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Critical Incident Management in the School Environment

The events that have unfolded across Australia and New Zealand in the past 12 months (2019-2020) are a reminder that the threat landscape for Schools is ever changing. Now more than ever, School leadership teams are facing extreme pressure to respond to critical incidents with speed and confidence.

This 45 minute webinar looks at the principles of Critical Incident Management in the School environment, building off response considerations derived from recent events, including COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Discussion points:

  • The evolving threat landscape for Schools
  • Response considerations derived from recent events, including COVID-19
  • Principles of Critical Incident Management in Schools
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Responses to questions raised during the webinar

What is the optimal time to send crisis communications?

  • As a rule, the answer is ‘as soon as possible’.
  • However it is important to first do the impact assessment and determine the strategy. This allows for thought to be put into the messaging, determination of key stakeholders, method and timing.
  • If there is a people safety impact, this message should be sent asap to reduce harm.
  • If the situation is a slow burn, ensure all facts have been established before drafting communications. Communications too early may cause noise.
  • Suggest having communications strategy pre-drafted – ie stakeholder mapping, key messaging pre-scripted. This will allow for incident details to be modified and messages to be disseminated promptly, as needed.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of waiting to get the complete picture before you start communicating. This may take several hours which is often too late.
  • There is nothing wrong with releasing an initial holding statement to acknowledge the issue, then follow up with additional statements when more details are confirmed.

How and when should schools engage with OSHC providers, particularly private providers?

  • Ideally during the preparation of the procedures.
  • The following is sugested as a guide to steps and engagement:
    • Initial meeting / workshop regarding processes, plan composition, team roles etc
    • Draft initial Critical Incident Management Plan
    • Leadership team agree on draft plan
    • Engage with other stakeholders before plan is finalised. Eg. out of school hours team, excursion leaders, sporting teams, before and after school care, boarding leaders
    • Finalise plan
    • Conduct training and exercising
  • For outsourced providers that are expected to follow your processes, we suggest you have your plans established, and then brief the providers on the processes to follow.
  • For outsourced providers, where they are responsible for managing the incidents using their own processes, we suggest you obtain a copy of their processes to ensure they are sufficient, and include relevant escalation points back to your school/organisation.
  • For any off campus and out of hours activities, it is beneficial to have a separate guide. This guide is specifically for the staff managing a localised incident, provides guidance for the first couple hours, and appropriate escalation and notification points.

How widely should a school be communicating an issue? (School closure or other issue)

  • Communications should go to any stakeholder that will be impacted.
  • Use every channel at your disposal. Don’t assume that your preferred method of communication (e.g. email + website) is also the preferred channel for your stakeholders to receive information (many of them may prefer text, twitter, apps, etc). It is better for stakeholders to receive it via 3-4 channels than not hearing about it. Eg school closure will impact staff, students, parents, emergency services (particularly if road closures needed), boarding stakeholders (such as boarders, boarding staff, alternate accommodation providers if relocation necessary).
  • It is useful to have conducted a stakeholder mapping process pre incident to identify all stakeholders that may need to be contacted during an incident.
  • Ensure your stakeholder map doesn’t simply list the various groups. It needs to include actual names, mobile numbers and email addresses.
  • During the live incident, you may then select the relevant stakeholders. This will ensure you do not miss anyone.

We are sending a school group to France. What precautions / thoughts should be undertaken?

  • Regular monitoring of Department Health and WHO for areas impacted and travel restrictions.
  • Check with your travel insurance for specific health care related to this outbreak.
  • Conduct an assessment on the trip including stop overs. Identify potential risks, and determine what your trigger points would be and what response actions you would take.
  • Educate students and parents on good hygiene required at all times, especially when travelling.
  • Consider what additional medications and resources you may wish staff and students to take. Eg pain relief, antibacterial gel, thermometer.
  • Document a plan for if/when something may happen while overseas, including illness. For example, if one of your staff or students contracts a virus and becomes unwell ( knowing that at the time you are unlikely to know what virus it is).

New research coming out of America is saying that practicing drills and making them too life-like is causing trauma in children. Is there any research in Australia on this and what would your advice be?

  • Not a lot of research yet in Australia around trauma impacts to students participating in drills.
  • It is ideal to have staff and students participate in drills so they are aware of where to evacuate to, lockdown to, process to follow etc. Best way of passing this information on is to actually do the evacuations and lockdowns. However it does not have to be dramatised.
  • Suggest also briefing staff prior to the drill so staff (in particular teachers/mentors) are able to manage the situation in a calm, educating manner.
  • Suggest also having a well-established, documented evacuation and lockdown process where all staff and wardens have been trained. This will allow the processes to run more to plan (there will still be learnings).

What support can we expect from the state department of education in the event of a pandemic?

  • This will depend on each State. Some Departments provide a little more guidance than others. However they will be sourcing their information from the same sources you would be obtaining your information from.
  • Key is to ensure you are obtaining facts from an appropriate, validated source. This will allow you to assess your situation, assess the impacts to your school/college, and make appropriate decisions.

Your thoughts on managing the health risks and concerns and reputation risk generated as a result of Xenophobia? We have worked hard to try to have boarding student be allowed to return to School from overseas. Some parents have expressed concern, which seems to be due to mis-information from non-school sources.

  • Ongoing communications is important here, because in the absence of information, people automatically assume the worst.
  • Ensure you have completed your impact assessment and made a determination on your response.
  • Once you have made a decision, ensure you communicate regularly to all stakeholders. This will include:
    • The key facts.
    • Sources of your information (it helps if you are referencing a reliable source and taking direction from an appropriate agency).
    • Identification of potential risks and what you are doing to reduce these risks.
  • Ensure communication to staff as well, as this will increase the consistency of your message.
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