Entries by Megan Wolf

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Crisis Communications | Emergency vs. Crisis

When developing a crisis communication strategy, it is important to first understand the distinction between emergency and crisis. Although often used interchangeably in everyday discourse, they are not the same thing. A crisis is a time of intense difficulty or stress where tough and important decisions must be made. An emergency is a serious and often dangerous incident that typically threatens health, life, or property and requires immediate action. Although they can be cojoined, a crisis can occur without emanating from an emergency and vice versa. Because they are distinct, it is important to develop unique strategies for both emergencies and crises.

 

 

Emergencies are usually easier to plan for. Although we do not know when or even if they are going to occur, most individuals and organizations have identified a laundry list of potential emergencies they could be exposed to and developed comprehensive plans for response. Additionally, for many of these emergency scenarios, training and drills have been conducted to help ensure that these plans can be executed in an effective manner. Planning and drilling for a fire emergency is probably the most relatable example of this. In educational environments, everyone from the school principal or childcare director down to the youngest student has been trained on what to do. 

Crises are typically not as easy to plan for because each crisis can contain unique and unanticipated elements. Planning for the unknown, however, can still make a positive impact. You may not be able to anticipate the exact nature and details of a crisis before it arises, but you can put fundamental strategies in place to prepare your organization to be as well positioned as possible when it does. One way to test the health of your crisis communication strategies is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you know who in your organization will most likely be responsible for crisis communications?
  2. Has that individual(s) received any communication training?
  3. Are you aware of all the resources available to you to assist with your response strategy?
    • Legal
    • Human Resources
    • Law Enforcement
    • School District/Corporate Leadership
  4. Do you have a preferred method of communicating with stakeholders and media?
    • Written
    • Verbal
    • In Person
    • Televised
  5. Do you have access to a library of previously delivered communications that have effectively helped to mitigate the impact of like situations?

At SEC, we always emphasize to our clients that they try to solve problems before they actually arise.  Although you may not know the exact nature or impact of a crisis before you experience it, there is a great deal you can do to be as well prepared as possible to mitigate its impact. As always, please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of assistance in fleshing out your crisis communication plan and please look for our additional posts on this topic as we will be providing additional guidance on crisis communication strategies.

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The Importance of a Good Crisis Communications Plan

When conducting site assessments for our education clients across the country, we are always gratified to see that many, if not most, have comprehensive emergency plans in place that typically only need minor adjustments or additions.  What we do not see as often are equally comprehensive crisis response plans.  For those of you who have worked with SEC before, you know we emphasize the importance of planning. Emergency plans can help protect people and property, but they do not help to protect other important things, like your reputation or the confidence that stakeholders have in you. That is why having a crisis response plan is important as well.

Because crisis response is such an expansive subject, over the next weeks, we will be providing guidance on one specific and critical component of this subject, crisis communication.  In doing so, we will be focusing on the following three key elements:

  1. Understanding the differences between emergency and crisis. Although often used interchangeably, an emergency and a crisis are not always cojoined.  A crisis can occur without emanating from an emergency and vice versa.  As a result, it is important to have unique plans, one for crisis and one for emergency.
  2. Realizing the importance of how the decisions that are made during the initial stages of a crisis can influence the impact and outcome of the crisis. The decisions you make, the actions you take, and the words you use during the first hours of a crisis can have a profound effect on the situation. One of the important challenges that is commonly present during the initial stages of a crisis is that information relating to a crisis is often incomplete or inaccurate.  Although you may experience a desire to communicate quickly, it is important not to let speed overtake accuracy.
  3. Determining who the key audiences you need to communicate are, deciding on what they need to know, when do they need to know it, who will be doing the communicating, and in what manner will it be communicated. Audiences can typically be broken up into two groups: internal and external. Internal groups should take priority when communicating about the situation.

Please look for additional messages this month as we will get into greater detail on how having effective communication strategies in place can help you navigate and minimize the impact of a potential crisis you may face.

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Reopening Safely: Re-Familiarize with Emergency Drills and Equipment

As we started to return to conducting in-person site assessments, it was interesting to hear how often responses from school leadership involved them describing how things were done prior to COVID-19 and how things were being done differently now that school had reopened. Some of these differences were relatively small, but many were fairly impactful.

So as more and more of our educational clients are returning to in-person learning, we thought it was important to suggest that you take the time to identify any differences in your school operations caused by the introduction of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, assess the impact of those differences, and make necessary adjustments to mitigate any vulnerabilities that may have been unintentionally created by them.

In the first and second posts on this topic, we recommended focusing on assessing emergency and operating policy and procedures as well as physical and technical design features. In this post, we will discuss assessing your emergency drill protocols and emergency equipment.

In relation to emergency response drills, we recommend that as soon as it is practical and feasible, you attempt to resume your regular drill schedule. The intense focus on mitigating the threat posed by COVID-19 should not detract from your ability to mitigate other threats. Conducting regular and well-executed emergency drills is an effective way to contribute to that. Prior to conducting any emergency drill, it is important to determine if any new health and safety requirements impact previously recommended response protocols. For example, would social distancing requirements impact the recommended spacing of staff and students during a lockdown or Shelter in Place drill? If the answer is yes, it is important to determine and communicate differences between drill response protocols and actual event protocols.

In relationship to emergency supplies and equipment, probably the most impactful thing that can be done is ensuring staff members re-familiarize themselves with both the location and content of the supplies. One of our more common site assessment findings is that a school will have suitable emergency supplies, but many of the staff members do not know where they are stored. Additionally, we recommend a quick audit be conducted to see if any items need to be replaced or refreshed.

Our hope at SEC is that, by conducting these simple self-assessments relating to operating and emergency policies and procedures, physical and technical design features, and emergency drills and equipment, school leadership will be able to identify any new security gaps created by the implementation of the recommended COVID-19 protocols. Closing these security gaps while adhering to the latest health protocols will go a long way toward making your school environment as safe as possible.

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Reopening Safely: Your Physical and Technical Security May Need Checking

EUnless your school has recently been built or renovated, it is highly unlikely that its existing physical and technical design features were chosen and installed with COVID-19 in mind.  They were most likely chosen to facilitate the safe and efficient carrying-out of normal activities that take place in educational environments.  As we all know, though, there has been very little that would be normal or common this past year.  So, if you are carrying out some of these activities differently since reopening, SEC recommends you attempt to determine whether these differences have had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the existing physical and technical design features.

SEC believes the best way to accomplish this is to, first, catalogue the activities that are being done differently than they were pre-pandemic. Then, just as we recommended in our most recent post relating to the auditing of emergency policy and procedures, ask yourself the same three simple questions:

  • What is the same?

  • What is different?

  • What, if anything, needs to be adjusted as a result?

The following are examples of findings from recent site assessments we have conducted, illustrating this point:

  • School #1

    • What is the same? – All school entry points should be visible on camera monitors.

    • What is the same? – All school entry points should be visible on camera monitors.

    • What needs to be adjusted?  – Additional exterior and interior cameras need to be installed so these new entry points can be effectively monitored.

  • School #2

    • What is the same? – Effective access control features need to be in place in the front lobby to assist in ensuring the safety and security of the students and staff.

    • What is different? – Biometric fingerprint scanners create an additional contact point that can contribute to the spread of the virus.

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Transitioning to biometric iris scanning technology or touchless entry mobile applications should be considered.

  • School #3

    • What is the same? – Students and staff should be able to be efficiently and effectively alerted to emergency situations.

    • What is different? – More classes are taking place outdoors where the public address system cannot be heard.

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Additional exterior speakers need to be installed so students and staff can hear emergency notifications when participating in outside activities.

 

Our hope at SEC is that, by conducting this simple self-assessment, school leadership can identify any new physical security gaps created by the implementation of the recommended COVID-19 protocols. Closing these security gaps while adhering to the latest health protocols will go a long way toward making your school environment as safe as possible.

 

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Reopening Safely: Reviewing Your Current Emergency and Operating Policies and Procedures

Educators around the country should be applauded for their tremendous amount of thought and effort to achieve the goal of having more and more students successfully return to in-person learning. Throughout this process, what has been obvious to us at SEC is that, in order to accomplish these re-openings and meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to COVID-19, most schools have had to make significant adjustments to their normal operating policies and procedures. Many of these adjustments were implemented in order to meet social distancing recommendations, improve facility ventilation and air circulation, and restrict access to only required or essential individuals. What is not as obvious is whether administrators have had the ability to fully assess the impact these adjustments may have on any of their pre-COVID-19 operational policies and procedures.

SEC recommends that administrators take some time to audit their current operating and emergency policies and procedures and examine them in relation to their pre-COVID practices. By asking three simple questions, school leaders can identify whether any of these changes have created security gaps that need to be addressed.

  • What is the same?

  • What is different?

  • What, if anything, needs to be adjusted as a result?

The following are examples of findings from recent site assessments we have conducted, illustrating this point:

  • School #1

    • What is the same? –  Exterior and interior doors need to be secured during lockdown and violent intruder scenarios

    • What is different?  – Classroom doors that were previously both closed and locked when classes were in session are now left open to reduce contact points and to enhance air circulation

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Staff members need to be instructed to keep classroom doors in a locked and propped position to facilitate the efficient securing of staff and students if necessary

  • School #2

    • What is the same? – Floor maps indicating primary and secondary evacuation routes are posted in every classroom

    • What has changed? – Red one-way stickers have been installed on hallway floors to assist with the adherence to social distancing recommendations

    • What needs to be adjusted? – Guidance needs to be developed and communicated on whether the new pedestrian traffic patterns need to be adhered to or can be ignored during evacuation drills or scenarios

  • School #3

    • What is the same? – The school needs to designate both a primary and secondary relocation site

    • What is different? – The school’s secondary relocation site, the neighboring assisted living facility which has implemented restricted visitor rules, can no longer be utilized

    • What needs to be adjusted? A new secondary relocation site, such as the local community center or another suitable facility, needs to be identified and designated

Our hope is that, by conducting this simple self-assessment, school leadership can identify any new physical security gaps created by the implementation of the recommended COVID-19 protocols. Closing these security gaps, while adhering to the latest health protocols, will go a long way toward making your school environment as safe as possible.

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Reopening Safely

More and more schools around the country are beginning to resume in-person instruction after having only virtual instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a welcome development because the negative impact of the “lost” school year will likely be felt, and not be fully understood by students and educators, for years to come. To get to the point of re-opening, much of the focus and effort of administrators and teachers have understandably been centered around health and safety issues and making sure the appropriate protocols and resources are in place.

What concerns us at SEC is the intense focus on this one threat, COVID-19, which may result in an insufficient focus on more traditional threats schools face. These threats that were present prior to the pandemic will remain as schools open post-pandemic. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, we have already seen instances of violent events occurring in schools that have recently re-opened.

While we know that working to protect students, staff, and visitors from the spread of COVID-19 will be and should be, the priority for school administrators throughout the country, we also believe that it is important to ensure they (1) revisit and (2) maintain the appropriate prevention and response strategies for the myriad of other threats that can be experienced in educational environments.

To assist with this, over the next few weeks, SEC will be providing practical guidance, suggestions, and reminders related to those strategies. Our focus will be on the same exact areas we examine when we conduct our in-person school site assessments:

  • Emergency and Operating Policies and Procedures

  • Physical and Technical Design Features

  • Emergency Equipment and Training

For each of the elements within these three areas, we will have you ask yourself three simple questions in relation to reopening:

  • What is the Same?

  • What is Different?

  • What Needs to be Adjusted?

Be on the lookout for more detailed information about these strategies. If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more, please reach out for a free consultation.

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De-Escalation Wrap Up

Handling a highly tense and stressful interaction can be tricky. That’s why, over the past few weeks, SEC prepared a series of emails and blog posts regarding de-escalation. De-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction or situation.

Need a refresher of what we covered? Read our de-escalation blogs:

SEC is happy to announce that we have added a couple of additional services regarding de-escalation, including a 90-minute training, available in-person or virtually. Be on the lookout for even more de-escalation services from SEC in the near future.

If you would like to learn more about de-escalation and the techniques to best achieve your desired outcome, beyond what is covered in the emails and blog posts, please reach out to us directly, HERE.

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Closing a Stressful Interaction

Now that the tone has been set and you have demonstrated empathy, the next step in de-escalating an emotionally charged interaction is to close with options and expectations. When attempting to conclude the interaction, if available, attempt to lead with attractive solutions, positive options, reasonable compromises, or provide access to individuals who may have a […]

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Empathy And Its Importance In De-Escalation

High-stress situations and interactions where tensions are mounting can result in a spillover of emotion, such as anger or frustration. De-escalating a situation requires the participation and consent of all involved. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving de-escalation.  These actions fall into 3 main categories, the second of […]