Think fall is too early to ensure your emergency communications plan is ready for snowstorms to hit? Think again. Check out the top 5 most destructive fall snowstorms over the past 10 years.

Image: States affected by top 5 most recent major fall snowstorms

Don’t let snowstorms catch you off guard. Use this top 10 best practices checklist to make sure your school communications plan for emergencies is up-to-date when inclement weather knocks on your door.

#1. Identify decision makers and first responders.

Make a list of who to contact and in what order so you can streamline your communications steps.

#2. Determine a spokesperson or primary contact for emergency situations

Your district needs a public facing contact who is comfortable working with the media and other local contacts. Make sure your spokesperson can remain calm, optimistic, and positive during emergency situations.

#3. Identify backups for each communications task.

Have a plan A, B, C, D… Emergency situations impact your staff members too. Ensure you have several employees on standby who are available and experienced with your communications tools. BONUS: Choose backups that live in different areas of your district zoning to increase the chance that someone will have power, plowed roads, and access to school buildings. 

#4. Create a timeline for training your staff.

“We’ll do it sometime next year” isn’t a good enough answer. Dedicate a staff meeting for training, make it a summer course, or even setup a virtual conference and let your staff join from their home. Make it a priority or it could “snowball” into a problem during a real weather emergency.

#5. Test all of your communications channels in advance.

We hope you’re already consistently using all your communications channels for regular messages, updates, and alerts. But, it doesn’t hurt to have a practice run, especially for your backup crew.

#6. Ensure sample messages are written in advance. Make sure they are short, authoritative and direct.

Draft messages are lifesavers. While we all know K-12 communications leaders are writing masters, we’re not sure everyone wants to be a writing master at 4 AM when a cancellation is announced. Write it now and save it for later.

#7. Remind your employees to have a winter survival kit in their cars.

This tip goes without saying. If school isn’t cancelled, you’ll want your teachers, administrators and staff to be equipped with the tools to actually get to school.

#8. Get your message out rapidly over multiple channels (voice, email, text, social media, website etc.).

Use the C.O.P.E. communications method offered by Blackboard’s Community Engagement Solution. Write one message, select the channels you want to send to, and click publish.

#9. Review your procedure/processes from past inclement weather instances.

Hindsight is 20/20. Learn from past run-ins with Jack Frost and make improvements to your plan. This strategy should be used for your entire communications strategy, by the way— not just weather emergencies. 

#10. Send out your emergency communications plan to all district members, families and community members as a reminder.

Let all your audiences know how, when, and why they will be contacted by the district. No one ever complained from having too much information (we hope!).

Shelby County Schools (AL) encountered a unique winter weather situation during the 2014 polar vortex. Watch this video to learn how to manage a winter emergency from start to finish from Zac Rantz, Chief Communications Officer at Nixa Public Schools (MO).


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