The prospect of violence in schools or universities is unthinkable and scary, but implementing an overall crisis plan, including a detailed crisis communications policy, will help during and after the incident.
Crisis Communication Basics
In the event of a crisis, efficient and thorough communication impacts not only your ability to directly manage the situation, but also your long-term relationships with students, staff and the community. This includes the ability of your crisis response team to communicate with one another, with law enforcement, with students and with parents.
The best crisis communications plan will include alternate and redundant communication paths, which will provide multiple options for dissemination of information. This may include phone calls, texts, email or even social media channels. This approach will afford administrators some control over the release of information, while also providing families and the community with a direct means of retrieving information.
When speaking about a crisis be sure to:
- Get the facts correct.
- Be thoughtful and accurate.
- Follow up with new information as soon as it becomes available.
Employing Social Media
Social media plays an integral role in the lives of students, staff and faculty. Recent school events have made it apparent that social media must also play a role in school crisis communications. Monitoring of social media outlets should be considered before, during and after a crisis to track emerging details, share or correct information, and identify questions or areas of confusion.
Affected individuals also will likely turn to Facebook and Twitter for updates and to send messages to their loved ones. A hashtag strategy may be useful to help organize and curate relevant information about the crisis.
After a crisis, social media can provide a platform for people to voice their feelings about the incident, aiding in their emotional recovery.
Emergency Preparedness for Children
We hear about the importance of personal preparedness and situational awareness when surviving life-threatening events. But talking about potentially life-threatening situations can be frightening for children in a K-12 environment.
To help your school prepare make sure students are familiar with who the police, firefighters and emergency medical teams are and what their uniforms look like. Use the terms “safety” and “emergency” to create a link of understanding between the two and dilute the negative connotations surrounding the latter.
Parents and caregivers should start safety training early in a child’s life. Most will have had discussions with their children on “stranger danger” and “stop, drop and roll” before they start elementary school. These are lessons that can be used to introduce additional elements of emergency preparedness.
Create a Full Crisis Plan
While these basic crisis communication steps are important, they are only one part of an overall crisis plan. Schools should also assemble a written plan, choose an internal crisis response team and conduct drills with staff, students and first responders to cement familiarity with the plan.
It’s easy to assume the chances of a crisis happening at your school are slim. And, statistically, that assumption would be correct. But taking basic steps toward crisis preparation and communication will help lessen any risk to students and strengthen your overall response and recovery.
Howard is senior director for FEI Behavioral Health. She works with clients to ensure they are prepared to respond to and recover from a crisis. For more information visit feinet.com.