  • Improve knowledge and understanding
  • Guide and encourage appropriate attitudes, decisions, actions and behaviors
  • Encourage collaboration and cooperation

Your Audience in a Crisis is Everyone

During an emergency, people actively look to a variety of public sources for information that will help them build situation awareness and make decisions. As an official source, providing a steady stream of information, acknowledging that you may be waiting for facts and confirmations, providing updates when you receive them, and providing clear facts and confirmations for dissemination is critically important.

It is important then, to engage and guide users, followers, fans, etc. in behavior that assures safety, and spreads only information that protects people in a dangerous and volatile situation.

The content of messages is critical. Areas to consider include:

• Prepare message maps in advance and modify as needed. Keep in mind that different tools have differing message formats; what works for Facebook does not work as well for Twitter due to character limitations of microblogging. Use hashtags to allow information to be easily found. These may either be pre-prepared or created during an emergency. Hashtags can also be identified by monitoring conversations as there may already be popular themes used by major media outlets and the community at-large.

• Point users to your official website as appropriate, and assure that load testing has been done.

• As we have advised in the past, in social, text and other messages, give all information in the message as recipients may be unable to access a web browser or your domain.

• Pattern excellence in information sharing. Do not share sensitive images of victims or others in an active crisis. Do share information with police and officials in a secure and private manner as appropriate.

• Partner with local police and emergency social accounts to assure continuity and consistency of official messaging.

Awareness of potential issues and planning are key in contributing to the effectiveness of crisis communication.

We’d like to help.  Contact us, and let’s get the conversation started.

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