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.

Time sensitivity is the next element. Most messages have some degree of time sensitivity, and in most cases, sending the message well prior to the needed action will address this concern. The real consideration here is the time from transmission to reception of the message. If the message you need to send requires an immediate action, then the mode of communication you choose should deliver the message as immediately as possible.

Security is the last element. This refers to the likelihood that a person or persons for whom the message was not intended may inadvertently or with intent intercept the information being transmitted. In other words, can you send a confidential message with assurance that it will be transmitted to the intended recipient in a secure manner? 

RELATED: Plans, Training and Partnerships Play Important in K-12 Emergency Communications

Understand the Pros, Cons of Various Modalities
There is a vast difference between modalities.  The differences between cell phones and two-way radios – both of which are generally voice formats – can be instructive as an example. Cell phones are best suited to messages that are one-to-one and need a high level of security. Radio traffic is best suited to messages that need to go from one person to many at the same time and require an immediate response or action.

To illustrate this difference consider the following examples from school daily operations:

  • 1. A building administrator finds it necessary in a disciplinary action to suspend a student, however, prior to the action, the administrator wishes to consult with the superintendent. This should be a secure, one-to-one communication. A cell phone would be the preferred modality.
  • 2. A playground supervisor has a child sustain an injury.  A single two-way radio call will notify several people, and an effective response will be initiated. As the situation develops, one message will update everyone involved without the need for multiple phone calls.

The old saying that goes “if you fail to plan, you will plan to fail” is nowhere more appropriate than in K-12 school communications planning. The following five general communications planning steps will provide a general framework as you embark on this process.

  • Define the individuals who will be communicating and who will be receiving the information transmitted. In the K-12 environment, that list will be reasonably large and include parents, teachers, students, bus drivers, cooks and first responders, to name a few.
  • Define what kinds of messages you may need to send to each person/group listed. Messages can run the range from emergency early release or late bus, parent-teacher conference reminders and anything in between. The key here is to consider the different kinds of information each group/person on your list may need to receive. 
  • Define how that communication will take place. Choose the modality for a kind of message by considering the five elements in relation to the message’s informational content. 
  • Determine from your lists your immediate operational needs and what can be part of your long-range plan.
  • Determine what equipment/processes you have available and what you may need to acquire to address your immediate operational need.

Don’t Expect Perfection
As you undertake this process there are a few things to remember. First, don’t expect perfection. If the first iteration of your plan is perfect and addresses all the needs and situations that y
our school or district will ever encounter, congratulations! Your plan is the first to do so.

Second, this will be an ongoing process. As you encounter unexpected situations and after the dust settles, review your response and update your communications plan. If it happens once it (or something very like it) can happen again. Use the lessons you’ve learned to drive improved planning for the future.

This may seem like a lot of work for something as seemingly simple as communications. Do the work. It will bear fruit in improved daily operations, and the real benefit will manifest in emergencies when the need for clear communications is the most critical.

Brian Armes and Guy Bliesner are co-founders of Educators Eyes. Armes previously was a teacher and school principal, while Bliesner was previously an educator and health, safety and security coordinator for a school district in Idaho.

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