The Winter storm 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 unexpectedly
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 early childhood centre 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 A number of times we found that the numbers given to us were either out of date or incorrect.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.
#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:
Do we have access to up-to-date family contact details?
Can we access this information off-site?
Do we have the ability to send emergency messages without access to power or centre WiFi?
Can we send out a message to all parents instantly?
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.