Whether it’s an impending closure, a last-minute schedule change for dismissal, or an important message that needs to get out to parents ASAP, a school's mass notification system needs to reach everyone, everywhere, all from one system —and it can be a saving grace.
An emergency never happens when it's convenient, and for some schools, random, unexpected events highlight the importance of timely and urgent school communications.
Murphy's Law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and a single system that can contact parents and stakeholders with the flexibility to send text alerts, emails, voice calls, and post website and mobile app notifications for any urgent communication is essential — no matter how seemingly trivial or strange. Sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction.
While some of these weird (but true) stories of school closings and weather alerts are comical and lighthearted, planning for emergencies and urgent messages is a serious matter that can’t be an afterthought. You never know when your school might encounter…
A Moose on the Loose
A Canadian school briefly went into lockdown after a moose crashed into an elementary classroom. Students and faculty fled, leaving the injured moose in the classroom until officials could tranquilize the animal, remove it from the building, and release it back into the wild. Oh, Canada...
The Need: Rapid dissemination of information to ensure parents are aware of the ongoing situation and know that students are safe.
The Approach: Send an immediate text alert to parents regarding the lockdown, followed by a voice message for a detailed update. The school's website and email could also feature more information and further updates.
Example: "Dear Parents, we want to inform you that an unusual incident occurred today with a moose entering our school. All students and faculty are safe."
A Bear-y Interesting Day at School
Not to be outdone by the moose, a bear made its way onto the grounds of a Maryland school, placing the campus on a brief, modified lockdown. Students and staff were kept inside before it was determined the bear had moved on. Students were dismissed as usual later in the day with additional supervision from school administrators and staff members.
The Need: Assurance to parents about their child’s safety and keeping families updated.
The Approach: Urgent communications like text and voice messages sent to a mobile device and emails can provide updates about the event, the actions taken, and reassurance about your school’s lockdown procedures.
Example: "Bear sighting on campus this morning. Students safe inside. Normal dismissal with increased supervision."
Sprinklers Spoil Opening Night
Students at a Pennsylvania school switched to virtual learning after the water from the sprinkler system drenched the school's theater just 24 hours before the opening night of its musical.
A cable had broken a sprinkler head, pouring water onto the stage. But the show must go on, right? Performances were rescheduled, and in an update to families, the district sent notifications that the production's props, costumes, and instruments weren't damaged.
The Need: Inform parents about the incident and the postponement of the production.
The Approach: A website notification informs about the event’s postponement. A detailed email explains the situation and ensures parents know about plans for rescheduling the performances.
Example: "Opening night of musical postponed due to unexpected sprinkler activation. Check for rescheduled dates."
Freak Snow Storm Strands 8,000 Students
In 2014, three inches of snow were enough to blindside nearly 8,000 students across Georgia and Alabama. The “freak” storm forced school buses to return to their respective schools, where students spent the night and were told to "shelter in place" until the morning.
The Need: To avoid panic, keep parents informed during an ongoing weather emergency.
The Approach: A real-time text alert gives instant info about the buses returning, and a voice message provides a more comprehensive explanation of the situation and your school's response. You’d also want to provide ongoing updates through emails and website updates.
Example: "Unexpected snowstorm. Buses returned to schools. Students are safe and sheltering in place. Check email."
Skunks Make a Stink
Elementary school students were forced to “abandon their classrooms” after skunks sprayed their way through a crawl space at the school. Students and staff relocated to different makeshift classrooms throughout the district to continue learning while the skunks were relocated, and the smell could dissipate.
*Fun Fact*: Although it smells nasty, there aren't toxins in a skunk's spray.
The Need: Communication about an unexpected disruption and assurance about the students' health.
The Approach: Immediate text and mobile app notification about the relocation, followed by an email explaining the situation, the actions taken, and health assurances.
Example: "Skunk incident in school. Temporary classroom changes are in effect. No health risks."
Send in the Clowns…
A school was placed in lockdown after a reported clown sighting near its campus in the western Washington State area. Eventually, a student was expelled, and one arrest was made when authorities determined a teen participated in a string of clown-related threats.
The Need: Ensure parents are aware of the situation and understand the security measures in place.
The Approach: An email and text alert would communicate the lockdown. An update would follow, offering a breakdown of the event and subsequent actions.
Example: "School on brief lockdown due to external threats. Situation under control and students are safe. Check email for updates.”
Spiders Crawling Across Campus
As if middle schoolers didn’t have enough to worry about, they can now add “spiders” to the list…A Wisconsin school temporarily closed after spiders bit a student and a teacher, according to a local news report.
In the letter to families, an official said the school would be closed temporarily to work with a pest control company to eradicate a yellow sac spider infestation. More than 30 spiders were found in multiple school classrooms, according to the report.
The Need: Inform families about an unexpected closure and assure the health and safety of students.
The Approach: A text alert announces the closure, followed by a voice message elaborating on the reason, actions being taken, and reassurances regarding student safety.
Example: "Temporary school closure due to infestation. Students and staff safe."
And Finally…. A “Meteor” Makes a Crash Landing
A school community went into panic mode after several images of an apparent “meteor” that crashed into a playground in Tasmania, Australia, were shared on social media. The event turned out to be a staged simulation for students as part of the school’s Meteorite Discovery Day. Local city officials released a statement reassuring its community that a meteor did not crash land on the school’s grounds.
The Need: Counter misinformation in the community and provide a factual account.
The Approach: A text and mobile app notification addresses the rumors. An email could address the confusion, explain the activity, and clarify misconceptions.
Example: "No meteor crash at school. The event was a planned school activity — Situation under control."
Planned for the unexpected. No matter how unusual the situation is, by using the multi-channel capabilities of a mass notification system, schools can send urgent alerts, inform their communities, and ensure that all stakeholders are kept updated during even the most unexpected events.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.