Effective School and Community Crisis Communication

On December 14, 2012, in the quiet town of Newtown, Connecticut, a horrific situation unfolded at Sandy Hook elementary. A gunman entered the school and then killed 20 children and six adults at the scene. The world’s view on personal security changed forever after that day. In this case, the unthinkable happened to the most innocent of victims, children. After the shooting, the frenzied task of parents trying to find their children began. A recent article written by reporter Kate Freeman details the disaster response during that nightmarish day.

The 911 call from the school was fielded by local police at about 9:30 a.m. ET. officials then sent out a “reverse” 911 call to the students’ parents informing them of the incident. Parents then rushed to the school to find their children. However, the message was confusing, according to one parent, who told CNN that they weren’t certain which school the tragedy occurred at. Overall, the communication system worked as it was intended.

Past school shootings have led communities and school districts to find safer and faster ways to communicate when crises occur. Such cases that led to changes in emergency communication included the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 when 32 students were killed and the Chardon, Ohio school shooting in 2012 where three students were killed.

Many schools across the county now use advanced alert systems in the event of emergency. For instance, Contra Costa County schools, east of San Francisco, implemented a Community Warning System that notifies people of an emergency via Facebook, cellphone, Twitter, Telephone Emergency Notification System (TENS), television and radio alerts, and sirens in various areas.

After the Chardon, Ohio, shooting, several Ohio school districts reassessed safety procedures and began drilling for worst-case scenarios. And since the Virginia tech shootings, universities and communities inform residents of suspicious activities and possible dangers.

The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, shows that even though the school had security measures in place and a well-defined communication plan in case of disaster, continued and evolving emergency preparations are critical to keep moving disaster preparedness and response to the next level.

For more information about how schools communicate during a crisis, visit: http://mashable.com/2012/12/14/parents-social-media-crisis/