When I started in school PR in 1999, we sent home a letter when there was a crisis, and parents appreciated the prompt communication.
Today, waiting several hours for a letter to get home would be an unforgivable delay.
The two biggest changes affecting crisis communication were the speed of information sharing and the national increase in anxiety over school safety.
When we have to go into a lockdown or a hold, students can text their parents immediately. They don’t have to wait to get the facts right or give the principal a chance to respond to the crisis before he can share the details. So, in a social-media culture, some parents expect immediacy. They want to hear from the school just as fast as they hear from their children.
Fortunately, most parents understand a short delay to deal with the crisis and make sure the message is accurate.
Recently, we had such a crisis at one of our high schools, and a couple parents on Facebook bemoaned the fact that our message took 20 minutes to come out. Although we responded to the post, explaining the need for accuracy, as is usually the case in these situations, other parents quickly came to our defense with posts like this:
“Misinformation is worse than no information at all. Thank you PHSD for being prudent and ensuring accuracy in your mass communications.”
“I think it’s more important that the district ensure that the lockdown procedure is executed rather than making a text message to parents the priority. Good job PHSD.”
Although we did the best we could in this situation, these critiques did reinforce the need to respond as quickly as we possibly can, while still being accurate and responsible.