Planning for Life’s Little Emergencies

Crisis Whisperer Crisis in the ClassroomCrisis communications are not just for catastrophic events. The techniques used by crisis communicators help manage small events and can minimize them and their impact.

In a story coming from Las Vegas, during a soft lockdown due to a suspicious person reported on or near the Ruth Fyfe Elementary School campus on May 14, a young girl was required to relieve herself in a classroom wastebasket. Naturally, she was embarrassed and her mother was incensed.

Unfortunately, the Clark County School District responded to the situation by putting out a statement that only added fuel to the fire by speaking bureaucrat. This situation could have been handled differently with a better outcome.

While it’s terrific the school had emergency procedures in place to protect students and staff, consideration should have been given for life’s little emergencies. We can all agree that, in the grand scheme of things, protecting children from an unknown potential assailant is priority number one.  I believe the teacher had this in mind and tried to make the best out of a situation she had not been faced with nor trained for.

On the flip side, if this had been an active shooter situation and the child had been harmed after being released to use the lavatory, the teacher and the school district would probably be looking at some serious lawsuits. No one wants to be in that embarrassing situation, especially children. But when faced with the possibility of bodily harm or embarrassment, I think I’d make the same choice as the teacher.  However, and I think all school systems need to use this as a teachable moment, lockdown procedures should address what to do when nature calls and the children and staff should be informed what to do.

The published Clark County School District statement was a missed opportunity. On the positive side, the District explained what the lockdown was, why the incident occurred and what the next steps were.  But it didn’t go far enough.

The School District should have expressed sympathy over the situation. Sympathy is not an expression of guilt; it is a means of reaching out to and connecting with your audience. It is okay to say something akin to “We regret that this situation took place…” following it by the why and next steps. It is important that you validate what the audience–and particularly the other party–is feeling. Don’t patronize, sympathize.

Then the School District should have humanized its comments. It would be even better if its spokesperson was a parent and could go on air to say, “The School District regrets that this situation took place. My daughter would feel exactly the same way, but, as a mother, I am glad that the teacher would chose her safety. The Clark County School District is committed to protecting its students. We’re going back to the drawing board to ensure that our plan for big emergencies also takes into account life’s little emergencies for the safety and well-being of all our students.”  Safety is your key message. Use it. Repeat it.

An embarrassing local story went viral, but it could have been mitigated if the fundamentals of crisis communications had been employed.