Quick guide: Education Crisis Communications

Dennis Adonis

Having the responsibility for shaping a child’s academic future is a challenging enough journey for most educators, before the added burden of worrying about their safety.

Schools, universities and other academic institutions face a greater duty of care than traditional workplaces, carrying the responsibility for the welfare of young and potentially more vulnerable students. There's also a broader community stakeholder ecosystem to consider, including staff, parents, neighbouring schools and education departments.

Each of these groups will have unique, and equally urgent needs for accurate and timely information in the event of any emergency, whether that's severe weather, disease outbreaks, technological breakdown, or unfortunately, violence. In the United States, for example, there have been more than 200 school shootings since 2013, an average of nearly 1 every week.

No jurisdictions are safe from extreme behaviour – in early 2016 nearly 50 schools throughout Australia were evacuated because of bomb threats received through pre-recorded hoax phone messages, prompting a national rethink of crisis response plans.

Schools throughout Britain, the US, France, Japan, Holland, Norway and Guam have also received similar threats, although no definitive links have been confirmed.

Education administrators are confronted with a wide variety of potential challenges, including:

  • Physical harm – shootings, assaults, theft, or bomb threats;
  • Severe weather – storms, hurricanes, fires, floods, etc;
  • Health scares, such as the outbreak or transmission of communicable diseases;
  • Asset damage – a large university campus may contain potentially billions of dollars of physical assets;
  • Anti-social behaviour, both physical and or digital, such as cyber bullying, drugs or harassment; and
  • Commercial, professional or personal conflicts of interest between staff.

That means organisations need a range of diverse, and complex crisis management plans, which can be difficult to execute with traditional, manual methods. Additionally, the growth of social media, and ‘citizen journalism’ means negative news can spread fast, potentially inflaming and exacerbating already volatile situations, unless crisis response teams can stay ahead of the unfolding event.

Fortunately, modern communications technology can equip educators with highly sophisticated tools for monitoring and managing emergency situations, and keeping all stakeholders updated with real time, 2-way information workflows.

Check back in next week as we outline a crisis management framework that ties together strategy and technology to give you the best defense against negative events.

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