While overall we found the DVES incident report to be thoughtfully prepared and refreshingly candid, we think there is one thing that has been overlooked in the second section, which offers suggestions for the continual improvement of the school’s security policy. Those improvements are divided into three parts: the use of the Alert Now phone system, which sends automated messages to parents’ home and cell phones; official communication; and a designated site for building evacuation.
In particular, we were surprised to find the omission of social media as a tool to be used for communication with parents of students during an emergency. That, despite the report recommending a communication coordinator as part of the crisis management team.
We’re not saying the plans formulated are wrong. The report does encourage the use of email notices and updates to the school’s website.
We just think an important component has been left out. If real, honest communication is the goal, social media must be included in the mix. More and more, government officials, school administrators, police, and businesses need to be aware of it and how to use it to disseminate timely information. They need to develop strategies to use social media to communicate. Not just in times of emergencies, but all the time.
In today’s era of instant communication and the prevalence of smartphones, especially among younger adults, the use of social media is not just an idle pastime. It has to be a critical component of any emergency-response communication plan. Social media can be useful to keep the public informed, instead of just a place for someone to post pet photos and recipes.
Local officials would do well to take a look at how the city of Boston responded after the Marathon bombings on April 15. The Boston Police Department updated its social media sites minute by minute in the aftermath of the bombings, often with instructions to avoid certain areas, or with information about where police officers were. It was also a source of information on Friday, April 19, as police warned residents in Boston, Watertown, and surrounding communities to stay indoors as the suspects were sought.
But social media can work both ways, and fan hysteria when calm is most needed. That’s why police, government, and school officials need to become better versed in social media.
Communication via new forms is a hurdle we all must learn to clear. Social media allow for instant dissemination of information. Officials need to make sure it’s accurate and trusted. It can be one of the most important tools in any effective emergency communication plan.