Lockdown communications with parents during school emergencies

Posted by on November 4, 2013

Few things scare a mother more than a lockdown or safety crisis at her child’s school. Fear makes calm, sensible people frantic and fierce.

This is a tough time for schools. Their first priority is protecting children. A lockdown is serious business. School staffers are tied up assessing the threat, talking to police, making sure everyone is safe.   Communicating with parents is important, yet school leaders want what they communicate to be accurate.

Parents today want immediate information. And they want to hear it from the school first. Not TV news or social media. Failure to communicate will erode their trust.

Schools that try to control the release of information are living in an alternative universe. Rumors and leaks travel at the speed of lightning – by text, tweet and Facebook. You can’t control that. The best approach is to get out in front of it.

When an incident happens in or near school, someone has to alert parents, using all available methods at once. Schools need an automated messaging service that calls and sends both texts and emails. At the same time, someone has to post on the school website, Twitter and Facebook pages. Every school district should have a sweeping communications strategy, using a mix of traditional and digital media.

Consider these recent events:

In both cases, angry parents vented to local TV and newspaper reporters.

Want to avoid this blood pressure spike for all involved?  Explain procedures to parents in advance. Tell them what to expect out front, before an incident comes into play.

When parents show up at school in the middle of an emergency, someone must bring them information and stay to address their concerns. They have a right to know why there is a lockdown and what steps are underway to get things back to normal. Tell them as much as you can, without jeopardizing anyone’s safety or the investigation.

Parents will remember how you handled things long after the emergency is over. So have a solid communications plan in place before trouble hits.

Ellen Miller

Communications and Media Consultant

Visit School Security Blog at:  www.schoolsecurityblog.com

Follow Ken Trump on Twitter @safeschools

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2 thoughts on “Lockdown communications with parents during school emergencies

  1. Amy Young says:

    Hi Ellen. Our high school had a lockdown today that was triggered in human error when a staff fob was accidentally scanned. Sending all sorts of authorities to the school, creating rumors, causing panic & worry and frustration over the lack of communication from the school. Now that this article is 10 years old have you heard of any districts that have an immediate alert to parents as soon as or soon after authorities are aware?! Thanks.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Sorry to hear about the human error that triggered a lockdown. We find consistently that human factors (not technology) are the source of allegations of failures. Training is very important but often not given adequate time. We are independent and not product affiliated. Districts should develop plans for communicating with stakeholders to reduce panic and anxiety. Best, Ken

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