Each winter, schools up and down the country prepare their messages and plans in case of emergency, checking weather forecasts and keeping an eye on the window in case of the much-feared snow day.
Even with the greatest will in the world, being fully prepared to distribute any message in a moment of crisis can put school staff on the back foot – by their very nature, emergency communications are outside of the norm and often appear like a bolt from the blue, so it’s understandable to get caught on the hop.
However, there are definitely a few steps you can take to avoid getting caught out when it comes to emergency communications so that your whole school staff are as prepared as possible.
Here’s our five top tips for managing school emergency communications: -
1. Define roles and tasks
Being prepared for any emergency means being organised and having a clear plan of what needs doing and when. A good place for schools to start is with a robust chain of command with a clear understanding from every person involved as to what their role in the communication process is.
It can help to appoint a single member of staff as being responsible for the co-ordination or specific roles in case of emergency and also designating them as a point of contact for any queries. In addition, making sure that all teachers and members of staff understand who makes the decisions and what the process is for distributing information as it arises should be seen as crucial.
2. Identify and prioritise audiences
The number one focus here should be to make sure that no-one gets left out. Make sure that you cover absolutely every base by making comprehensive lists of who needs to know what and in what order.
If your school has succumbed to a snow day, should you let your governors know first or your local media? That may depend on previous experiences and events, so taking into account historical situations should be remembered.
The success of your emergency communications can often hinge on the quality and currency of your data, so make sure that you regularly update your records and provide everyone in your school community with an easy process for managing their details.
3. Work together
Managing this process should never fall on the shoulders of one person as this creates unnecessary risk – what if that person leaves the school or is away on a particular day?
Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks or appoint roles within a given workgroup or committee – and reduce the risk that comes with one person holding all the knowledge by making sure that responsible persons understand what other members of staff do in an emergency and that they are ready to step in their shoes.
4. Test your messages and procedures
The last thing you want to experience is that panicked feeling just as you launch your communications as to whether or not it’ll reach the right people or in the format expected.
The best way to ensure full confidence in your planned communications is to test them ahead of time. You’ll need to make sure that everyone who you plan to receive the test is aware of the process, and rather than send your test to all recipients, you might want to create a scaled-down version of your target audience.
Once you’ve completed the test, you can then receive feedback from your recipients to see how it went – were they able to understand the messages you’re looking to get across or is there anything else you can do to refine the delivery? Taking a test and learn approach at this stage can pay huge dividends when it comes to executing your plan in a real emergency situation.
5. Act quickly and consistently
In an emergency situation, word of mouth can travel extremely fast, so schools will definitely benefit from controlling the situation and making sure that the correct message is the one that gets delivered.
With this in mind, the time it takes to get your communications out and into inboxes is crucial, but you need to be sure it’s correct and non-ambiguous. If you provide recipients with incorrect or incomplete information, it can make matters ten times worse. If you’re awaiting updates or further details that you need to deliver, there’s no harm in keeping your audiences up to date and letting them know that further information is awaiting and will be delivered as soon as possible.
SIMS InTouch provides schools with all the features and functionality needed to deliver timely, consistent and agile communications. Whether parents prefer to be reached by email, text or instant messages, SIMS InTouch allows schools to easily and quickly deliver their communications directly from SIMS. Find out more about SIMS InTouch here.