Leaning on Chatbots in Emergencies

During emergencies on campus chatbots become critical in communications.

Written by: Damon Vangelis, Founder & CEO

Over the past few years, schools have been rocked by a number of emergencies, including natural disasters and threats of violence.

Today, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has disrupted school operations and upended life for many students. Questions related to housing, financial aid, visas, and online classes have flooded in while departments reacted to new information and created new procedures.

It is important to get accurate and up-to-date information out to students and parents as quickly as possible when an emergency strikes. AI chatbots have played a key role in the way many schools respond to emergencies. They’re a go-to resource for students, quickly answering questions and servicing the school community at scale.

During times of crisis, here are five ways chatbots help colleges act quickly to regain control:

Reach students quickly

With a one-to-many approach, chatbots can help students instantly find answers to questions and get pointed to the proper resource. And sending the chatbot out to students as part of text-based alerts is a great way to provide additional opportunities for students to get their questions answered without drowning staff.

To respond to the crisis at hand, colleges can quickly update their chatbot by adding short and to-the-point information with relevant links, videos, and content. For example, during the current emergency, the University of Texas – Dallas needed to change their hours of operation two times in one day. With the ease of updating their chatbot, they were able to do this almost instantaneously.

Communicate clear and consistent messaging

When it comes to clarity, chatbots help to communicate key points without overwhelming site-visitors with too much material. To avoid information overload, chatbots respond in a concise, conversational manner and then direct students to more in depth resources if they request more details.

For example, during the California wildfires in 2018, Butte College’s chatbot had specific answers to questions such as “I lost my home in the fire. Can I get a refund?”, and it pointed students to pertinent resources like the Campus Fire Information webpage when asked more broad questions like “How do I receive help?”

24/7/365 accessibility

Chatbots are a great extension and support tool for schools, expanding their availability to 24/7/365.

When staff is sleeping, chatbots are hard at work answering students’ questions and circulating information about the crisis at hand. Chatbots are also a great resource during normal business hours especially during times like the coronavirus pandemic when staff might not be in the office or unable to answer the phone at their normal capacity.

UC Santa Cruz has been dealing with a huge influx of students expressing anxiety and asking questions around refunds due to the coronavirus outbreak. Their chatbot helps students make sense of the impact even if inquiries come in late at night. This prompt response helps to ease students’ uneasiness.

Relevant data and analytics

With chatbots, schools now have access to amazing data and analytics. By accessing the chat logs, there’s so much that can be learned about the student body. For example, if you take a look at current trending topics, coronavirus is currently number two on Ocelot’s list.

Chatbot logs can give you insight into what’s on students’ minds, helping schools things they might never find out otherwise. It can also help to identify gaps in communications so schools can quickly fill the void with pertinent information.

Flagging and communicating with at-risk students

Chatbots can also take immediate action by responding to and flagging at-risk students. Sometimes, students can threaten violent behavior.

For example, in 2019, a university using an Ocelot chatbot experienced a threat of violence. A student told the chatbot about their intentions to do harm. The chatbot system flagged the incident and security was informed, raising alarm that violence was threatened.

Chatbots can also respond to students who share suicidal thoughts with on-campus or national resources for them to utilize like personal phone numbers of on-campus staff or the national suicide prevention line.

Free Resource to Aid Schools

The past few years have demonstrated that chatbots can be an effective tool for regaining control and communicating essential and up-to-date information to students.

And to support schools during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Ocelot has created a free COVID-19 chatbot that can accelerate schools’ response to this emergency. Let us know if we can help you.

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