How to Plan for Unified Emergency Communications on K-12 Campuses

Here’s how your school can develop the infrastructure and protocol needed to assure effective delivery of information in both daily and emergency operations.

Without communication there is no command and control. This axiom is equally applicable for a first lieutenant leading troops in Iraq or a principal leading students and teachers in a suburban elementary school. In both cases, effective communications will be the basis for effective operations.  Given this, communications planning should be a foundational piece of any school’s operational platform.

Communications planning can be a bit of a slippery term. In some cases it means considering the message and crafting it with a quasi-marketing type approach. While that type of messaging is important for schools, this is not what we will be covering in this article. Here we will be examining the planning required for infrastructure and protocol that will assure effective movement of information to create a common operating picture (COP), in both daily and emergency operations for k-12 schools.  In fact, your communications in daily operations are the operational practice for your communications during an incident.

Terms, Concepts Drive Process
While working with schools and districts, we stress the unified nature of the planning that is required for effective communications. As a part of that planning process, we always begin with a discussion of some essential terms and concepts that, once understood, will help to drive the process.

Modality: By this we mean how the message is delivered from the sender to the receiver. This can be a land line, a cell phone, a two-way radio, a public address system or an intercom. The message could also travel via email, text messaging or social media, and in a K-12 school, the tried and true note home in a student’s backpack. All of these and a number of others… in fact, any way you can send information is a mode of communication.  Any communications modality has five key elements.

The first element is the type. There are only three types to consider: one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many. The terms here are self-explanatory. Any message between one person and another is a one-to-one type. Any message from one person to a group is a one-to-many type. If you send a one-to-many message and it is relayed on to others, it is a many-to-many message. Many-to-many types are often a secondary effect that can follow the use of social media in messaging. It should be noted that some modalities are better suited to one type over the others.

RELATED: 2-Way Radios Are Valuable Tools for K-12 Schools

The second element is the format. This is not the arrangement of the information contained in the message, but the medium in which the information will be transferred. This may sound complicated, however, it is really fairly straight forward. There are only three types of mediums that need to be considered. The question to ask here: “Is the message you wish to send voice, print or some type of data transmission?”

RELATED: Wake Forest Builds Its Own 2-Way Radio System

Directionality is the third element to consider for effective communications planning. This is a simple idea as there are only two possibilities: unidirectional or bidirectional. Some examples of the unidirectional or one way types are public address announcements, mass text messages or robo-call type phone messages. This works well for the delivery of specific information to a large group where a response is not required. Bidirectional is the back and forth exchange of information between individuals or groups.

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