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Tools and strategies for effective education crisis communications

Photo of David Gilbert, VP of Americas

David Gilbert

VP Americas

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4 Oct 2018
5 min read
A multicultural group of children in a classroom setting

Schools and academic bodies are confronted on a daily basis with incidents that could develop into full blown crises, if the proper management steps aren't in place. These could include severe weather due to a natural disaster, disease outbreaks, technological breakdown, and of course, violence.

That means institutions need a range of diverse, and complex crisis management plans, which can be difficult to execute with traditional, manual methods.

We've previously discussed why educators have a greater duty of care in preparing for crisis incidents.

Let's take a closer look now at how technology can play an important role and provide a decisive advantage in preparing an effective crisis response.

State of the Art Crisis Communications Technology Tips

1. Proactive Creating A Crisis Communications Plan

The first step is to start with a clearly defined crisis communication plan for communicating in a wide range of plausible scenarios. Your plan should cover both international communication, and broader efforts to external stakeholders. Having a plan in place cuts down response time, improves accuracy of contact, and ensures the right people can be reached in a timely manner. Key points to capture in the plan include:

  • Identify and train a spokesperson — a key spokesperson or crisis manager needs to be identified, prepared and kept as up to date as possible to manage public relations and ensure that the media, team members, customers and the general public are kept informed with a clear, consistent message.

  • Honesty and openness — in our connected age it’s no longer possible to hope that information can be kept from the media or public, so a policy of openness and transparency is essential to maintaining trust.

  • Keep employees, community and stakeholders informed — information during a crisis situation should reach your broader community, including staff, parents, neighboring schools, and education departments directly from you, and not from the media, so a quick response is pertinent.

  • Update early and often — be proactive and early with sharing news, even when the whole picture isn’t clear. It is better to over-communicate than to allow rumors to fill the void. Start with summary statements on whatever is initially known, and provide updated action plans and new developments as early and as often as possible to stay ahead of the 24/7 news cycle.

  • Social media – ensure that all the communication channels that your stakeholders may be using are covered, not just the traditional areas in which critical statements were released, such as press releases or the company web site.

  • Establish Notification Feeds and Monitoring Systems – staying informed and knowing what is being said about the company beforehand is essential to staying ahead of unfolding events. Monitoring systems allows companies to gather intelligence from a range of sources to keep informed and stay ahead of unfolding negative situations or sentiment.

2. Situation Awareness Collaboration: 

When an emergency occurs, a range of stakeholders need to be alerted and updated, including staff, parents, neighboring schools, emergency responders and related government officials. Best practice crisis communications tools include a centralized portal which is accessible by all required parties, feeding real time important information on unfolding events to facilitate a coordinated response.

3. Mobile Emergency Response Apps

Emergency response apps can be tailored to the needs of the user. Students, for instance, can use a one-touch activation to call for security assistance, if threatened, and GPS locators can help responders reach them fast.

4. Multi-channel Messaging Point

Send messages to staff and stakeholders in the way that suits them, whether that’s voice, SMS, Social Media, Rich Messages or email, to improve the rates of delivery and acknowledgement. Knowing they will almost always have their mobiles close allows organisations to provide messages on all these channels. Geo-location can segment communications even further, such as providing multilingual messages appropriate to the recipient’s location or pre-defined contact information.

5. Message Templates

Message templates should be prepared with specifics that can be rapidly used or altered during incidents, thereby ensuring approved language, structure & consistency, while saving time by providing pre-defined communication and response options. Pre-approved templates also ensure your messages adhere to a broader communication strategy.

6. Rapid Communication

When urgent and effective communication is required, choose the correct channel to meet requirements. SMS accelerates the speed of notification - whereas half of all emails aren’t opened for at least six hours, the average text message is accessed within a few minutes and responded to within 30 minutes. Voice calls to mobile and fixed lines generate an even faster response, and can be created to trigger automatically from the communications platform.

7. Message Automation

Where possible, communications platforms should be integrated with management & monitoring systems, allowing details to be auto-populated into message templates. Incidents can be raised automatically and sent directly to the coordination & resolution teams.

8. 2-way Conversation Flow

It’s not enough to just send messages, there needs to be a system in place to track receipt, allow the receiver to respond as needed, and escalate when required.

9. Make use of an integrated communications platform

Best practice Crisis Communications programs are built around cross channel communications platforms, that provide interactive, responsive communications, comprehensive reporting and message delivery status transparency for key staff and senior stakeholders.Communication and workflow automation, combined with integrated monitoring systems, provide BCM leaders with a unique and powerful opportunity to plan and execute and streamline critical communications.

A holistic view of a collaborative crisis communication strategy and response

Whispir’s advanced communications platform makes it easy to prepare for potential crises, by allowing Departments, schools and emergency services to all be kept continuously up-to-date with additional information as it becomes available, whether the incident affects just one school, or a larger area.

Staff, students, parents, the community, emergency services, other schools, and the news media can be reached simultaneously with relevant information and actionable SMS, email, mobile apps, voice and social media to help keep everyone safe.

A flow chart about "Crisis and Incident" resolution

For more detailed insights on this topic, read our Inside Guide to Crisis Communications for the Education Sector.

The guide collects our insights, tactics, and best practice use of communications technologies in supporting proactive and effective education crisis management.

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