Mobile

Leveraging a Mobile App for School Crisis Communications

Victoria Harkes
10 Minutes

Using a mobile app for communicating in a crisis will allow you to reach more people swiftly and securely. It’s hard to make perfect plans to respond to potential crises, but the best way to prepare your district to react efficiently and appropriately when the time comes is to understand how to leverage the technology and resources you have.

In this blog post, we explain the benefits of using a mobile app, discuss the basics for communicating using this medium, offer some language tips, and provide an example. Finally, we’ll outline key features from the SchoolBundle app that will help communicate during a crisis.

Benefits of Using a Mobile App

Benefits of using a mobile app for crisis communications

Mobile apps provide you with a tool for communicating with a widespread group in real-time so that you can be confident your message will reach people securely and immediately.

1. Instantaneous

  • Most adults have their smartphones on them 22 hours a day, according to an article by Leftronic. This means you can send out updates to your district and feel confident it will reach the majority of your community immediately, no matter where they tend to be online
  • To compare:
    Email:
    An article by Eleventy Marketing Group says the majority of adults check email between 1-4 times per day
    Website: You can’t rely on people to proactively check your website fast enough
    Phone calls: Delivering news through phone calls delays how quickly you can communicate, especially since many people can’t answer a call during work hours

2. Widespread

Widespread communications
  • According to the most recent statistics from Statistica, the percentage of smartphone users is rising (81% in 2019), whereas fewer people have computers (75% in 2019) and computer ownership is on a slight downward trend
  • Reaching more of your district through a mobile app has the added benefits of decreasing the chances of false information passing from word-of-mouth and also reduces the equality gap by providing more equitable access to news

3. Secure

Crisis Communications
  • People put more trust in information coming from mobile apps. Apps are more secure since they are hosted locally on the device, compared to webpages, which are hosted on the world wide web

Using a mobile app to communicate in a crisis has many benefits but it should not be the only part of your overall crisis communications strategy. Mobile apps should augment the strategy you have in place as they provide the secure, detailed information that only school members should access. Meanwhile, you should continue to use other channels, like your website, to deliver the necessary general messages about the crisis to your broader community.

Basics of Crisis Communications

Crisis situations at a school can come in many forms, including safety threats, extreme weather conditions, administrative scandals, or even cyber hacking. You can’t predict or prepare for everything, but there are some basics of crisis communications that can serve as foundational guidelines for delivering responsible crisis communications using a mobile app.

Download Crisis Communications link
1. The first few hours are the most crucial
  • You need to start communicating within the first 15 minutes, even if information is sparse
  • This will give you time to write, approve, and update the following pieces
2. Follow a rhythm of 15-30-60-90 to communicate in a serious crisis

Deliver your first message within 15 minutes, your next at 30 minutes, then 60, then 90.

  • Refer to our 15-30-60-90 Crisis Communications Template to see how to craft messages for each of these intervals
3. If people have been harmed, or are in danger of being harmed, state this in your messages
  • Don’t disclose names or any detail that’s not immediately relevant
  • For example, say “two individuals have been harmed, and four more are in potential danger of harm”
4. If people have died, the most senior person must appear in a video within 60 minutes
  • They don’t have to be good, just not awful. Sincerity is more important than flawless delivery. Have them practice delivering this type of message beforehand
  • They must provide details and announce emergency numbers in their message
5. Sign off every message with either the name of your school or district so that your audience will know who is producing the news
  • This ensures your communications are immediately branded as your stance and the official statement of the school/district
6. Create a notification to run across every screen of your mobile app with a link to the most relevant page/news.
  • If you’re providing details about the crisis on any other page, also make sure to provide a button with a link to your news updates

Language and Tone

Language and tone in your communications

Using the right language and tone in every one of your crisis communications is critical. Inappropriate words or phrasing could have serious negative consequences that might exacerbate the situation. We compiled a list of best practices for you to refer to when delivering crisis communications through a mobile app.

  • Be timely
  • Deliver news at regular intervals
  • Focus on the core message
  • State the values of your district in response to the situation
  • Be concise in your wording
  • Link to other places for more news
  • Don’t be flippant or make jokes
  • Don’t use slang or school acronyms
  • Don’t overwhelm with information on mobile
  • Avoid language that exaggerates the situation

Avoid phrases like “more than ever”, “unprecedented”, or “unforeseen”. These terms exaggerate the situation and imply that your district was not properly prepared. Nothing is ever truly unprecedented or unforeseen; Use plain language that describes the facts as they are instead.

Key Features in your Mobile App to use

Key features in your mobile app

With the SchoolBundle dedicated iOS and Android app, you can provide up-to-date information for Staff, Teachers, Students, Parents and Guardians right on their phone. Knowing the best features of the app for crisis communications will help you save valuable time.

News

News updates are displayed right on the Home screen of the app, which allows you to provide a central source of information for parents, guardians and students.

The SchoolBundle Mobile App will allow you to publish news more efficiently during a crisis thanks to these features:

  • Use Single-Sign-On through Facebook or Google to log in quickly
  • Single-Source Publishing ensures that you can publish to your site and app at the same time: any content on your sites is automatically pushed to your app

Notifications

  • Parents, guardians and students can control how and where they receive notifications from the app. When you send a notification, you can feel confident it will reach your community in the best way for each individual, whether it be a push notification, SMS or email
  • Send emergency notifications to other features of the app, such as timetables, and grades, which will help you control the consistency of your communications
  • If you need to control who is receiving the crisis communications, you can filter your notification push so that it will appear only to the relevant groups of students, parents, guardians, teachers and staff

General Information

  • Update the general information feature of the app with the contact information for the emergency response team
  • Collect and provide links to more resources through this feature, including your district’s policies and any press conferences about the crisis. You’ll be including this in your news, but the General Information is another good place to share these links

Imagine this…

As an example, let’s consider how you would communicate in a crisis related to remote learning. Now that we know remote learning is a reality for many, classrooms could change in a single day. What might happen if you had to announce an immediate shift to remote learning during the middle of the school day due to a student outbreak?

This example will show you how you can use what we’ve discussed to communicate using a mobile app in a real situation. Refer to our 15-30-60-90 Crisis Communications Template where we expand this example and show you potential phrasing for communicating at each time interval.

Crisis communications example
1. Within 15 minutes, publish an announcement to your news channel with the preliminary information
  • State the number of kids who have been sent home sick, and the number of affected classrooms and schools
  • State that no decisions have been made yet
  • Link to your district’s webpage about your COVID-19 policies and plans
2. Send out a push notification through the app
  • In 10-15 words, your push notification should be attention-grabbing to prompt your community to check your news item
3. At 30 minutes, outline how the situation has progressed
  • State if there has been an increase in reports of sick students. If not, state that there is no change
  • Provide an update about the affected classrooms and/or schools. Have they been evacuated? Offer a plan for evacuating students safely and sanitizing exposed areas
  • Outline a plan for how the district will be making the decision
  • Link to your province’s online self-assessment for COVID-19 in case anyone is experiencing symptoms
4. At 60 minutes, announce your plan
  • Have your most senior person write a brief statement about your district’s plan for remote learning
  • Link to your Classrooms and Homework page where you will have information about how the remote learning will work for students. If the information is not there yet, ensure you state that it is coming soon
5. At 90 minutes, publish an official press release about the change and share via your News page in the app
  • Provide a push notification that you’ve published an official statement about what to expect next
  • Include a link to your contact information page with instructions for reaching out to the emergency COVID-19 remote teaching response team

What’s Next: Prepare

Communicating in Crisis Communications

Now that you’re more familiar with how you might use a mobile app for communicating in a crisis, the next step is to prepare your staff and teachers. Here are some activities that will help you prepare:

  • Improve your familiarity with the app by reviewing our videos and exploring the features
  • Imagine a potential situation that your district might encounter, such as a lockdown, and fill out this template with how you would respond: 15-30-60-90 Crisis Communications Template. Jot down the 8-10 potential types of situations that might arise for your district, then prepare this template for each one
  • Host a practice press conference and ask your team to evaluate the effectiveness of the statement. Ensure that everyone who might have anything to say has properly prepared. Similarly, ensure that everyone who should not say anything is aware to stay silent
  • Have your most senior person practice recording videos to state serious messages, like they might have to do in a crisis

As we mentioned earlier, you will never be able to anticipate every detail of a crisis your district might encounter but you can prepare in advance for general events, then fill in the details to fit each unique situation as they come. The most important takeaway from any of your practice and preparation is to remember that you have the skills required to respond appropriately using the mobile app to support your entire crisis communications strategy.

Download Crisis Communications template link

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