New Year, New Reminder to Share Your Critical Communications Strategies with All School Stakeholders

By redefining and communicating crisis communications protocols at different intervals during the year, school leaders can ensure safety stays at the forefront.

New Year, New Reminder to Share Your Critical Communications Strategies with All School Stakeholders

(Photo: Andrii, Adobe Stock)

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Although both K-12 schools and higher education institutions begin their academic year in late summer or early fall, the beginning of the new calendar year is a perfect time to remind key stakeholders about your school’s safety solutions and critical communications practices.

School leaders and public safety officials worked hard to establish the right mix of tools, technologies, and procedures prior to the school year, and those emergency notification protocols bear repeating as students and staff return from winter break.

The Effects of School Dangers on Students’ Mental Health

During the COVID-19 pandemic and in the months since, there have been many extensive reports about student mental health challenges across the nation. Distributed to 400 K-12 employees and 380 higher education staffers, the second-annual Crisis Communication and Safety in Education Survey showed 59% of higher education respondents considered mental health to be the top safety concern. In fact, managing mental health and violence on campus were cited as two clear top priorities for the 2022-2023 school year. Figuring out how to communicate crises across campuses when emergency situations do arise was also a priority for schools.

The National Association of Mental Illness reports that undiagnosed, untreated, or inadequately treated mental illnesses can significantly interfere with a student’s ability to learn, grow, and develop. The propensity for anxiety is heightened considerably when an emergency occurs. Thus, it is so important for educational facilities to offer a variety of resources, such as implementing anonymous tiplines for students to communicate when they or someone they know is experiencing a mental health crisis, or making mental health resources available via a convenient app.

Implementing Effective Communications Strategies

School violence and other emergencies, such as fires or severe weather events, are real-world possibilities that require the right communications solutions and notification strategies to ensure that everyone is safe and well-informed. By redefining and communicating crisis communications protocols at different intervals during the year, school leaders can ensure that safety stays at the forefront.

Here are three critical steps to ensure your school is consistently building a communications preparedness culture on campus:

  1. Establish communications roles. Before experiencing an emergency, a school must establish clear roles and tasks for faculty and staff involved in crisis communications and incident management. Various roles include a director of communications (who has the final say on what is communicated in a crisis), an incident manager, and a parent or community liaison.
  2. Create a communications plan. To ensure responsiveness to any emergency, the crisis communications team must preemptively prepare plans on how to manage various incidents. For example, how will the chain of communications differ when it is an act of violence or a school shooting versus a fire in the cafeteria or a medical incident on school grounds? How will outreach change based on the incident setting? Additionally, crisis communications teams must identify how to track and log communications activity.
  3. Identify stakeholders. Depending on the crisis, stakeholder identities will change. Immediate stakeholders are those directly impacted by the crisis – staff, students, administrators, custodial workers, and others on site. Next are stakeholders one circle removed from those affected, such as parents, guardians, spouses, or other district staff. Finally, local leaders or the media may be designated as stakeholders that the crisis communications team may want to brief on the situation.

Leveraging Technology for Emergency Responses

Any school crisis communications plan should include how that institution will communicate with emergency response teams to ensure that active information is relayed as quickly as possible to responders and so that local public safety officials can effectively communicate out to the community via their own channels when a school emergency occurs.

The difference between a life-or-death outcome can often come down to whether schools have the appropriate technology and practices in place to enable collaboration and immediate action across emergency response teams. For example, K-12 and higher education institutions may want to leverage panic button technology, which instantly communicates emergencies to on-site personnel, 9-1-1 call takers, and first responders for a seamless and efficient response. Colleges benefit from having safety app technology, too, and often rely on mass notification systems so that students, faculty, and staff have the most up-to-date information whether they are on or off campus.

Now more than ever, safety must be prioritized, and crisis communications must be periodically revisited to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page. Modern day tools, technologies, and procedures exist so that school leaders can effectively communicate with all parties throughout the lifecycle of school emergencies. These safety systems and proactive strategies can go a long way in minimizing anxiety during stressful times.

Given the state of mental health in educational institutions these days, academic leaders would be wise to remind their school community about emergency protocols and methods of communication so that students and teachers feel informed and empowered to have a safe and successful 2023.

Todd Miller is SVP of Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety

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