Few things scare a mother more than a lockdown or safety crisis at her child’s school. Fear makes calm, sensible people frantic and fierce.
This is a tough time for schools. Their first priority is protecting children. A lockdown is serious business. School staffers are tied up assessing the threat, talking to police, making sure everyone is safe. Communicating with parents is important, yet school leaders want what they communicate to be accurate.
Parents today want immediate information. And they want to hear it from the school first. Not TV news or social media. Failure to communicate will erode their trust.
Schools that try to control the release of information are living in an alternative universe. Rumors and leaks travel at the speed of lightning – by text, tweet and Facebook. You can’t control that. The best approach is to get out in front of it.
When an incident happens in or near school, someone has to alert parents, using all available methods at once. Schools need an automated messaging service that calls and sends both texts and emails. At the same time, someone has to post on the school website, Twitter and Facebook pages. Every school district should have a sweeping communications strategy, using a mix of traditional and digital media.
Consider these recent events:
- When a boy brought knives, a gun and 400 rounds of ammunition to school in Vancouver, Washington, an alert was posted on the district website and Facebook pages. A school administrator thought that was the best way to push out information fast. But it wasn’t good enough for some parents, who said they should have gotten text messages.
- When a high school in Austin, Texas went into lockdown after reports that someone had a gun, parents got an automated phone call from the district. But they complained there were not enough details. Parents who showed up at the school got even more frustrated when no one came out to talk to them immediately. They were desperate to know more about what was going on and take their children home.
In both cases, angry parents vented to local TV and newspaper reporters.
Want to avoid this blood pressure spike for all involved? Explain procedures to parents in advance. Tell them what to expect out front, before an incident comes into play.
When parents show up at school in the middle of an emergency, someone must bring them information and stay to address their concerns. They have a right to know why there is a lockdown and what steps are underway to get things back to normal. Tell them as much as you can, without jeopardizing anyone’s safety or the investigation.
Parents will remember how you handled things long after the emergency is over. So have a solid communications plan in place before trouble hits.
Communications and Media Consultant
Visit School Security Blog at: www.schoolsecurityblog.com
Follow Ken Trump on Twitter @safeschools
Visit and “Like” Our Facebook School Safety News Channel at: www.facebook.com/schoolsafety