Fairbanks North Star Borough School District

Crisis Communications Toolkit

Communication templates for principals and directors during crisis events.

Toolkit Purpose

The FNSBSD Crisis Communications Toolkit is intended to provide direction and support to Key Communicators (Principals and Directors) in times of crises of all types. Key Communicators in the district play a critical role in recognizing, mitigating, and responding to crises of all sorts, from bus accidents to contagious virus outbreaks to social media firestorms.

Based on the District Strategic Plan goal of Effective Communication and recommendations from the 2017 communications audit to “Improve message consistency and frame issues for clarity and transparency”, the CD&E Department has crafted the Crisis Communications toolkit as a resource for our Key Communicators in planning and organizing crisis communications.

7 Steps for Crisis Communication

Printable Google Doc: 7 Steps for Crisis Communications

Communicating before, during and after a crisis is important – not only when working with the media, but also with staff, parents, community members and other stakeholders. The following is a seven-step approach to help Key Communicators to:

  • Understand their communication role in an emergency
  • Follow and support FNSBSD policies and procedures
  • Know what communication actions to take

Depending on the intensity of the crisis, it is possible that all of these steps could be taken within the first hours of a crisis and then repeated as needed during the course of the situation.

STEP 1: Verify the Crisis

The first step is to determine what has happened (what, when, who, how, why), by coordinating at the site of the incident and immediately identifying as many facts as possible:

  • WHAT happened and WHERE did it happen?
  • WHEN did this happen?
  • WHO is involved?
  • HOW did it happen?
  • WHAT is currently being done?

When collecting the data consider the following:

  • Do you have all the facts (to the best of your knowledge)
  • What other information do you need to put the event into perspective?
  • Has the situation been confirmed?
  • Was your information source(s) credible?
  • Is information consistent from several sources?

In some cases, the media may be alerted to the situation before all of these facts can be determined. Even if you do not have all of the information yet, it is important to notify the district’s Crisis Communication Team as well as provide impacted families with a statement indicating that the situation is under investigation and that as soon as more information is available it will be provided.

Crisis Situations

Each crisis is unique, but there is an opportunity to become familiar with a variety of scenarios so that a potential crisis can be quickly recognized and addressed.

The district has identified a number of scenarios that could adversely impact safety of operations, safety of staff and students, and/or district reputation. These scenarios are not limited to but may include:

STEP 2: Notification and Assignments

As soon as crisis has been identified, Key Communicators should contact the Director of Public Relations or designee from CD&E. In the event of the PR Director’s absence, the Executive Director of CD&E or the Digital Communications Manager may fill this role.

NOTE: Even if the situation does not seem like it could cause community or media attention, it is important that the Director of Public Relations be informed. Crisis situations can escalate very quickly, and it is extremely important that the communication team stay up-to-date on the situation.

Communication Notification Steps

  1. School or department leader should immediately call the PR Director.
  2. The PR Director will coordinate contacting all members of the Crisis Communications Team.

STEP 3: Assess the Communication Crisis Level

Based on the level of communication required as listed in the criteria below, determine the crisis level of the situation.

STEP 4: Communication Management

Message Management

  • Schedule regular internal communication updates.
  • Identify key audiences.
  • Log all crisis inquiries from public and/or media.
  • Select and/or assign spokesperson(s)

Communication Logistics

  • Identify main on-site contact.
  • Establish a location for communications operation center.
  • Set up a site for the media away from the incident if possible

STEP 5: Develop Messages

Once the crisis level has been determined and factual information to be communicated has been confirmed, it is time to begin planning a response strategy for communicating critical information and for responding to potential questions for each audience. During this step, the Crisis Communications Team should:

  • Develop a script for conveying key information points.
  • Develop or refer to a list of questions that could be asked by a variety of audiences (families, media, partner organizations) about the crisis.
  • Modify pre-scripted message templates or develop new messages.
  • Be prepared to address the district’s or school’s record for the relevant crisis situation, e.g., responding to threats of violence, background checks of employees.
  • Identify the best methods for delivery of key messages.
  • Monitor crisis and update messages based on the crisis

STEP 6: Approve and Release Messages

Message Approval

Once messages are developed for each potential audience, all messages that will be distributed internally to employees and externally to the public, the media, etc., must be approved by the following individuals:

  • Director of Public Relations or designee
  • Legal Counsel/Advisor (if required by Superintendent)
  • Superintendent or designee

Message Release

Messages will be released through a variety of means and messengers and at various time frames, depending on the crisis. In crisis levels 3 or 4, the main statement or overarching message will come from the Superintendent and, if deemed appropriate, include a message of empathy and caring. Delivering messages to a broad range of people will often need to be a team effort. However, ALL messages should be coordinated with the Crisis Communications Team and channeled through the approval processes to make sure that they are in line with the overall messages and approved for release.

STEP 7: Monitor and Provide Feedback

During and after the crisis the PR Director will coordinate with the Crisis Communications Team to:

Review crisis coverage

  • Review media outlets that have inquired about the situation.
  • Review media within a designated area of the facility (distance depends on the nature of the event).
  • Review national and business media.
  • Conduct regular searches through Internet search sites for key words, such as the name of the school, the incident, people involved, etc.

Identify story trends

  • What is the main focus for the media?
  • Is the focus changing?
  • Are there patterns that indicate messages FNSBSD should be focusing on or responding to?

Identify public and key stakeholder issues

  • What are the major issues being addressed through the media?
  • What questions or concerns are being posed?
  • Incorporate lessons learned into crisis plan

During the crisis and afterward, lessons learned (e.g., what types of messages are needed, what approach the media takes to a certain type of story, what the media, public and shareholders are asking, etc.) should be noted to assist in planning and response for future situations.