Does your school use social media for emergency alerts?

Officials at the Atlanta Public School system reportedly used Twitter to alert parents to an emergency situation at Finch Elementary School this morning.  Some students and staff were overcome by carbon monoxide in the school. (See the AJC front page for updates on this story.)

According to The AJC:

“Just after 9 a..m., the school system tweeted the following: “Parents of students @APSFinch – We will provide more information regarding next steps at Finch Elementary as soon as possible.” A later tweet advised parents that students were being relocated to Brown Middle School on Peeples Street “due to potential hazmat concern.”

More from the story:

“At least 31 people were taken to local hospitals Monday after apparently being overcome by carbon monoxide at a southwest Atlanta elementary school.

The incident began about 8:30 a.m. at Finch Elementary School in the 1100 block of Avon Avenue near Lee Street.

“We received reports of five or six people unconscious,” Atlanta fire Capt. Marian McDaniel told the AJC. “Crews arriving on the scene did not encounter anyone that was unconscious, but there were several students and teachers feeling ill.”

McDaniel said 29 students were taken to Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding, while two adults — a teacher and a cafeteria worker — were also taken to local hospitals.

Fire and medical personnel were still evaluating the rest of the students at 10:30 a.m. Those who checked out okay were being transported to Brown Middle School….”

So my question is: Is your school using social media to alert parents to emergency situations?

I am really surprised the school system used Twitter and not a Facebook page for the school to alert parents. The percentage of people on Twitter is considerably smaller than the percentage on Facebook. Also Twitter is broad swath communicator that hits all people where as a Facebook page would only hit those parents interested in news about APS or Finch Elementary School. (If they used FB, we haven’t heard that from officials.)

Our school’s PTO has a Facebook page that they use very effectively for school events. They might post there as a secondary means of communication in an emergency but our school system usually uses robo calls for emergencies. For example, I get robo calls to my cell phone when children in the district have been approached by weirdos at bus stops or while going to school.

Now the university I work for has a text and email system that is constantly alerting users to robberies or fires or gas leaks. (I don’t know what in the heck is going on in their science buildings. There are constantly things leaking.) But you have to sign up to get the alerts.

How does your school communicate with parents in an emergency? Do they have a social media plan for emergencies? Are you following your school system or school on Twitter? How about on Facebook?

19 comments Add your comment

Techmom

December 3rd, 2012
11:57 am

We’ve never had a true emergency to be alerted about (thankfully) but most things are communicated via the “robocalls” (there was an outbreak of the flu before Thanksgiving and apparently parents were sending their kids to school sick). The school has a FB and Twitter account but they tend to stick to non-emergency announcements & reminders and they also post about cancelled events/games but again, nothing that I would consider an emergency.

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joeldm

December 3rd, 2012
12:25 pm

I don’t and won’t use Facebook because FB does not care about personal privacy. And even those who use FB would have to be actively checking their account in order to receive these alerts, something that many corporate networks block, so even if they wanted to they couldn’t, unless they did so by smartphone . . . at work and on company time. In many companies you could get in trouble doing that.

The beauty of Twitter is that if you subscribe to a school’s emergency Twitter feed you will receive that alert no matter where you are as long as you have cell service. Schools should set up an “alerts” account that is activated ONLY in the event of an emergency or some other exception to normal operations like a weather alert or lockdown.

Even better, there are paid services like EZTexting that sends out an SMS that is more reliable than Twitter, so if your goal is to reach all parents, SMS is the way to go either via the free Twitter or paid service.

Facebook? Use it to share pix of the Teacher of the Year and leave the emergency alerts to SMS and email.

JoeL

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 3rd, 2012
12:38 pm

The twitter gets lost in the shuffle — there are soooo many posts to scroll through — the text service for emergency is the way to go — that’s what the university I teach at does and I see it every time.

No Twitter @ Finch

December 3rd, 2012
12:49 pm

I’d say 0-3% of parents @ Finch use Twitter

DB

December 3rd, 2012
1:06 pm

We had emails, seemed to work well. Of course, people seem to change their email more than their Twitter account — maybe that’s why they decided to use that? Seems odd to go to Twitter. If your phone gets Twitter, it gets emails, and I’m more likely to pay attention to an email. We even got emails from their universities, which was good when there were campus-wide emergencies (i.e., the student body president was shot and killed in an off-campus robbery during my son’s freshman year in college — it made national news, but the (frequent) emails from the school were factual and reassuring. I probably knew more about it than he did, in the first couple of hours!

Stacey

December 3rd, 2012
1:19 pm

I usually only check my Facebook once a day, usually before 6:00 am and I’m not on Twitter so I wouldn’t have gotten the message that way. My son’s school allows parents to sign up to get email or text alerts of “breaking news” and I am signed up for that. One day last week the after school band practice was cancelled because the director was ill and they sent a text, email and followed up with a phone call asking how my son was to get home since there was no need to stay after school. I also receive a text in cases of inclement weather if school is closed or opening late.

mom2alex&max

December 3rd, 2012
1:22 pm

Using social media to alert on emergency situations is extremely foolish. Most people can’t check during the day at work, many don’t use social media at all, there is a huge risk it would get lost in the shuffle, etc.

Social media is fine for sharing events, news, etc but not for emergencies. For that you need robocalls.

Penguinmom

December 3rd, 2012
1:46 pm

@joeldm – you can set up FB to send you emails when things are posted. So, conceivably a parent could get an email from FB about the message and then go check it specifically. I don’t ever use Twitter and don’t really want to start.

@TWG – I think the robo-call thing is the safest bet by far. Especially if they send the calls to the cell phone numbers. I’ve also seen regular text messages used. Even if it costs the person a little money, it is worth it if the messages are limited to true emergencies.

Jasa

December 3rd, 2012
2:18 pm

Robo calls. Unfortunately there are too many parents that don’t like to hand over information for you to contact them after the kids get into middle school. The hysteria by those parents that are presently moaning to the media are probably the worst offenders.

Cammi317

December 3rd, 2012
2:29 pm

Our PTA utilizes Facebook and Twitter to let us know what is going on. Is anyone else outraged that the school had no carbon monoxide monitors?

Will

December 3rd, 2012
2:30 pm

As an emergency manager, you try to use multiple platforms including social media. We find twitter highly effective, as end users set their mobile devices to alarm differently when they receive a tweet from our emergency account. Further, users who are not following us will often see the information retweeted and then begin following us for future alerts. Traditional emergency notification is not a comprehensive solution as it requires the receiver to opt into the system prior to an emergency. Social media allows recipients to jump in at any time. Finally, Twitter has been invaluable in large emergencies for its resiliency. It requires minimal bandwidth like a text message, but you are broadcasting the information to a wide audience, as opposed to a pre-defined list.

Cammi317

December 3rd, 2012
2:31 pm

With Smart Phones, most people these days have social media at their fingertips.

Chaos

December 3rd, 2012
3:14 pm

I prefer to use smoke signals…..

David

December 3rd, 2012
3:19 pm

Local company in Atlanta provides business preparedness training and tools. Many major firms in town using the company – Preparis. I would suggest APS look into this company to limit its liability for future issues and to, most importantly, protect our children. http://www.preparis.com

Jennifer

December 3rd, 2012
4:12 pm

My daughter’s school hasn’t had any emergency situations (thank God) but I think they said they use FB and twitter as well as email alerts for inclement weather and other situations, and I have to believe if there was a possibility of inclement weather people would be checking. Don’t know if they have robocalls or not. One good thing about twitter is you can set it up so you get push notifications from select people you’re following, so if you follow the school and set it for push notifications, you’d get an alert on your phone. Right now the school is the ONLY person I’d get push notifications from on twitter so theoretically it would work out good, but that’s counting on both parents and administration to be tech savvy enough to utilize the technology.

I guess the other plus is social media is free and sms software costs money and most school districts are low on money….

John43221

December 3rd, 2012
4:35 pm

The key is to not rely on one method of communication. Using Twitter/Facebook is great but if that is all you rely on for emergency communication then the school/district is fooling themselves. As a Communications Director, I would suggest schools/districts set up specific guidelines on how they are going to communicate information based on the situation at hand. Facebook /Twitter are good for non-emergency information and updates. Even using “texting” for emergencies can be tricky. The “robocalls” are the single best way to communicate emergency information, but most experts suggest using multi-modal methods for emergencies (Voice, text, email, social media, etc) is the best option for emergencies. I say that because texting fails at times…. and phone calls seem to always work(as long as the phone lines are clear).

MA

December 3rd, 2012
6:10 pm

@chaos….great one!!! Hee, hee! I am not on FB or Twitter and will never be, so, that would not work for me. I like the “robocalls”. I don’t have to worry anymore about my own children. We signed up for text and phone call messages for emergencies at our daughter’s college and it works. My own school uses “robocalls”. Luckily and thankfully we have not had any emergencies.

Warrior Woman

December 5th, 2012
9:16 am

@DB – There are MANY phones capable of receiving Twitter feeds, which use SMS texting, that cannot receive emails.

Robocalls take a lot longer than text alerts or Twitter. That’s not good when the situation has already hit the news and parents are looking for information, or when you need to reach people quickly.