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Responding to a crisis event in schools: Panelist comments for Nebraska School Public Relations Conference

It's my pleasure today to address the Nebraska School Public Relations conference and share some thoughts as one voice on a panel for Responding to Crisis Events in schools. Whether it is recovering from the decimation of an F-4 tornado, responding a to a bus accident that resulted in dozens of students being transported to local trauma centers, or reacting to situations where volunteers or staff members committed egregious or embarrassing acts, it's essential districts have effective communication protocols for tough situations. Here's my simple advice, earned through experience:

·         “Guano happens.” Saw that on a bumper sticker the other day, and it’s a relevant point in crisis response: Respond to what the situation gives you; each scenario you encounter is a bit different.
·         Have (and consistently review during mundane and routine times) clear internal communication protocols.
·         Professional development in disaster preparedness is highly beneficial: FEMA – NIMS, ICS, etc. Clarify roles, delineate responsibilities.
·         Be timely: “Beat the tweet.” Heard that from the Superintendent of Louisville, KY. Use the communication platforms you have available to communicate timely and accurate information so that misinformation via social media does not hold sway.
·         “There can be only one quarterback.” Doc Baker used to say this. You don’t want a two quarterback system in crisis response. Make sure it’s clear who is calling the plays and who your district voice to media is.
·         Be transparent. Actively acknowledging that some factors may be unknown and are being investigated is a much more honest response than ducking media or uttering the classic gaffe of “no comment” as your comment.
·         Manage the message: Get your own press release out there. Use all available means to communicate and go ahead and be redundant!  Redundancy helps get the word out.
·         Work with your local media personnel. Media are not the enemy. They have an important job to do. The more outreach that has occurred from the school to media prior to a crisis, the more likely there is a level of trust established in communication processes.
·         Value the work of others! Respect the needs of local law enforcement and emergency responders, thank them for their difficult and dangerous work, and follow incident command protocols.
·         Know the needs of your personnel. Don’t stop listening to others. Respond with empathy and communicate the facts while providing as much reassurance as possible. Together, the team will get through this!


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