Whenever I talk with school officials, regardless of their capacity, I ask them these simple questions during our conversation: How do you communicate with your staff and students during emergencies? How do you ensure everyone, or at least as many people as possible, hear the alerts and instructions? When they answer the first question, they answer it confidently and typically with one of the following methods: PA, Intercom, Radios, by phone (fewer and fewer are answering this way), and some even answer via email. Then, their confidence fades quickly when I asked them the second question. This is especially true when I ask them about those with special needs or when loud alarms are ringing during their announcements or alerts.
Before we get into the specifics of our focus, let’s cover a couple of requirements for effective communication during emergencies:
Everyone in your school has a right to the same level of care and consideration during every emergency. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) clarify that. However, we are still not sure to what extent that is required. So, if you are providing communication to anyone, that means everyone. If you are providing emergency services to anyone, that means everyone. It means if students or staff need accommodations and special assistance to follow emergency procedures, then that needs to be provided to those individuals. Remember, in some instances during emergency situations, language barriers may be considered disabilities for the purpose of providing accommodations.
So, what is the best way to ensure that we can create the best opportunity for communication with all these different stakeholders effectively? The answer is, redundancy. Multiple systems can communicate with each other and provide the same messages to the different segments of your population in the manner they need. This is also where you will likely need partners who work together and integrate their systems so multiple systems can work together. So when one system activates an alert, all other systems are activated. At a minimum, can be activated separately so multiple methods of communication can be used to communicate with your population. Redundancy also accounts for having the ability to communicate when your other systems fail or just deliver the results you were expecting.
The systems we are talking about, and you should be considering, are emergency alerting and communications apps, panic buttons, radios or push-to-talk over cellular (POC), PA systems, SMS, sensors, email, and voice (phone). These are the systems used to activate emergency procedures directly. However, some systems are activated by the systems listed above: sirens, horns, flashing lights, etc. These systems are good but need people to understand and interpret the meaning of the activation. More and more organizations are using digital displays and signage like those provided by our partners at Rise Vision. Through our integration with them, when an alert is sent from CrisisGo, Rise Vision can change your digital displays, and their software can display pre-configured messages for those specific alerts to communicate with all of your stakeholders.
Having multiple communication channels to communicate with as many stakeholders as possible and doing that effectively and efficiently will be vital to a successful emergency response operation. Practicing your communication plan with every opportunity you get will ensure that the right messages get to the correct stakeholders.