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4 emergency communication must-haves for early childhood centres

March, 2018

emergency communication for early childhood centres

Cyclone season is upon us and singing “rain, rain go away, come again another day…” isn’t likely to stop it.

Disruptive weather, natural disasters and other emergencies aren’t uncommon experiences for Kiwi children at early learning centres. That’s why a water-tight communication strategy comes in handy, when it’s not business-as-usual for your centre.

Parents need to be informed quickly and effectively during a disruptive weather event if:

  • You decide to not open your centre that day
  • You need to close the centre during a week day unexpectantly
  • There are potential hazards when travelling to the centre (e.g. road closure)
  • You feel the need to assure parents that their children are safe

Ensure your emergency communication strategy includes the following:

#1 Release guidelines

If a centre has to be evacuated during the day, it is important to include ‘release guidelines’ in your emergency communication plan, which should not only guide the staff on when and to whom to release the children, but also who not to hand the children over to.

#2 Correct contact details

To maintain seamless communication with all concerned, it is imperative that your ECC keeps multiple communication mediums handy, as well as contact details of all parents.

“It certainly helps to keep relentlessly updating the contact information. A number of times we found that the numbers given to us were either out of date or incorrect. There are also special cases where children are in split custody, which makes it important for us to have the contact details of both parents.” says Nadine Bashford, centre manager at Redwood Early Childhood Centre in Christchurch.

#3 Multiple communication channels

“Earlier, in an emergency such as school closure due to snow, we would actually just come in and leave a message on the answering machine, saying that we were closed for the day. We still do that, but in addition, we can now send out texts from the School-links system,” says Rebecca, from Fairleigh Kindergarten.

The Fairleigh Kindergarten team has developed an understanding of the benefits of using different mediums of communication for different situations. They have found that e-mails are good for when they need to deliver detailed information, and sending a text to parents’ cell-phones works well when a short, urgent message needs to be sent out.

Check out this flowchart to help you decide what communication channel works best in certain situations.

#4 Reliable communication technology

During emergencies, you need reliable and robust communication mechanisms that will send out alerts to parents in the form of text messages or emails and confirm that the messages have been delivered.

Five questions all centres should be able to answer ‘yes’ to:

  1. Do we have access to up-to-date family contact details?
  2. Can we access this information off-site?
  3. Do we have the ability to send emergency messages without access to power or centre WiFi?
  4. Can we send out a message to all parents instantly?
  5. Can we confirm that parents received the message?

If you answer no to any of the above questions, it may be time to evaluate your emergency communication plan.

Rebecca at Fairleigh Kindergarten says, “I would definitely recommend having a system like School-links. It is not a very expensive system, yet it gives us and the parent’s peace of mind. It is helpful to respond to parents with confidence when they come in and ask what sort of communication plans we have in place, and to be able to tell them that we have School-links and all their contact details are loaded in to it.”

The School-links Emergency Alert App is a reliable, easy and fast way to communicate parents during an emergency from any computer or smart device. Over 500 New Zealand early childhood centres and schools use School-links Emergency Alert when they need to get a message through to parents urgently and reliably.

Watch the video below or visit the Emergency Alerts page for more information.

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

February, 2018

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

The Jurassic Park movie would have ended a lot differently if the park coordinators had come up with a more robust emergency plan in the event of the power going out.

Although school emergency communication strategies don’t really need to plan for ‘in the event of cloned dinosaurs escaping’, we recommend for New Zealand schools to have reliable communication methods in place for the following situations:

  • Epidemic outbreaks
  • Floods
  • Cyclones
  • Fires
  • Earthquakes
  • Snow storms
  • Lock downs
  • Power outages

A student management system alone is not sufficient for emergencies

During an emergency or other disruptive event, schools are not only responsible for the safety of students, but also for communicating with parents to inform them of the situation and give them peace of mind.

For a few of these situations, (like epidemic outbreaks), it is probable that you would still have easy access to the school building and therefore, the computers. In this case, a messaging system from your SMS would suffice.

However, what if there was a power cut or the WiFi went out? What if there was a fire, earthquake or lockdown and you couldn’t access the school office? Would you still be able to get a message out to all parents quickly and easily using your SMS?

Real emergencies need purpose-built emergency messaging

New Zealand schools are generally confident with their method of communication…until an actual emergency occurs, and they realise there’s serious areas that need improvement.

This is precisely what happened to Wiremu Elliot, Principal of Lytton High School in Gisborne.

“We’ve got this list of every student and their family phone numbers in KAMAR, but that would be a nightmare to call or text everyone individually,” says Wiremu. “We had all these emergency processes but had never actually had to do a real one, it’s always been drills. So when it actually happened, that really highlighted the need to find a better way of getting that more personal contact.”

There was also the concern of trying to communicate to parents without power or access to school computers.

“It’s easy to post a message on Facebook but in an emergency what if we don’t have access to a computer? What if we have to evacuate?” questions Wiremu, “We were looking for smarter ways to do this.”

You can read more about Lytton High School’s emergency communication transformation in their case study.

Wiremu raised some good points.

It is important for your school have an easy strategy to inform parents about a closure or emergency that doesn’t rely on power or onsite computer access. It is much simpler to send out a mass message rather than contact each family individually. You also need visibility of any parents who did not receive your message and try to contact them another way. All these necessities can be accomplished through the right technology and processes being put in place.

How do you know if your communication channels are a bit ‘prehistoric’? Ask yourself the following.

Five questions to ask about your school communication strategy

  1. Do we have access to up-to-date family contact details?
  2. Can we access this information off-site?
  3. Do we have the ability to send emergency messages without access to power or school WiFi?
  4. Does our methodology allow us to send out a message to all parents instantly?
  5. Can we confirm that parents received the message?

If you answer no to any of the above questions, it may be time to evaluate your emergency communication plan.

The School-links Emergency Alert App is a reliable, easy to use and fast way to communicate parents during an emergency from your smart phone. Over 500 New Zealand schools and Early Childhood Centres are able to use School-links Emergency Alert system when they need to get a message through to parents urgently and reliably.

Watch the video below or visit the Emergency Alerts page for more information.

The calm during the storm: how communication tools can minimise disruption to your school community

August, 2017

Most of New Zealand has been battered by storms over the last few weeks, from ice and snow closing roads to rain causing flooding, slips and states of emergency being declared across multiple cities and regions.

Fortunately for schools, a lot of this disruption happened during the school holidays. However, forecasters predict that we will likely experience more wild weather this winter, and with the grounds already saturated, it won’t take much to unsettle things again.

Emergency communications checklistDownload the New Zealand school emergency communication check-list.

It is a timely reminder for New Zealand schools to review their communications plans around disruptive weather events, and how they can could impact their school community – such as forced closures or creating dangerous travel conditions. Trying to understand how the the school community reacted to any unscheduled school closures, weather warnings and emergencies is useful:

  • Did parents understand that texts and emails are also school channels of communication and did not clog the phonelines ringing in?
  • Was the school able to warn parents about hazards or road closures that could affect their travel time to school?
  • Did staff understand their responsibilities when flooding made it evident the school needed to close immediately?
  • Did the school have reliable technology and processes in place to quickly reassure parents and communicate actions to take?

If you answered no to any of these questions, may need to implement a system that allows you to communicate to your school community in a quick, efficient and cost-effective manner. School administrators need to be the calm during the storm and ease concerns of parents, students and staff by keeping them updated and informed.

To help encourage effortless communication no matter the situation your school is facing, make sure your plan has the following features:

1. Remote access

Having remote access to a contacts list database will allow staff to access contact details immediately, wherever they may be. The easiest way to do this is by having your database accessible online. This way you don’t need to send anyone in to the school to send out a message – you just need access to the internet.

2. The ability to send one mass message

The most efficient way to notify parents of your school’s closure is to send out one mass notification message to a whole database. Sending an e-mail or text message, rather than relying on website notifications or phone trees, will save a lot of time and resources.

3. Delivery reports

Delivery reports are confirmations that show when each parent receives the text or e-mail. This will notify school staff of any parent who hasn’t received the message and alert them to take action to contact them by another communication channel.

4. Parents have confidence the school will contact them

Constantly remind parents that in the event of a school closure, the school will notify them. If parents do not know that they will be contacted by you, many will attempt to call the school to find out what is happening, resulting in the school phone system being inundated with calls and extra stress put on administration staff.

Being prepared now will save you from having even more stress during an already disruptive situation in the future. Click here to learn more about Newlands School’s experience during the Wellington 2016 earthquake and flooding and how they were able to “stomp on the rumours” and confusion at the time by using effective communication tools.

Learn more about school emergency procedures and lessons New Zealand schools have learned, in the white paper ‘Kia Kaha! Staying in control and effectively responding to emergencies at school’.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android

July, 2017

The School-links Emergency Alerts App allows schools to quickly and easily contact parents, caregivers, students and staff in an emergency. This video shows you how to use the App.

 

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to use the Emergency Alerts app on your smartphone or tablet.

Use the Emergency Alerts App to send text messages to staff, caregivers and students in minutes. You will then receive real-time delivery reports to enable you to identify parents who may need to be contacted by phone or email.

If you are unable to enter the school building or if the school network has taken a hit, you can use any smart device on the mobile network.

Examples of use include:

  • school closures
  • natural disasters
  • alerting staff and students to a lockdown unobtrusively

Accessing the Emergency Alerts App

  1. Tap the ‘My Schools’ app icon on your smartphone or tablet.
  2. Tap your School-links account. Note: the first time you log in you will be asked for your username and password, but from then on you will just need your pin code.
  3. If you are linked to more than one school, you will see all the schools listed.
  4. Choose the appropriate school and select ‘Visit as ‘Master’ and your previous messages will display, if any.

How to type an alert

  1. Tap the plus symbol in the top right corner.
  2. Type a message up to 160 characters.
  3. Include the school name or a recognised shortcode, preferably at the beginning of the message, so that parents have confidence about the source and can identify which child/school the message concerns.
  4. Note: in a critical emergency situation, you may not have time to review replies. We recommend that if you have characters available then add ‘Do Not Reply’ or similar.
  5. Click ‘Save’ to come back to the message later or click ‘Save and send’ to broadcast the message immediately.

How to send an alert

  1. First, select your target audience. You can select more than one. Tap again to de-select if you make a mistake. Note that you cannot drill down any further e.g. to year level – messages will simply be sent to everyone in this category.
  2. To send, tap ‘Broadcast Now’. You cannot stop the message after this point. If you do want to edit it before broadcasting, select the back arrow in the top left.
  3. Once you have tapped ‘broadcast’, you will see the message at the top of the list of messages. It will say ‘pending’. After a few moments, if you refresh your screen or go back to the Visit as Master screen and select ‘visit as master’ the message status will say ‘broadcast’.
  4. If you have saved a message previously, it will show up in this list as a draft. You can tap on the message to edit it or broadcast it.

How to access the delivery report

  1. To access a delivery report, log in as previously and tap on the message.
  2. You will see how many were delivered successfully, how many failed and any replies, if you requested a reply.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via our online support forum or free phone number.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – iPhone/iPad

July, 2017

The School-links Emergency Alerts App allows schools to quickly and easily contact parents, caregivers, students and staff in an emergency. This video shows you how to use the App.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Apple/iPhone/iPad from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to use the Emergency Alerts app on your iPhone or iPad.

Use the Emergency Alerts App to send text messages to staff, caregivers and students in minutes. You will then receive real-time delivery reports to enable you to identify parents who may need to be contacted by phone or email.

If you are unable to enter the school building or if the school network has taken a hit, you can use any smart device on the mobile network.

Examples of use include:

  • school closures
  • natural disasters
  • alerting staff and students to a lockdown unobtrusively

Accessing the Emergency Alerts App

  1. Tap the ‘My Schools’ app icon on your iphone or ipad.
  2. Note: the first time you log in you will be asked for your username and password, but from then on you will just need your pin code.
  3. If you are linked to more than one school, you will see all the schools listed.
  4. Choose the appropriate school and select ‘Visit as Master User’ and your previous messages will display, if any.

How to type an alert

  1. Tap the ‘new message’ icon in the top right corner
  2. Type a message up to 160 characters.
  3. Include the school name or a recognised shortcode, preferably at the beginning of the message, so that parents have confidence about the source and can identify which child/school the message concerns.
  4. Note: in a critical emergency situation, you may not have time to review replies. We recommend that if you have characters available then add ‘Do Not Reply’ or similar.
  5. Click ‘Save’ to come back to the message later or click ‘Save and broadcast’ to send the message immediately.

How to send an alert

  1. First, select your target audience. You can select more than one. Tap again to de-select if you make a mistake. Note that you cannot drill down any further e.g. to year level – messages will simply be sent to everyone in this category.
  2. To send, tap ‘Broadcast’. You cannot stop the message after this point. If you do want to edit it before broadcasting, select back to ‘Alerts’ in the top left.
  3. Once you have tapped ‘broadcast’, you will see the message and the status will read ‘queued for broadcast’. After a few moments, if you refresh your screen by dragging it down the message status will say ‘broadcast’.
  4. If you have saved a message previously, it will show up in this list as a draft. You can tap on the message to edit it or broadcast it.

How to access the delivery report

  1. To access a delivery report, log in as previously and tap on the message.
  2. You will see how many were delivered successfully, how many failed and any replies, if you requested a reply. As before you can drag the screen down to refresh.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via our online support forum or free phone number.

 

How to download the School-links Emergency Alerts App for Apple

July, 2017

How to download the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Apple from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to download the Emergency Alerts app to your iPhone or iPad.

Note: to send email and text messages using the Emergency Alerts App you will need a Master level account in School-links. You should obtain this from School-links support prior to downloading the app.

  • To find the App open the Play Store on your device and select ‘search’
  • Type ‘School-links’ (It is important to include the hyphen as there is another unrelated app also called ‘school links.’)
  • You will see ‘School-links Emergency Admin’
  • Tap on this to proceed.
  • Now tap on ‘install’
  • You now have the App and will see the sign in screen. There will also be a School-links icon on your phone.
  • Now you can log in and get started

If you have any questions or wish to create a Master Level account please contact School-links support.

How to download the School-links Emergency Alerts App for Android

July, 2017

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to download the Emergency Alerts app to your Android phone or tablet.

Note: to send email and text messages using the Emergency Alerts App you will need a Master level account in School-links. You should obtain this from School-links support prior to downloading the app.

  • To find the App open the Play Store on your device and select search.
  • Type School-links. It is important to include the hyphen as there is another unrelated app also called ‘school links.’
  • You will see ‘School-links Emergency Admin’ (by Devine Systems Ltd, a School-links contractor).
  • Tap on this to proceed.
  • Now tap on ‘install’.
  • You now have the App and will see the sign in screen. There will also be a School-links icon on your phone.
  • Now you can log in and get started.

If you have any questions or wish to create a Master Level account please contact School-links support.

School-links at MUSAC Conference

May, 2017

MUSAC is a key provider of software-as-a-service solutions to the education sector in New Zealand. As a Ministry of Education accredited provider of school management software, MUSAC provides schools with an extensive suite of applications for the administration of all school types. This includes administration and management of assessments, curriculum, attendance, students, staff, library resources, finances and asset management.

School-links completes the circle between your edge (SMS) and your community, allowing you to send and receive Early Notification texts directly from edge.

In the lead up to the MUSAC conference on 1-2 June 2017 in Christchurch, we are putting the spotlight on the School-links Emergency App.

Schools need to be able to quickly and easily contact caregivers, teachers and students in the event of an emergency. From weather events, to lockdowns or natural disasters, schools have a responsibility to ensure that parents are kept informed of the situation, direct from the horse’s mouth, rather than via news or social media.

We have simplified our pricing model and now have pricing tiers for what type of school you are. This gives you access to our whole communications suite.

If you were just interested in the emergency app, you can get it stand-alone for $49 per month.

Come and talk to us at our stand at the conference and we can give you a demonstration on how it works. We are also involved in the Early Notification presentation on the Thursday afternoon (1st June) with our EN specialist, Keith Mockett. We would love to see you there.

Lytton High School’s power to communicate during power outages

March, 2017

In December 2016 Gisborne lost power for two days after a plane crashed into major power lines for the town. 40,000 people were left without electricity and sharing updates and news with each other became difficult.

The situation sparked Wiremu Elliot, Principal of Lytton High School, to seriously investigate better ways to contact parents during power outages and other unexpected events. “It’s easy to post a message on Facebook but in an emergency what if we don’t have access to a computer? What if we have to evacuate?” questions Wiremu, “We were looking for smarter ways to do this.”

As soon as the power was back on, Wiremu contacted School-links to discuss their Emergency Alert platform that can be used for remote messaging.

Their Emergency App was quickly set up using the School-links smart data-export facility for KAMAR users into their emergency platform. This provided Wiremu and his management team with a fast remote messaging facility to connect with their parents and caregivers – all via their smart-phones.

“I know there’s a lot of messaging apps out there, but this one is great because it can talk to KAMAR, and that’s important for us. That means that our information is as accurate as our information in KAMAR is,” says Wiremu.

Learn more about Lytton High School’s experience implementing School-links Emergency App in the full case study. Click here to download.

How Newlands School ‘stomped’ on the rumours during Wellington’s wild week

January, 2017

It is not uncommon for New Zealand schools to occasionally have to deal with the repercussions of a flood or earthquake, but in November 2016, Newlands School in Wellington unfortunately experienced both within a few days.

School Office Administrator, Megan Chisholm describes in our case study how, even amidst the chaos, they were able to easily communicate the school’s open status with their community using School-links.

“There was so much uncertainty in the community,” says Megan. “There were mixed messages coming from local authorities, other organisations, the media and the grapevine, so some people thought that all schools were closed that day.”

Although it was a chaotic week, the school was commended on its ability to communicate effectively with families throughout. “It just went so smoothly because wherever we were we knew we could get a message out quickly,” says Megan. “We used School-links to communicate the facts and stomp on the rumours. Parents knew exactly what we were doing. Whereas I know with some other schools there was a lot of confusion about what was going on.”

Learn more about Newlands School’s experience during the Wellington 2016 earthquake and flooding in the full case study. Click here to download.

Want to learn more? Enquire now.

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