Social Media and Emergency Management

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Republished with permission of: Secure Education Consultants

In the event of an emergency, how do you get the word out? How do you alert key stakeholders (parents, caregivers, the community etc.) and provide timely updates? Many schools alert the news, utilize robo-call systems and send emails. Government agencies, police forces, and companies have taken to social media as an official means of communication. Can schools also benefit from using social media as an additional emergency management tool? Absolutely, provided they approach it strategically.

As social media grows, so does the opportunity for mass communication. In the California wildfires, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection notified residents of evacuations and sent updates when they contained sections of the fire. After the terror attack in Lower Manhattan in October, the city’s official emergency management account, @NYPDNews, alerted citizens of the incident, road closures, and resources for families of victims. Social media can be an effective tool because it disseminates information directly from the source to an unlimited number of people. Succinct, factual and timely posts can be the key to useful pages.

Today, many schools have a social media presence. Some are already using it as a tool to inform stakeholders about emergency events like lockdowns or shelter-in-place. As the social-media generation becomes parents, the prominence and usefulness of social media at schools will grow. If your school chooses to use social media as an emergency management tool, quality is essential. Poorly executed social media can lead to chaos and exacerbate the impact of emergencies.

Guidelines for Using Social Media in an Emergency

It is useful to turn to the Department of Homeland Security as a resource. They provide useful guidelines, which can translate to the school setting. Murch Elementary School in Washington DC posted recently used social media during a shelter-in-place event. Some of their posts are used as examples below.

Develop a Strategic Plan:

  • What social medium platforms will you use? Twitter is most common for quick updates, but Facebook can be effective as well. Check with parents to see which platforms they use most often, if at all.
  • Who will post the updates? When? Does the poster need to get approval from anyone before they post?
  • What constitutes as an emergency worthy of sharing on social media?
  • How will this compliment the other emergency notification plans you have in place?

Establish a social media presence

If you want your posts to spread news, people must know your page exists, and it must be clear your page is legitimate.

The first part is easy – let parents, teachers and members of the community know that you have a social media page and it may be used to share updates in the event of an emergency. Share your social media plan in your newsletter, and cover social media when you are discussing other emergency preparedness topics.

Making it clear that your page is legitimate is important for more distant stakeholders who may not access your page as frequently (local news, community members etc.). To lend credibility to your page, post a link to your website in your bio, and link to your social media page on your school website, and apply to become “certified.”

Distribute timely and frequent updates

During the emergency, post updates as often as possible. It is okay to send an update saying, “We don’t have any new information at this time.” News straight from the source (you) can prevent false news from spreading. Manage expectations for posts by being clear from the onset of an emergency as to how often you will be posting. Something like, “We will send updates every half hour, or as developments occur,” can calm nerves and reduce speculation.

Actively monitor social media content

One wonderful thing about social media is immediate feedback. One of the biggest drawbacks about social media is the opportunity for false news to spread and cause alarm. Avoid this by monitoring any replies you get to your messages and conducting basic searches for posts relating to your emergency. You can squash any rumors that may appear, but also learn helpful information that you may be able to re-post to share with your audience. Parents, emergency management, or the news may post useful information.

Murch Elementary posted 12 updates in the span of 1 hour and 40 minutes during a recent shelter-in-place event associated with a bomb threat at a nearby facility. Their posts were clear, timely, and took into account parent feedback.

Maintaining a social media presence is a big responsibility. For those that are up to the challenge, it can, though, create an invaluable communication tool between you and key stakeholders during an emergency.


Learn more from SEC Founder and CEO, Jason Russell, on December 7th as we discuss Terrorism or Lone Wolf – Does it Matter? Joining as facilitators are Firestorm EVP/COO, Hart Brown and  Vice President and Medical Director for R3 Continuum, Dr. George Vergolias. The two-hour session is the final Firestorm virtual exercise of 2017. The no-fee session will test organization’s crisis plans in real time. Gather your teams around a conference table and join us from 2-4 p.m. ET.

About Secure Education Consultants (SecureEd):

SecureEd is a team of highly trained former US Secret Service Agents who design and train staff members on an emergency and critical incident response plan customized for their school, child care center, or business. SecureEd offers site assessments, emergency preparedness plans and critical incident training to schools and child care centers, corporate organizations and churches and faith based institutions. Learn more about SecureEd.

About Jason Russell, Founder/President/CEO of SecureEd:

Jason is the founder of Secure Education Consultants, LLC (SEC) and is its President and Chief Executive Officer.  He is responsible for overseeing all company operations, product development, and quality assurance. SEC is headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan and serves 100’s of clients in over 30 states.

Prior to founding SEC, Jason served with the United States Secret Service as a Special Agent. During his tenure, Jason was involved in protective and investigative assignments as well as protecting the President and Vice President along with all living former Presidents. In addition to protection assignments, Jason served as the Secret Service Lead Instructor at the International Law Enforcement Academy, a Physical Fitness Coordinator, and on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Jason began his law enforcement career with the Lansing Police Department (LPD). While with the LPD, Jason was recognized with a lifesaving award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Jason has worked on the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force, and various multi-jurisdictional enforcement initiatives.

Jason is a frequent Keynote and content speaker at conferences on the topics of emergency preparedness, active shooter response, and safety and security process.  Jason additionally has taught criminal investigation and security courses as an adjunct professor.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jason holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Western Michigan University and his Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice and Security Management from Michigan State University.

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