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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.

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.

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.

Is your school prepared for unruly weather and uncertain circumstances?

September, 2015

photo-1432927994002-af88b5da76a2

Spring is usually an unruly time of year, weather-wise. But with the recent Central North Island lockdown and Upper Hutt shooting, school communities around New Zealand are also seriously discussing emergency procedures beyond the realms of weather events and natural disasters.

Like the famous scout motto declares, “Be prepared”.

Encourage the school community with the notion that being prepared for emergencies will bring a sense of security and control rather than fear, during a real event.

However, it is easy to get into a state of complacency when nothing out of the ordinary happens over a long period of time.

Fire drills conducted half-heartedly; Emergency procedures glossed over when training new staff members; Discovering flat batteries in the Megaphone!

Although some may find practising drills and reading over emergency procedure tedious, being familiar with the protocol will reduce stress and help procedures to run smoothly during an actual emergency.

As winter draws to a close, it is an optimum time for reflection and evaluation on how the school community reacted to any unscheduled school closures, weather warnings and emergencies.

  • Did parents block up the phone lines by ringing the school or did they understand that texts and emails are also school channels of communication?
  • Did students know where to assemble when an earthquake happened during morning tea time?
  • Did staff understand their responsibilities when the school went into lockdown or flooding made it evident the school needed to close immediately?
  • Did you have reliable technology and processes in place to quickly reassure parents and communicate actions to take?

Dedicate Spring as a time to understand where your Emergency Procedure Plan is lacking and refresh school staff, parents and students around protocol and responsibilities.

 

Whitepaper-coverLearn 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’.

Want to learn more? Enquire now.

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