School Safety » School Safety Resources

School Safety Resources

Control Your Media Message

Control Your Media Message:  8 Things to Say After a Crisis

How to prepare your team now

At some point during your career, it’s likely that you’ll have to talk to the press.  Having a plan in place is crucial.  Because when you have a crisis at hand, the last thing you need is additional headaches.  That’s what Clark County School Police LT. Ken Young recently told attendees at the National School Safety Conference in Las Vegas.

Who does the talking?

You have a team of people to help you prepare for addressing the press.  Some examples may include the superintendent, the principal, the chief of police and the district’s public information officer (PIO).

Most of the time, the circumstances of the situation dictate who should act as the speaker.

For example, if you have a criminal situation, such as an active shooter incident, a police officer is likely going to take the podium.

If you have an employment issue, such as rumors about a teacher’s inappropriate conduct, a district administrator might be the way to go.

However you proceed, you’ll want to let that person do all the talking.  By maintaining one voice, your entire team is working as a unit.  If more than one person talks to the media, then you risk having contradictory messages being fed to the public.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The old adage, “Practice makes perfect,” is the name of the game.  Use fictional scenarios to help you recognize what can – and can’t – be revealed to the public.

In the session, Young presented hypothetical situations:

   ·  A student was hospitalized after allegedly being hit by an SRO.  The incident stemmed from a food fight.  Rumors indicate the highly decorated veteran officer used racial slurs during the incident.

   ·  There’s a report of gun in a classroom.  Rumors indicate two special education students were observed passing the weapon back and forth.  Sources say a teacher confiscated the gun and placed it in a secure location.  A video of the incident was posted on social media.

How will you handle questions about unfounded rumors?  Do you expect questions that might lead to FERPA violations?

Press Conferences: 8-step Plan

Here’s how to hold an effective press conference, according to Young:

   · Walk to the podium and introduce yourself and team members by name and title.  Whenever possible, one person should do the talking to present a united voice to the media.

   ·  State what happened.  Show empathy when appropriate.  For example, “We had an unfortunate incident where a student had to be transported to a local hospital.”

   ·   List the things you cannot talk about until the investigation is completed.  Examples may include the names of victim, students and staff involved, medical conditions, unfounded rumors, etc.

   ·  Briefly explain details about the incident.  The press will expect answers about who, what, when, where, and how.  Use vague terminology.  For example, when stating “who,” say “a student” rather than the student’s name.

   ·  Ask for questions.  Tenacious reporters may ask questions you said you wouldn’t answer.  Remind them, “As I stated at the start of the press conference, I can’t answer that until we’ve completed our investigation.”  Express reluctance about saying anything that might compromise the investigation.

   ·   Avoid the “No comment” answer.  A better option is to tell the press, “An investigation is ongoing.  We’ll know more once it’s complete.”

   ·  Listen for the PIO’s call for the “last question.”  The PIO will help you avoid questions that may have legal implications. (Think FERPA!)

   ·  End the press conference with the follow-up instructions, like whom to contact for follow-up or when you will have updated information, if appropriate in the situation.

School Safety & Security Alert

September 2015 Newsletter