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Lessons learned from Spring High School Crisis Communications

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SPRING, TX- SEPTEMBER 04:  Teachers and staff watch from inside Spring High School after a stabbing September 4, 2013 in Spring, Texas. A 17-year-old student was fatally stabbed and three other students during what has been reported as a fight at the school about 7:00 am. Three people have been taken into custody. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

SPRING, TX  – SEPTEMBER 04: Teachers and staff watch from inside Spring High School after a stabbing September 4, 2013 in Spring, Texas.  A 17-year-old student was fatally stabbed.  Another 17 year-old student is charged with murder. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

Spring High School parents say it took about three hours before they received information from the school district during Wednesday’s fatal stabbing forcing them to drive to the school to gather whatever information they could find.  Roadways around the school were jammed with frustrated parents who did not need to be at the scene if the schools district had been quicker with supplying information.

While Wednesday’s slow communication may have been the school district’s fault, it’s a good reminder that parents need to do their part to be sure school systems can contact them in times of crisis.

Experts we talked with say the number of parents who don’t update their contact information with school districts is staggering.  Terry Abbott of Drive West Communications in Houston says those robo-calls often don’t reach parents due to outdated information.

“Often as many as 30% of those telephone numbers can be wrong,” Abbott said.

Abbott also says there is no room for school administrators to delay communicating with parents because they risk wrong information getting into the public from students.

“Kids inside a school in a situation like that are Tweeting about it, putting it on Facebook, Instagram and everything else, so a school district has to make sure it’s message goes out very quickly,” Abbott said.

 He also says parents needs in a crisis situation are very basic.

 “Parents cherish accurate and fast information in a crisis situation,” Abbott added.

 The first step by the district, according to Abbott, should be to quickly record a clear message and sending it to parents with their robo-calling system.

“I think a school district should always use their automated phone messaging situation and tell them anything and everything they could tell them.”

Abbott says local law enforcement is also helpful in providing information if the school district seeks their help. Because many local school districts have their own police departments agencies like Sheriff’s offices often wait to be asked to help with communications.  Abbott says the district must reach out and utilize all avenues available in times of crisis.

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