Communication & Notification
A communication failure can be a disaster in itself, cutting off vital school activities. Consider the functions your facilities might need to perform in an emergency and the communication systems needed to support them.
Communications are needed to report emergencies, to warn personnel of the danger, to keep families and off-duty employees informed about what's happening at the school, to coordinate response actions and to keep in contact with customers and suppliers.
WHO? Emergency responders, other schools districts, other districts employees, fire and police
Districts may consider various means of notification including:
a) Two-way radios
- A district should adopt a radio plan which allows all participating schools to buy similar radios that have compatible frequencies as well as purchasing radios that allow for expansion of channels. All schools within a school district should have one common (open) channel that allows district personnel and personnel responding to assist from other schools to have communication with the affected school via radio.
- It is also recommended that School Districts develop a cooperative plan to add one statewide channel that will allow for interoperability within communications and allow for better utilization of resources that may be provided by another school district during and following a critical incident.
Districts must maintain a reserve of emergency radios for use by additional personnel during critical incidents as well as a supply of extra batteries, bank chargers and mobile charging stations. It is critical that enough radios are purchased to issue to first responders (emergency services).
b) Internet or Intranet
- Districts should establish communication procedure that will allow for the notification of all district employees and stakeholders via the districts intranet system if such a system is in use.
- All districts should develop methods of communication utilizing text messages, emails, web pages, FAX machines, etc. to disseminate information via the internet on any given incident and to keep all stakeholders current and up-to-date.
- Land lines
- Utilize calling trees and maintain accurate phone lists. Use of volunteers to make telephone notifications is encouraged. Maintain an updated list of addresses as well as telephone, cellular telephone and pager numbers of key emergency response personnel from within and outside the facility.
- Cellular Telephone
- Maintain an adequate supply of cellular telephones and have extra available for use during critical incidents at the command post.
- Maintain a supply of extra batteries and both mobile and stationary chargers to keep cell phones operating.
- Satellite Telephone
- In areas where land line communications as well as cell phone communications have the possibility of being interrupted or those located in remote areas, it is recommended that the district and / or individual schools purchase and maintain satellite telephones as a backup means of communication.
- On-Site Communication
- Establish methods of communication such as, fire alarms, messengers, hand signals, public address systems and bullhorns, etc. Establish procedures for employees to report an emergency, and train employees on those procedures.
- Mass Notification
- Voice Mail
- Text Messaging
It is critical that parents, the community and other stake holders receive timely and accurate information regarding as school incident so that they may respond appropriately. The timely and accurate dissemination helps districts calm parents fears, prevent panic, alleviates stress and maintain good order.
Sample Communications / Public Information Forms
The public has the right and need to know important information related to an emergency/disaster at a school site as soon as it is available. A sound public information plan in itself will do much to calm the fears and apprehensions of parents and relatives of both staff members and students. This dissemination of information will assist first responders and school officials by calming the fear, clearing up any confusion and helping keep unwanted or unneeded persons away from the site of the crisis. It is imperative that school districts establish a policy identifying who will be responsible for communicating to the public, press or other outside sources. Usually, this will be the District Public Information Officer (PIO). If the District does not have a PIO, one should be appointed. The PIO should not be a district or school official that has another assignment within the NIMS / ICS framework. It is recommended that this be assigned to an executive person at the school district level to allow onsite administrators and school personnel to continue rescue, recovery and ongoing student safety operations.
Points to remember:
- News media can play a key role in assisting the school in getting emergency/ disaster-related information to the public (parents).
- Information released must be consistent, accurate, and timely.
- Have a predetermined staging area for press and press releases
- Open and maintain a position log of your actions and all communications. If possible, tape media briefings. Keep all documentation to support the history of the event.
- Keep up to date on the situation.
- Do not release any names
- Creates problems
- FERPA (student information)
- When answering questions, be complete and truthful, always considering confidentiality and emotional impact. Avoid speculation, bluffing, lying, talking "off the record," arguing, etc. Avoid using the phrase "no comment."
- Remind school staff and volunteers to refer all questions from the media or waiting parents to the PIO.
- Monitor news broadcasts about the incident. Correct any misinformation heard immediately.
- Get updated information and disseminate often.
- Reassurance (the message you want to convey)
- Everything is being done to ensure students' safety and well being
- The district is capable and prepared to handle this crisis