School crisis – advice from a mom (and a PR pro) on crisis Communications

I got one of those bad phone calls last week “the school is on lock down and there are police there.”

I was leaving a meeting in Roseville on a normal busy day to meet my son off the bus and it turned into me scrolling the social media parent group (this is why I have Facebook people) and calling/texting all of my parent friends to figure out what the heck was going on at the school!

I grew irritated when I had not received any communication from the school, which quickly dissipated when I reminded myself that they were dealing with something not good and there was a reason for the no communication as scary as that may be. Sure enough by 4:39 (39 minutes after what seemed to be a lifetime of the unknown) I had a short quick update with an explanation from the school.

Then the PR pro side of me kicked in – I thought, well done.

The situation reminded me of the panel Kirsten and I were on earlier this year. It was on communications planning around school crisis with representatives from 18 different schools in the room – crisis not being lice, crisis being something much worst. It was a hard panel but we did what we advise clients to do every single day regardless of the industry. Look at what you need to do in the event of the worst case scenario, write the plan, communicate the plan with your team, and hope you never have to use it.

I’m coming to you as a mom – I sit on both sides of the table here, but also as a PR pro. Take notes and please call us so we can help you make sure you’re prepared for the worst. These are the things you can do, today, by spending a few hours to get your ducks in a row.

  • Identify who you need to communicate to: parents, a board, media, maybe it’s all of those but with varying levels of information.

  • Know your parameters – especially with data privacy. Share what you can, knowing that more time LATER will allow you more opportunity to prepare with more details.

  • Identify the platforms you need to use to communicate: email, phone, text, social media and figure out what you should use and cross populate knowing people communicate differently.

  • Document where that list is stored and HOW to access it (including two step authentication and back up procedures in the event someone else needs to access it).

  • Find out who your chain of command is - who drafts the email/social post/text?

  • Identify your approval process to get a communication out and who will physically press send on the email, post, text etc.

This is just the beginning of planning your crisis communication and perhaps we will dive in later. But at the start of the school year we encourage you to spend some time preparing.

Emotions drive a response to crisis. We are only human and there is no getting around the things that make us feel what we feel. But as a professional, having a very simple plan to execute will save you from the rumor mill and angry parents, and will show you are doing the best you can with a situation none of us is truly ever prepared for.