Schools Rely on Social Media for Emergency Communications

To keep parents better informed about safety matters, one Florida school district partnered with law enforcement on an information system that distributes information via social media.

(TNS) — Thanks to the proliferation of cellphones and access to social media, misinformation sometimes is conveyed to parents of Pasco County, Fla., schoolchildren during emergencies and nonemergencies.

In the past, a school participating in a safety drill received frantic phone calls from worried parents whose children texted them to say the school was in a lockdown situation, which means there is a direct threat to the campus, staff or students, Superintendent Kurt Browning said.

“You know how the game of rumor goes,” Browning said. “A student will (send a tweet, text or other message) about guns being on campus, when there are no guns on campus.

“We want to start pushing the right information out.”

To keep parents better informed about safety matters, the school district recently partnered with Pasco sheriff’s officials to develop an information system that will dispense fast, accurate information via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the Internet, officials said.

When school starts Monday, “unified” information from the district and sheriff’s office will be available at the sheriff’s website, PascoSheriff.com/PascoSheriffSchoolSafety; on Instagram at www.instagram.com/pascosheriffschoolsafety; via Twitter: @PSOSchoolSafety and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pascosheriffschoolsafety, officials said at a news conference this week.

“There will be no guessing,” sheriff’s Capt. James Mallo said. “What hurts us most is confusion and rumor, and parents who can’t wait to get on campus to get their kids. We have to control that. There’s nothing more important than your child’s safety to the sheriff’s office and school district.”

Principals also have disseminated inaccurate information to the public, as they were bombarded by worried callers, Browning said, adding that also must stop.

“Principals, don’t use your Twitter or Facebook” to send messages regarding safety, Browning said. “You go about the business of keeping your students safe.”

Parents who are not as technologically savvy still can call schools on safety matters, as such information will be at the fingertips of school personnel, Browning said.

Whenever safety issues arise, the unified system will get the correct information out more quickly than in the past, officials said.

“It’s important for parents to join us in this partnership,” Browning said. “We hope parents will trust us to keep their kids safe.”

©2015 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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