When critical incidents happen at schools administrators need to communicate with their students, staff and community. Many administrators are reluctant to release a statement for fear of not having all the information. This is often in direct contrast to the communities demand for timely information. Those schools that don't provide it are often sharply criticized. In fact the largest law suite to date regarding an active shooter at a school is related to the institutions failure to communicate in a timely manner. So what to do?
I strongly suggest timely partial press releases over delayed more complete releases. However I couch all these statements with one simple opening qualifier: "Based on what we know now..." This simple phrase provides the opportunity to amend, add or delete previously released information as the incident evolves and administrators have a more complete understanding of the facts.
I also recommend ending every press release with a very clear statement about when the next release will be made.
"Our next press release will be at 5:00pm today on our website, Facebook, Twitter and our district notification system".
By making this committment administrators show sensativity to the community and media, attentiveness to the importance of the issue and compentence in their management of the incident. It also allows all school call takers to refer people to the current and future releases and reduces many of the most common questions asked. Of course whenever possible all releases should be coordinated with first responders actively assisting to mitigate the incident.
We need to recognize and embrace the information age we live in and acknowledge the emotional rollercoaster many families face everytime a school incident occurs. Timely communication is key to responding to both of these very real needs. This is John Baker for safetysolutions4schools.com.
image courtesy of elm.umaryland.edu