Communicating during calamities
“It doesn’t matter if myself or the deputy principals are away, each one can step in and take the lead when an emergency situation occurs at school.”
Wiremu Elliot, Principal
Lytton High School is Gisborne’s largest co-educational school, with a roll of around 750 students. “We enact our mission statement ‘together to excellence’ by the building of an outstanding place where outstanding people are nurtured and flourish,” says Principal, Wiremu Elliot.
Need: A way to communicate effectively with parents during unexpected events
Lytton High School diligently carry out emergency drills. Alarm bells, evacuation zones, and ticking students off a register all run smoothly. However, contacting parents was never practiced during a drill.
Following two unexpected events within a month of each other, Lytton High recognised the need to establish more effective emergency communication methods. First, there was a school bomb threat. Then a couple of weeks later, a plane crash knocked out power lines and cut electricity to Gisborne for several days. Schools were in operation on the Monday when the power went out at around 9:15am. Lytton High School staff made the decision to continue classes as usual (unplugged). However, since there was uncertainty around when the power would be back on, the school decided to be close the following day. Communicating this with parents was difficult.
Laptops with a couple of hours of battery remaining were gathered to post on the school Facebook page, and notes were also hand written for students to take home to parents. However, there was no guarantee that parents would check the Facebook page or receive a note.
“We had this list of every student and their family phone numbers in KAMAR, but knew that it 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, rather than just posting on Facebook.”
The situation sparked Wiremu 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.”
An emergency alert app seemed like the perfect solution. “That whole idea of doing it on the phone – that’s just magic,” says Wiremu.
Solution: An easy-to-use emergency app for texting
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. “They were really responsive and talked me through in layman’s terms - there’s nothing worse than getting the techie talk!”
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.
An easy-to-use and reliable method of contacting parents during an emergency was important for Lytton High School staff. “As much as possible you want to keep your system simple,” says Wiremu. “School-links is seamless, it works really smoothly.
Outcome: Having the ability to communicate disruptions to parents brings peace of mind
Having the School-links Emergency Alerts app on key staff’s smartphones gives Wiremu peace of mind that their communication system is robust. “It doesn’t matter if myself or the deputy principals are away, each one can step in and take the lead when an emergency situation occurs at school.”
“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. A lot of these other apps look real nice, they’re cool, but I could see that you’d have difficulties integrating your SMS”.
“School-links is smooth, easy, and quick,” says Wiremu. “I wouldn’t have any hesitation recommending it.”