Do we know when it is truly a crisis?
Issue 6 | Volume 4 | 2015
SPOTLIGHT TOPIC - CRISIS MANAGEMENT
1. Does your school have a currently edited crisis management handbook? This is an invaluable tool that, when properly updated each year, provides tremendous clarity to your community.
2. How confident are you in your communication systems? Having dedicated crisis communication tools and not sharing channels with other issues like weather related cancellations, the auction, or class cookie sales will help your professional community in immeasurable ways. This includes careful consideration of using social media to monitor and communicate during a crisis?
3. When a crisis happens, what challenges does your organization typically face? How and how often you both collect and review feedback is a constant process. You need to hear from your faculty and staff to see what elements of your plan need to be redesigned or modified.
4. Who is on your crisis management team? Having the right people, both in scope of responsibility and level of training is critical. Remember that your school nurse and Communications Director, for example, have important parts to play.
5. What about your crisis command center? This is not about convenience, but about continuity of communications, technology, and the safety of your team.
6. How often does the crisis management team gather per year to plan and conduct training? Like the safety and security committee, regular review and reflection time can only make you stronger. At the very least, pull the group together to help edit your crisis management handbook.
7. What ongoing information does the board need to have about the crisis? Because there are many types of crises, your Board plays an important role. It’s not only about your obligation to keep them informed as their sole employee, but the opportunities that arise for your Board to be the best spokespeople for your plans, policies and ultimately your response.
SPOTLIGHT TOPIC - STUDENT TRAVEL
8. How can the school avoid a potential crisis by listening to families and employees? Feedback - feedback - feedback, always! We know that there are some self-appointed experts in your broader community. Engaging and encouraging multiple stakeholders to be part of this process can be a huge plus!
9. What are the plans for business continuity when a crisis hits? Closing school is often the easier decision. The assessment of when to reopen and whether or not you are at full strength is a delicate process. One vivid example for those of us in the Charleston area. When people evacuate for hurricanes, that includes our faculty and staff, Make sure you have a process for assessing the severity of the incident and its impact on the community.
10. Where do you go if you had to evacuate your entire campus? All too often we have not formed strong, sustainable relationships with those partners in the community we may need in case of an evacuation. These relationships should be refreshed and renewed each year.
54% of organizations have a crisis management plan in place.
According to an ODM study, 65% of respondents think social media makes a crisis worse. But 55% think it makes a crisis easier to deal with after.
More than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine.
According to a report by the Department of Education and the Secret Service, almost 100 percent of active shooters experienced or perceived a major loss before their attack; 78 percent had a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts; and 71 percent felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others.
National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 87 bills were passed nationwide to address school safety this year.
“In crisis management, be quick with the facts, slow with the blame.”
It is human nature to hope for the best in all facets of life, especially when dealing with the youngest among us. Unfortunately, we also must prepare for the worst at times. In the age of the constant media cycle and always-present social media, crisis management preparations are of particular importance for schools when tragedies occur.
When a crisis occurs, whether a “one” on the scale (minor accident on the playground) or a “ten” (major injury or death), or anything in between, a school must be prepared to respond quickly. Obviously, the first steps taken must be to protect, safeguard and comfort students and staff, while also providing any needed medical or other assistance.
Following these initial actions, administrators should:
share information (FACTS) in a timely manner but not speculate;
not allow the media/social media comments/questions to drive the conversation - be proactive; and
not be defensive.
It is an unfortunate reality that school administrators must also focus on how they respond to the threat of litigation. In order to ensure an appropriate, legal response to requests for information from the media and others, which could impact potential litigation, administrators should get input from legal counsel sooner rather than later.
During the early hours and days, advice from competent legal counsel also can assist a school in several ways:
(1) Legal counsel typically is in a better position to advise on what information or physical evidence should be obtained and maintained to assist in a future investigation, as well as to assist with the collection of statements;
(2) Legal counsel usually is removed from the emotional and personal connections to the crisis and can better direct in a rational manner any needed responses, which may be difficult for those close to the situation;
(3) Legal counsel should have experience to draw upon from past incidents, including mistakes and successes, in order to ensure a strong response to the crisis; and
(4) Legal counsel can coordinate responses to parents/media/community about the incident in a timely, factual, precise manner, unlike the administration that typically is dealing with a multitude of other problems.
There is no one among us that wishes for a crisis or hopes to field test their school’s crisis management plan. However, having been involved as legal counsel in school crises ranging from one to ten, I am confident that legal input from an early stage is beneficial to schools as administrators navigate very uncertain times.
It's important to always seek out legal advice from your school attorney. This column is not intended to be legal guidance.
ALLISON AIKEN HANNA PARTNER
THE TOWER AT 1301 GERVAIS STREET, SUITE 1400
PO BOX 11367 | COLUMBIA, SC 29211
"Even a correct decision is wrong when it is taken too late."
"Risk management is a more realistic term than safety. It implies that hazards are ever-present, that they must be identified, analyzed, evaluated and controlled or rationally accepted."
Jerome F. Lederer
Elisabeth Morrow School (Englewood, NJ)
The Elisabeth Morrow School’s shared purpose is to provide exemplary academics and character development in a diverse and inclusive child-centered community, inspiring students to become curious scholars, ethical leaders, and global citizens.
Long known for its commitment to diversity in all ways, EMS has been home to a great many school leaders, all of which are committed to contributing to advancing the greater landscape of education in many ways.
Elisabeth Morrow and its leadership have shown a consistency in purpose and planning for crisis and emergency management best articulated by its Director of Marketing and Communications, Jan Abernathy. When recently asked what schools can do to better prepare, Jan shared:
"If there's a crisis that involves your school - whether major or minor - you owe it to your entire community to be as transparent as possible so that you can alleviate fears, minimize gossip and make everyone feel safe and secure. Communication is a key part of this equation and all directors of communications should be prepared to take the lead on this - no matter when the crisis occurs."
For more stellar information about advanced crisis communications strategies, CLICK HERE to read Jan’s recent article in Independent School magazine.
Crisis response 101: First, redouble your abuse-prevention efforts
Over the past decade I have been called in to do crisis-response for schools and other youth-serving organizations to pull a community back together after a teacher or employee working with youth has been arrested for child sexual abuse. As a friend of mine who works in the insurance industry says, doing this work “You get good at things no one wants to be good at.” This winter my phone rang repeatedly in response to one case. A man named Nathan Elder who worked for a company that provided summer camp programming to schools all over the Raleigh-Durham NC area was arrested for child molestation, and he had recently worked with at least 9 youth-serving organizations in our metropolitan area. I have helped five organizations in response to just this one case. It felt like this one perpetrator’s actions poisoned our community well, creating a great deal of pain and understandable worry across a million-person metro area.
My first rule of crisis response is that if your school has not been hit by a crisis yet, you should review and redouble your abuse-prevention efforts. Take stock of your schools’ policies. Pre-employment background checks are a necessary precaution, but not sufficient on their own. As hard as it is to acknowledge the possibility that an untrustworthy person could get through your screening, it is important to do so. There are too many undetected offenders out there who will often seek out jobs that give them access to children, and this can happen in any school.
Set a high standard for your school. Are your child safety policies clear and understood by your teachers, staff, parents and students? Do you offer training for child safety? Your child safety policies should come to life in your community rather than remaining hidden in the pages of a policy binder that sits on a shelf. Make sure that everyone in your community knows that leadership wants to hear about problems. Students, parents, teachers and staff should know who they can talk to if they have any kinds of concerns about child safety.
Educate your community about the signs of grooming behavior, which is behavior that abusers use to win over the trust of a child or family, lowering their defensive boundaries and gaining close access to a child. Grooming behavior includes singling out a child for special gifts, favors, trips, or one-on-one coaching. Schools should strive for “two-deep leadership” whenever possible, and any effort to get a child alone is a red flag that needs to be investigated. I recommend that grooming behavior itself should be against the rules and reportable to school leadership. Grooming behavior happens before abuse starts and can go on for some time; therefore, acting on the warning signs of grooming presents an opportunity to stop abuse in its tracks. In a school setting, we are much more likely to see signs of grooming behavior rather than abuse itself.
Child-contact policies are also key for schools and camps. I recommend that youth-serving organizations have a policy that limits child contact to school or camp, not allowing teachers or counselors to babysit their students or campers. A school is vouching for the
Amy Tiemann PhD is a child safety expert, the co-author of Doing Right by Our Kids—Protecting Child Safety at All Levels, and a Kidpower International Senior Leader.
Twitter: @AmyTiemann PhD and @DoingRight
Whereable Technologies (Charleston, SC) markets unique, user-friendly wearable personal security devices that provide users of the device with access to emergency response with a single push of a button.
RiskBand is the first untethered wearable device designed to be the essential component of a company or organization’s emergency response strategy. Purpose-built with a unique combination of technologies that empower users in their everyday life, this convergence of technology, supported by an integrated enterprise platform, enables focused safety and security applications for organizations, corporations and associations. RiskBand is not an app nor is its functionality dependent upon a smartphone or another device, rather it functions independently.
To activate the device, a RiskBand wearer presses the Emergency Activation Button. Once activated, the device, begins to share GPS, voice and image data. In the process, the wearer’s location and identity is reported in near-real time to emergency responders. Simultaneously, a 2-way voice bridge is opened between the device wearer and the response partner. Trained personnel will listen in before speaking, to further prevent an escalation of the situation. Meanwhile, the device is also capturing detailed images of its surroundings. Each image is stamped with date, time and location.
The encrypted images and voice recordings can later be retrieved for evidentiary purposes.
RiskBand Founder and CEO Jim Van Law believes that have schools are ideal use cases for the adoption of the technology. “We want to empower and equip teachers, coaches and school bus drivers with technology that will provide them with near immediate access to emergency response.”
To learn more about RiskBand, visit their website for more information - https://riskband.com/.
professional behavior of teachers and staff on campus. It is risky to let this relationship develop off-campus in a private setting where abuse can happen. I know this can be inconvenient for small, close-knit schools, but safety is more important.
I have seen abusers infiltrate even the most wonderful, caring school communities. Schools can recover, but the effects are devastating for all involved. The first step in crisis management is crisis prevention.
Child-safety expert Dr. Amy Tiemann is a Kidpower International Senior leader and the co-author of Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels. Learn more at www.AmyTiemann.com