When School Crisis Comm Plans Fail

Parent's cars pack in at the pick-up office, before notification by school officials.

Why would any school in the U.S.  NOT have a crisis communications plan in place and ready to go? I’m not talking about a school system-wide plan at the county/parish or city level. I mean at the school. A local, community-focused plan that includes immediate notifications to parents of emergency–or potential emergency–situations.  What if the plan is in place but the activation component fails.  A successful plan depends on both.  Here’s what it looks like up close and personal.

This morning, my local high school was threatened with gun violence via social media. Apparently, a few students became aware of a threat of gun violence last night. The school was made aware and consulted with law enforcement. As news circulated at the school, fearful students texted their parents from the classroom. Parents called the school, confirmed the threat and, not surprisingly, headed to the school to take their children home.

Parents line up to take their children home...before the school notified parents of the shooting threat.

Given recent school shooting tragedies, parents began arriving in droves. Within a short period of time  TV helicopters were circling overhead, television news crews and law enforcement had arrived on campus.

THREE hours into the ordeal–after the school was mostly empty, after Facebook and Twitter had alerted parents, after news crews were on the scene, after facts began to blur into fiction on Twitter–parents received the first official message fromWill Schofield, Superintendent Hall County School District

Mark Coleman, Principal Flowery Branch High School

Parents in line, outside the check-out office...before any school notification.

Parents are mad and they have a right to be.  They wanted–NEEDED–to hear details from school leadership early.  We know that many if not most colleges have implemented immediate emergency notification plans, so the technology is available and best practices are already in place. No school is immune to threats, therefore, no school should be unprepared to act and quickly communicate critical information to parents.

As a PR practitioner, I’m curious to know: How many schools in the U.S. would still struggle with executing a crisis communications plan?  What would you say is the top priority in school-related crisis comm plans?