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Crisis Communication in Public Schools

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Introduction

Crisis communication refers to a determination or an effort that institutions, companies as well as other organizations undertake in reaching the stake holders when an event that is unexpected occurs. Such an event has an ability to affect the smooth running of the institution (Crisis communication plan, 2006). Crisis means a wave of events that are unwanted. Crisis communication can also be referred to as an ingenuity that aims at protecting school’s reputation as well as maintenance of its public image. There are various factors that can contribute to crisis communication which include criminal attacks, media inquiry, and government inquiry among others. Crisis has an ability to tarnish the image of the institution (Stocker, 2007). Thus, there is a need to ensure that communication is made so as to protect public schools against various unwanted threats. The purpose of this study is to examine crisis communication in public schools. In this paper answer two hypotheses are going to be investigated. The first hypothesis is that crisis communication has been a good tool for conveying information to the public as well as other stake holders of the public schools. The second hypothesis is that crisis communication has the ability to overt an event that has the potential to harm public schools. Crises communication in schools form part of the management plan on crises (Stocker, 2007). Such a plan is developed by top management in schools with the aim of reducing any potential damage that the crisis causes. Information flow during the crisis is also termed as crises communication. The purpose of crisis communication is mainly a preparation as well as response. During crisis preparation, public schools need to develop a comprehensive plan on crisis communication as well as a committee whose aim is to execute the developed plan. Presence of the plan puts the organization in a better position to overcome the crisis as well as win the trust of the public (Delapp, n.d.).

Literature Review

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In this section the previous studies done on crisis communication in public schools are discussed. Several studies have been done on this issue. In this section the gap in communication that needs to be addressed will be identified. Recently, there has been the rise in crises among public school especially in the U.S. The main contributors to this are gangs who conduct mass killing in these schools (Crisis communication plan, 2006). Several schools have been affected by this menace, thus creating the need for crisis communication to the parents and other stakeholders. Mass murder is gaining ground in American public schools, and unless something is done, the trend is going to continue.

Wherever such a crisis is witnessed, communication is critical in ensuring that parents and other stakeholders become aware of what has happened and start to look for a solution. Study, done by Marra (2010), indicates that any school or other organizations need to form a committee wherever there is the rise of a crisis. The task of that committee is to inform the stakeholders about what has happened. General public, as well as media, are eager to know what has happened and such a committee is essential in giving them first-hand information (Stocker, 2007).

News reporters are also present in the site of crisis. Media workers usually gathers to get the first hand information about what exactly has happened. Investigation regarding shooting at Virginia Tech has revealed that poor communication between the school management and the students contributed to the high death rates (Delapp, n.d.). If there had been a proper communication plan, such high number of deaths would not have occurred. It is discovered that there has been a poor communication between the leaders of the campuses (Crisis communication plan, 2006). Recent study indicates that many schools as well as universities lack crisis communication plans while others have inadequate and grossly ones (Bernstein, 2010). Thus, the development of such plans is essential. Another study found out that schools are faced with crisis each now and then. In school settings, several events are qualified to be called a crisis. Among them: power breakdowns, natural disasters, or armed shooter invasions (Stocker, 2007). Among these, shooting in public schools has recently being on the rise across America. Owing to this, schools have become media’s center of attention. It is vital that the leaders of the schools respond to any form of crisis correctly, creating and maintaining composure in such difficult situations (Bernstein, 2010).

Several studies has asserted that communicatio is a difficult aspect when it comes to crisis (Barton, 2008). Many schools have been shown by the studies to lack clear guidance as far as communication is concerned. Schools’ leaders are expected by students, parents, staffs, as well as the community to be well equipped wherever there is an occurrence of crisis. Crisis duration is dependent on the speed at which school leaders responds to it (Barton, 2008). A study done by ISPRA (2012) indicates that the lack of clear communication can prolong the crisis. Solution to the crisis cannot be found in such a situation, and the whole issue becomes complicated (Delapp, n.d.).

This study aims at assisting a school with no crisis communication plan to develop one. It will offer information regarding the communication. Following the incident of shooting at Virginia Tech, many institutions has reviewed their communication system. Many schools have confirmed that they have taken into consideration mobile phones as a means of communication in case of emergency (Stocker, 2007). These means are meant to notify the students and other stake holders on the crisis. 87% of schools carried out the review of the security system of their schools following the event at Virginia. Primary source of information for this study will be an interview and a questionnaire. Secondary information sources will mainly be the books and journals. This study is significant as it will offer information needed by many schools in preparation to develop the crisis communication plan. It will also be of benefit to the stakeholders of the schools (Bernstein, 2010).

Proper communication during the crisis is critical to resolving the impending problem. Without the right mechanism of communication in the school, solving these problems becomes impossible (Delapp, n.d.). Time has come for public schools to develop such plans. Various events such as rise in a school shooting necessitate this.  Natural disasters such as a hurricane Katrina are also common, and this increases the need for a good plan (Barton, 2008). The information from leaders during the crisis is critical as parents, students as well as the community are anxiously waiting for someone to assure them that everything will be all right. Everybody expect the leaders to deliver the message on the security as well as the action to be taken following the crisis in the school (Stocker, 2007). Communication systems in the schools should therefore be enhanced as this will overt the rising crisis in these institutions. Crisis communication should entail many means as using only one communication channel has been proved ineffective since not everybody can be reached at once. Several communication devices during crises have been identified, and they include emails, cell phones, strobe lights, sirens and bells, electronic visual displays, and TV as well as radio announcements (Bernstein, 2010). These methods are dependent on the location of the recipient.

Crisis Communication Plan

It is now clear that each school ought to have a crisis communication plan. Such a plan is vital in explaining the roles, responsibilities as well as protocols needed as a guide to the school wherever there is an occurrence of crisis. The crisis communication plan will aim at sharing the information with all the stakeholders every time there is a crisis. The plan has to communicate facts in a fast manner (Delapp, n.d.). The plan is also meant to ensure regular update of information wherever there is a change of circumstances. The communication, especially during the crisis, has a significant influence on the perception of the public. While communicating information during the emergency, there is the need to ensure honesty as it will prevent the occurrence of damaging long-lasting effect (Delapp, n.d.). Depending on the nature of emergency, the leadership team on emergency and the emergency coordinator may confer  prior to reporting about the emergency (Stocker, 2007). This meeting is held so as to ensure that the situation can be classified as a crisis. There are various sources that the public schools can draw information from wherever there is a crisis (Roos, 2013).

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Methodology

Study Design

This study will utilize exploratory study design. Exploratory research aims at formulating the problem in a precise manner, gaining insight, gathering information, impartial ideas elimination, as well as the formation of hypotheses. In addition, this study design intent to use literature search as well as questioning people.

The Target Population

The targeet population of this study is school leaders. Simple random sampling will be used for selection of a school.

Data Collection Tools

An interview will be the main primary method of data collection. Primary data will also be collected using questionnaires. Prior to this, secondary data will be researched; this will be done using the school records as well as published data regarding crisis communication. Recent studies that have been done on the same issue will also act a source of the data. The data will be collected from these school leaders with the help of the interview. Questionnaires will be filled during the interview. The leaders will be expected to provide information regarding the crisis communication plan they have put in place. The data will be collected during the coming academic holiday. The criteria to use during the collection of secondary data will include relevance of the data, use of the data that are up to date, verification of the data, originality of the data, method of data collection, as well data nature which include; variable definition, categories used, relationship examined as well as measure units.

Questionnaire

A questionnaire will be vital for gathering the primary data. It will be as follows:

Section one: demographic data

  • Name of institution
  • Location
  • Name of the leader
  • Student population

Section two: questions

  • When was this school started?
  • Since the date, it received the first bunch of students, what challenges have you faced?
  • Do you have a crisis communication plan in place?
  • If yes, how long has it been in operation?
  • If no, why have you not developed one?
  • Has your school experienced any form of disaster recently?
  • If yes, how did you managed to overcome it?
  • How do you plan to overcome the occurrence of a disaster in the future?

Data Analysis

Analysis of the data will be done using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Analysis will be done only for sampled population. Prior to analysis, there will be the data which is raw will be transferred into the correct format. This will then be followed by coding. The coding means conversion of already edited data into symbols or numbers. There will also be a generation of the code book that will document how coding of the data has been done. The next step will be the tabulation of data. This process aims at counting sample numbers that fall into several categories. In this case, basic tabulation count will be used.

Expected Results

It is expected that various schools lack or have limited information about crisis communication. There is also the likelihood that several schools lack crisis communication planning. In case of crisis, such schools are expected to face big problems as they lack the essential reference manual for disaster. Many public schools are expected to be eager to get assistance as far as development of crisis communication planning is concerned.

Future Research

It is essential for all public schools to have a crisis communication plan. Such a plan must be written and has an aim of assisting such schools in case of an event that is unexpected. The plan should provide a procedure to follow in case a problem that has the ability to destroy the school’s reputation takes place or is likely to take place. It is critical to have a plan, especially when there is information about various possible hazards, that have the ability to adversely affect the smooth running of the schools. Their preparations are meant to support a rapid, effective as well as coordinated response when there is an occurrence of an emergency. Any future research should be able to focus on helping schools in meeting this objective.

Each school should have an expert, who specializes in communication crisis, as he will provide the much needed information regarding crisis communication. The future research should give a clear guidance on the range of responsibilities and the performance of these experts in schools.

There is a need for the government to assist public schools to develop crisis communication plans which will help them to overcome any crisis. Such a plan is vital in preparation for any crisis.

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