6 Things You Should Do Now to Prepare for a School Emergency

School and district emergencies are not only frightening, but can also be extremely overwhelming for administrators. Administrators have responsibilities to keep their students and staff safe, make sure parents and others stay informed, and maintain the brand and reputation of their school or district. Things can quickly get out of control if you aren't prepared, and emotions can run high when the safety of staff and students is on the line.  

We’ve put together a resource to help you create an effective emergency response plan. Here are the top 6 things you should do to be prepared for an emergency in your school or district with input from Joe Donovan, President of The Donovan Group and expert in crisis prevention and response for K-12 schools and districts.

 

 

 

 

 

1. Admit Your Shortfalls

As in any process, the hardest, but most important step is the first one - admitting your shortfalls. “That's really the most important thing, because it's difficult – especially for someone who has been a school leader or a school district leader in a district for some time – to admit that,” says Donovan. Before you take any other action, sit down with your team and take a frank, honest look at the way you’re currently doing things. If you think you’ll have trouble with this, then ask an unbiased third party to do it instead.

2. Make a Plan

Once you’ve recognized areas where you could improve, make a plan of action that will address those issues and help you be prepared in the event of an emergency. According to Donovan, this consists of making sure you have the following: established best practices, a solid, clearly-understood plan, designated people who are trained to respond, and the technology to carry out your plan.

3. Get Your Message out First

The success of your emergency response often hinges on whether or not you get your message out first.

More and more people in schools have smart phones and can communicate with the outside world in a matter of seconds. “We're in a race against the technology that people have on them in schools," says Donovan. "That's why having the technology to be able to get [your message out first] is critically important.”

Using a mass notification system like InformaCast Advanced Notification is your best chance at getting your message out first. Since systems like this can almost instantly send your message to several different platforms, like social media, SMS text, IP phones, cell phones, and email, you have a better chance of reaching the most people possible as quickly as possible.

Donovan says that such a system is critically important in an emergency. “…I know of situations where school districts that don't have a mass notification system have really been in a situation where lives have been endangered because of it.” 

4. Communicate with the Right People

Whether the situation dictates that you communicate with parents, local law enforcement, the media or any other group of people, it is important to have a plan in place outlining to whom, when, and how you will communicate. “Where school district leaders often struggle is that they don't have the process for pushing information out to parents, community members, and the world media, and here again, that's something that with a little bit of planning they can have ready to go,” says Donovan. As part of your plan (see point number 2) you should decide to whom you will communicate in different scenarios, the timeline/order if you will be communicating to different groups in phases, and what technology you will use to send your message.

5. Be Honest and Transparent

Sharing information with the public can be scary, especially if the situation you are addressing is embarrassing or reflects negatively on your school or district. However, withholding information or failing to communicate at all only creates an open playing field for gossip and misinformation. As Donovan says, “…If the information isn't out there, if you’re not providing the information, someone's creating the information for you, someone's creating the perception...” Don’t let other people own your story.

6. Designate Communications People

That being said, you want the information you share to be well thought out and delivered by someone who is knowledgeable about the situation and also knowledgeable of your school’s brand/message. Donovan recommends that you designate 4 or 5 people in the district whom you would trust to be the district's communicator. The district's communicator should be trained to work with the media and use the mass notification system, and he or she should be responsible for owning and distributing the information.

Two Important Points:

The district’s communicator should have a certain amount of separation from the situation, both physically and emotionally - The district’s communicator should be off-site for his or her own safety and the safety of others. He or she should be a neutral third party without personal ties to staff or students.

You Should Establish a Team to Support the Communications Person - “It's important to have an applications lead, but is also important to have many people who are able to continue to address the situation,” says Donovan.  
 

Joe Donovan is the president of the Donovan Group, a communications group firm that works with school districts ranging from large urban districts to very small, rural districts, as well as educational associations. Donovan often works directly with school districts during times of crisis, immediately after a crisis, or in non-crisis times doing crisis prevention training.

 

 

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