Phone threats trigger heightened security, parent communications

Posted by on April 9, 2012

Threats by irate students, former students, parents, disgruntled current or former employees and others are requiring school administrators to take quick action to heighten security. They also create a necessity for schools to have crisis communications plans to get accurate information out quickly to parents, media and the school-community.

Phoned threats target local schools

Two recent incidents illustrates these points. The Detroit local CBS news affiliate reported on March 29 that schools in the Farmington, Michigan, area received threatening phone calls in reference to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida where a teen was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch resident. An online news report of heightened security in the Northville School District communicated similar heightened security concerns following a threat received in their district.

In these cases and other situations where schools have received threats, well-trained and alert administrators took some best practice steps including:

  • Reporting the incidents to police and working cooperatively with them
  • Heightening security awareness and measures such as beefed up supervision, tightening their monitoring of access, etc.
  • Communicating with students, staff, parents and the media about the threat, school and police response, and heightened security measures

Too often, though, we school administrators reacting to incidents rather than implementing plans that have already been developed for responding such threats.

Strengthening security and crisis communications plans prior to an incident

In my latest book, Proactive School Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning, I outlined a sub-chapter section on “Heightened Security Procedures for Schools” that lists several pages of reasonable, common sense steps schools can take to beef up security. The concepts apply whether the threat is a phoned threat, one written on a bathroom wall by a student, or a community-wide heightened alert due to incidents in the neighborhood or a heightened national terror alert.

The current climate of intensified, fast-paced communications involving text messaging, social media and related technology use also created the need for a dedicated section in the book on “Managing Media and Parent Communications” on safety issues.  Our workshop on “Managing Media and Parent Communications on Safety and Crisis Issues” is increasingly popular as school officials look for a way to do a better job of getting out their messages during times of heightened safety concerns before rumors and media information overwhelms them.

A few examples of the many communications strategies that should be best practices followed by school districts include:

  • Having a formal, written crisis communications plan in place in addition to now-common school crisis / emergency response plans
  • Having a crisis template dark site for completion and rapid posting on the school district’s web site in a crisis
  • Taking steps to get out-front on communicating school safety issues with parents and the school-community
  • Engaging social media proactively and during crisis incidents

A lot more detail is discussed in the book and workshop, and I will also be presenting more information in forthcoming articles on this blog.

Does your school have plans in place for engaging heightened security measures before the actual threat occurs? Do they have crisis communications plans to accompany their school emergency response plans?

Ken Trump

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