School Emergency: The 7 Best Communication Methods
School safety can be a sore subject, especially for those who have experienced the horrific results of a breach in safety. When David Wheeler’s son, Ben, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Mr Wheeler expressed disappointment and pain at a breakdown in communication. At a teleconference with the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, he gently admonished the commission for a lack of contact. Who could blame him? He wasn’t able to contact the superintendent for two weeks after the incident.
Open communications with concerned parties is a huge part of school safety. It helps assure individuals like David Wheeler that the authorities are doing everything they can to ensure safety. During an emergency, effective communication is priority number one.
To ensure safety and proper communication in schools, we need to take advantage of technology. Here are seven excellent tools for maximum campus safety.
The emergency standby, two-way radios are a good tool for quick and efficient communications when an emergency strikes. Now, some cell phones also have a walky-talky feature. Having walky-talkies available is invaluable because they allow for instant communication at the time of an emergency—no fumbling with unlock screens, no searching for anyone in your contact list. And, if cell phone lines and land lines are down, radio communications are the default emergency contact method, because you can get in touch with police, firemen, and HAM radio operators.
Wireless Panic Button
The wireless panic button is a relatively new tool. It’s placed on a pendant. Like two-way radios, panic buttons allow you to communicate quickly at the moment of an emergency with the push of a button. Administrators can decide to route the emergency signal directly to first responders, or through a national monitoring center. Additionally, wireless panic buttons can instantly send pre-programmed SMS text messages or email.
Mass Notification System
Mass notification (MNS) technology provides a means of alert similar to a fire alarm, but it incorporates intelligible voice communication and visual signals. This is meant to be the end-all-be-all of emergency alerts. New MNS systems are very specific concerning the instructions they relay to students, based on what type of emergency you’re dealing with. These systems must be up to National Fire Protection Association code. A distributed recipient option allows you to alert people through all communication channels, including satellite TV and radio.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a method of communicating with cell phones that cuts down on costs and can be useful in an emergency. VoIP utilizes existing internet service to convert a phone’s signal and send it over the internet. Anywhere you can get WiFi on campus, you can get VoIP. This way, any member of school staff can receive a phone call through the school’s internet connection, as opposed to needing a cell phone with a plan. VoIP can replace traditional landlines, and it can also replace in-classroom intercoms with an option that automatically switches to speaker-phone.
Social Media and the Internet
The internet is now so ubiquitous, it’s sure to be a communications channel parents and students will check, post-emergency. Now, approved organizations can issue Twitter alerts when an emergency happens. Recent studies show 24% of teens are online almost constantly, while 92% are online every day. Social media is garnering notice as an emergency communications tool, with schools in Pasco County, Florida using it to control the information they disseminate, in collaboration with the police department. The more proactive schools are on social media, the less likely disinformation is to spread.
In terms of email, the Email Statistics Report from Radicati Group reports that people are sending and receiving less emails now, although there are more email accounts. Email is growing as a business tool, but in terms of personal use, people are “opting instead for other forms of communication such as social networking sites, instant messaging, Mobile IM, and SMS/text messaging.” In other words, for urgent contact, social networks, instant messaging, and text are more likely to get instant attention. Emails, however, are an effective tool for post-emergency relay of information, in so far as almost everyone has an account.
Fax? Although this method of communication may seem outdated, schools still have fax machines and they can be very useful for emergencies. Fax lines don’t get tied up like regular phone lines—schools can send and receive faxes to and from agencies with ease. For quick transmission of medical release forms, and medical information, fax is especially pertinent. Unlike email and internet communications, faxes can’t get hacked.
Phone communications can be tricky because everyone uses the phone after an emergency. During an emergency, 911 operators can’t necessarily track where cell phones are calling from, according to a study from USA Today. But after the smoke has cleared, a personal phone call from authorities to individuals who have been victimized by violence or by accident will help put people at ease. A simple phone call can also help instill confidence.
No one would want to be David Wheeler, in the dark after his son was shot at Sandy Hook Elementary. Oftentimes, the best way to help a victim’s family is to talk to them. No matter what the emergency, if we keep a cool head and communicate clearly with effective tools, we’re that much closer to a resolution.