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The cameras just went live

Five keys to win your crisis news conference

By Naj Alikhan | November | December 2019
In 2015, a terror threat sent by email forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to shut down schools and close campuses to the district’s students. In front of live television cameras broadcasting worldwide, superintendent Ramon Cortines told his community that “he couldn’t take a chance with the systems’ 640,000 students.” Much has changed for school leaders since 2015, but the mission to guarantee the health and safety of our students and staff hasn’t changed. While crisis management has varying levels of intensity, our communities demand strong leadership and transparency when it comes to addressing a crisis. Below are five tools you should use, in order, during a news conference:  1. Safety first: Families, the community and reporters want to know the status of those on campus or in the district. Safety should be the first thing you address.  2. Transparency: Having a lack of clarity, or “winging” your information, opens the door to losing the support of families and communities. Your audience demands transparency. Be clear and consistent with your messages. One thing you must refrain from is giving out every piece of information you have. Stick to the basics and keep the story moving. If you have five pieces of information, give out three. If you have three pieces of information, give one or two. 3. We did this: Families, the community and reporters want to know what the district did to address the crisis. Again, be transparent with your messaging. If law enforcement was involved in the crisis, make sure they have a role in your news conference and make sure your messaging is collaborative and consistent. 4. Safety second: Reiterate the most important information, which is the health and safety of those involved in the crisis. 5. What comes next: Address your next steps. Be transparent about what the plans are for the next few minutes, hours or days. Before addressing those next steps in front of the cameras, be sure to consider how those next steps may impact other departments. Do I need to alert transportation or facilities about the next steps? Do I need to determine if nutritional services or school resource officers are notified of the next steps? Make sure you have assessed the impact on every department in your district.Cortines used these five tools and showed incredible district leadership.  It’s important to recognize that all of the crisis training and contingency plans you or your district have created can be useless during a crisis. It just happens. But school leaders can win news conferences if they know what to say and when to say it. Follow these five tools and become a winner.

Naj Alikhan is ACSA’s Senior Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the organization’s public information officer.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators