Social media can help school leaders communicate effectively and quickly during emergencies—and these tools also can help leaders monitor a developing crisis.

All it takes is a quick read of the headlines to recognize the added stress on all educators and students as they deal with the potential for violence. Today’s news contains a rising number of stories about disruption at our schools—from an altercation between staff or students to disastrous events like shootings.

It’s important for school leaders to understand basic crisis management principles—and how social media might play a role in the event of a crisis, for better or worse. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Identify the risks

Technology isn’t very useful in mitigating a crisis unless it is part of a larger integrated plan, and the backbone of a good crisis plan is the ability to define potential threats. Administrators should conduct a baseline exercise that takes into account multiple types of crises, including crime, natural disasters, illness, infrastructure failure, and mass events such as terrorism. Review the school’s physical location and its inherent risks—a school in California, for example, is more prone to earthquakes than one in the Midwest.

Group the risks into four categories:

  • Highly damaging and likely to happen (address these first)
  • Minimally damaging, but likely to happen
  • Highly damaging, but unlikely to happen
  • Minimally damaging and unlikely to happen (address these last)

Categorize employee roles and responsibilities with regard to risks they face—teachers and students will face different risks than cafeteria or office employees. Consider a human asset management program that helps track staff and student locations to identify any missing in the event of an emergency, which can help to direct first responders.

Create a plan and decide the role of technology

The final agreed-upon crisis plan should detail step-by-step response protocols, as well as appropriate technologies, resources, and roles for each staff position. This becomes a blueprint for action during a crisis and, as simple as it sounds, it’s always comforting to have a written plan amid chaos.