Why Your Educational Institution Needs a Crisis Communications Plan: Part 1 – Searchlight
Nobody likes emergencies, even worse emergencies in a school. Unfortunately, these emergencies are not announced in advance, hence the need to plan for them. The recent school shooting in the US left almost everyone in shock, but I think it’s safe to say that this week’s ‘incident’ at one of the elementary schools here at SVG was definitely unexpected and has left many people wondering if we are following in the footsteps of what is happening in the United States.
Like it or not, problems left unattended easily turn into crises. What if the “incident” becomes a crisis situation involving injured students or staff? We may not want to entertain these thoughts, but they can certainly come true. Unfortunately, if your school or college waits for a crisis to hit to start planning, you’re less likely to avert disaster. How well equipped is an educational institution to deal with a crisis on the spot? A crisis communication plan is a necessity for any school/college.
For clarity, crisis communication refers to the dissemination of information by an organization to deal with a crisis that affects customers and/or the organization’s reputation. Remember whether or not you manage your reputation, the reputation of the institution is seen by everyone who knows the school/college.
Therefore, it is in your interest to be transparent and have a say in the narrative. Here are some points to consider:
Post-crisis public relations strategy – The media frenzy that surrounds a crisis, especially that of children, is very “real”. We saw here at SVG that police released a statement to refute some claims made via social media. It is also a stressful time for staff, families and children. I was actually in the presence of an individual who had a family member going to school and I can tell you that the fear was also very ‘real’. You can reduce stress by taking advantage of WhatsApp, social media and search engine optimization (SEO) if you have a website. Yes, staff may be scared or you may be trying to manage the situation, but imagine how worried parents and the general public would be, especially if rumors are circulating; someone has to be responsible for communicating with the press and parents. Use social media during the crisis situation to make it clear that safety is a top priority – be timely and honest. Share updates publicly as soon as they are available and approved by the school. The same should be done across the different class WhatsApp groups.
The last thing you want is to be portrayed as the school that was slow to act, so beat any bad media coverage with your school’s coverage at the top of the Google results pages.
You don’t want news published by your school to be third or fourth on the results page while news is displayed prominently at the top of the first page.
What’s the worst that can happen? – You never know, so you need to be as proactive as possible, including determining who should be on the crisis team (you need people who can think things through, understand confidentiality, and deal well with stress) and , more importantly, to develop a written crisis. plan that identifies, among other things, the most likely crisis scenarios, the team members and their contact details, the school spokesperson and the means of communication.
A crisis is coming, what’s next? The crisis team, the facts, who needs to know what and when, your messaging plan and how you will communicate are all key areas you need to have covered.
Candice Sealey is the founder and lead consultant of Ignite! a comprehensive marketing and public relations consulting service that helps companies/brands stand out and communicate the right message to the right people at the right time through strategy, marketing, media and design solutions. She is also a freelance content writer, copywriter, voiceover and media personality. Follow us on FB & IG @igniteresults Phone: 784-432-2223. E-mail: [email protected]