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School Crisis Communications: Three Steps to Prepare

Natural disasters, threats, active shooters, the death of a student or staff member…while the thought of these crises in your school or district can be difficult to think about, it’s necessary to have a solid plan to help your community be prepared as possible.

Here are three steps to help you prepare for crisis communications.

Step 1: Designate a team and create a plan

First, create a committee that focuses on safety and emergencies. 

A few members that should be included on this committee are:

  • Designated school safety coordinators
  • School Resource Officer (SRO)
  • Communications leader
  • Police department representative
  • Fire department representative

You could also include:

  • Superintendent
  • Classroom teacher representative
  • Maintenance or facilities leader
  • Transportation leader

It’s important to combine perspectives to improve your level of preparedness. For example, first responders and emergency personnel are trained for crisis responses, while school and district administrators are focused on the education of children.

Once the team is created, it should meet regularly and evaluate the current emergency plans. It’s important to ensure that communications are part of the discussion. 

Here are some key items to consider when creating your plan:

  1. List the response team members at the top and include their contact information.
  2. Establish a clear chain of command and team member responsibilities. The plan should also outline who will take care of responsibilities in case of someone’s absence.
  3. Outline the channels of communication you plan to use. During a crisis, it can be easy to forget which channels you need to send information to.
  4. Draft messages in advance and include them in your plan. This gives you time to think during a crisis situation.

Here are a few examples:

Text message

[District name] will be [closed/utilizing an eLearning Day] [this morning/tomorrow morning, full date including year] due to [emergency situation]. Please check your email for more information.

Voice message

All [District name] schools will be [closed/utilizing an eLearning Day] [this morning/tomorrow morning, full date including year] due to [emergency situation]. Please check your email for more information.

Email message

[District name] Parents and Guardians,

All [District name] schools will be [closed/utilizing an eLearning Day] [this morning/tomorrow morning, full date including year] due to [emergency situation]. [Program name] Preschool and [before and after school] program will be [closed OR open at their normally scheduled time]. No meals will be served. All evening activities [will proceed as normal OR are canceled] unless otherwise notified. All school offices and the Administration Office will be [closed OR open at their normally scheduled time].

[Insert eLearning expectations if necessary]

Classes will resume as normal on [date], unless otherwise notified.

Sincerely,

[District name] Administration

Step 2: Prepare for the unexpected

After your team and plans are created, it’s time to think about the different situations you might face and what you need to do to prepare for them. Here are a few different things to consider.

1.) What materials will you need during a crisis?

Here are a few items that might be helpful:

  • Charging cords, extension cords, and/or multi-outlet extension cables
  • Water and snacks
  • Toiletries
  • Blazer/suit and jacket (for interviews)

2.) What scenarios should you be ready for?

It’s important to keep in mind that every crisis is unique and you can’t be prepared for each and every situation. However, here are a few common scenarios to think about:

  • No power
  • No internet access
  • No landline telephones
  • No printer

3.) Do stakeholders know what to expect?

Staff members and families aren’t involved in the planning process for crises. How can you ensure they know responsibilities and protocols?

For staff, create an internal document that outlines responsibilities and expectations. Include which emergency messages to send, the reunification process, procedures for fire, weather, lockdowns, and evacuation.

For families, create a public-facing document outlining the school or district’s emergency response protocols. Make sure it is easy to find on your school website and is easily accessible to them each school year. This document should include contact information, what to expect during an emergency, as well as what to expect after.

Step 3: The crisis is over. What now?

It’s easy to forget about the important steps you need to take after a crisis. Here are three tips to help you prepare for what happens next.

1.) Damage control.

  • It is vital to continue communicating with the community. For example, follow up with families of injured students to show you are invested and care about their child.
  • Be prepared to answer the question “How will you stop this from happening again?” 
  • Think about how you can show a positive front after a crisis.
  • Keep the media updated and make sure you’re accessible to them. Consider proposing a follow up story with a trusted reporter a few months after the event to show you heard from your stakeholders and have taken action.

2.) Debrief with your team and evaluate your plan.

  • What went well and what could be improved? Walk through the situation step by step to determine what could have been done differently next time.

3.) Prioritize your mental health.

  • One of the most neglected aspects of an emergency is how you manage your mental health after it has occurred. Take time to prioritize your own health and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of when a crisis will hit your school or district, not if it will. Crises are emotionally exhausting and incredibly difficult situations. We hope following some of these steps to prepare can help ease some anxiety.

Click here to download the full playbook – Preparing for Crisis Communications.

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