Do your parents even know how they will be contacted during a school emergency?
Listed below are some key considerations to keep in mind when selecting and implementing or reviewing your school’s emergency alert system…
1. Avoid misinformation
Student perceptions and understanding of a real emergency situation may be far from reality, and simply compound parent fears
Smart phone use amongst students has increased, and with this brings the dangers of misinformation reaching parents, causing potential alarm and unnecessary response from parents. Students may see only part of an event unfold, and as such, their understanding and relay of events can prove to heighten alarm unnecessarily. Parents need a reliable channel to source the information.
2. Mitigate panic to avoid overloaded phone lines and packed parking lots
Rumours that once took hours to get around now take seconds.
If emergency services are spotted outside a school, many parents and carers will be notified via the rumour mill within seconds, resulting in unnecessary alarm. Timely communications using a reliable channel will mitigate this issue.
3. Avoid parents hearing from the media
Hearing of a critical incident from the media before the school is certain to anger and concern parents.
With the rise of technology, the media response and reporting of events is also rapid, and not necessarily reassuring for parents or carers of those involved in the event. Timely communications using a reliable channel will mitigate the issue.
4. Control the information that is presented via public broadcast
Public broadcasts may increase the danger for those involved in the emergency.
Publishing emergency alerts to school Facebook pages and Websites may result in unnecessary complications for schools. Use of a private and direct communication channel will enable the school to get the right information out to the right people at the right time, and with that provide the necessary information to reduce and control alarm, and to control the emergency situation without escalating it.
5. Make your emergency alert system familiar and accessible
Implementing a system designed purely for emergency text messaging can result in a number of issues – maintaining up-to date information, targeting the right people, managing responses…and more
Rather than purchasing a stand alone emergency text message service (often at a great expense to the school) that is pulled out in the event that there is an emergency , schools should consider implementing an every-day communication channel that can be utilised for emergency alerts if necessary. The communication channel needs to have web based access, parent control over account details (keeping it up to date regularly rather than updating once a year), integrated SMS/TXT and email alerts, and IMPORTANTLY, the facility for parents to respond in the event of an emergency. A number of new innovative software systems and services exist, with SignMee being a leader in the alert management field.
When comparing your options, or reviewing current systems, consider the shortcomings of each technology:
- SMS/TXT service – must maintain phone numbers, costly, difficult to track responses and distributions
- School portal – good place to share emergency notifications, but it needs to have the facility for parents to respond if necessary (i.e. In an Earthquake situation, a parent may not be able to reach the designated pick up point for the children, and alternative arrangements may need to be communicated to school)
- School phone app – iOS, Android, Windows apps are good for broadcasting information, but often apps rely on in-app alerts for notifiying parents that there is a message to view. Some people do not enable in-app alerts, and therefore important alerts may be missed. Phone and tablet apps are also optional for parents, as some parents may not have smart phones/data packages to access apps. This communication channel is useful, but not reliable as an emergency alert system. Apps are usually one way ‘broadcast’ tools, without the facility for parents to respond.
A dedicated Inbox for parents is a very good way to go. For more information visit - www.signmee.com
This article was written by Nicole Bouchier, CEO Messys Pty Ltd. Nicole has an education, IT and communications background, with formal qualifications including a Master of Education. She has presented at a number of conferences on the topic of communications and information management. Over the past three years she has worked closely with schools to help implement innovative and efficient communications channels, with a key focus on Signmee as a solution – a new platform for managing home school communications. She has worked first hand with schools managing emergencies, including a recent shooting next to a NZ school.