10 school tips for swine flu crisis management and communications planning

As the World Health Organization raises the Pandemic Alert Level for swine flu, schools – regardless of size – should take heed.

“Schools need a swine flu crisis management and communications plan to respond to employees, students and parents – anyone who plays a critical role in keeping school operations running,” says Sherri Fallin, CEO of Duffey Communications, an Atlanta public relations agency that has prepared businesses and organizations for pandemic flu outbreaks and other crisis scenarios. “If you have a crisis plan, dust it off and make it specific to swine flu.”

Fallin offers 10 tips to fast track a short-term response plan:

1. Start Swine Flu Outbreak Planning Now: Don’t panic, but don’t put your head in the sand either. Pull together your management team – administration, human resources, faculty and technology directors – to develop a short-term swine flu response plan that is effective throughout the organization. Priority planning items include: “most likely to happen” and worst-case scenarios; distance learning or school closure contingency plans; swine-flu employee sick leave and travel policies; and swine-flu specific employee and student communications.

2. Swine Flu Staff and Student Communications: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate with your faculty. Communicate with parents, and communicate with students. Make sure your administration understands and communicates swine flu school policies to staff – and that those policies are followed.

3. Prepare for “Most Likely to Happen Scenarios”: Planning for “most likely to happen” scenarios can prevent worst-case scenarios. Many schools plan for worst – but aren’t prepared when lesser but equally disruptive events occur. Begin swine flu planning with the school’s response if one teacher is exposed to or becomes ill with swine flu. Also consider what your school will do if it must close due to a swine flu outbreak.

4. Keep Education Moving Forward During a Swine Flu Outbreak: When preparing for worst-case scenarios, such as a closure due to a widespread swine flu outbreak, establish distance learning, online education, or satellite location alternatives. Follow the news and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to determine if closures or quarantines are necessary and the scope to which your school’s response should be implemented.

5. Include a Variety of Tools in Swine Flu Response and Communications Planning: Use phone, e-mail, school Web site and other sites where your school has a presence, such as Facebook, for ongoing communication during a swine flu outbreak. Alert parents/staff as to how you will continue operating during a swine flu outbreak, and explain how they can communicate with you. When appropriate, preemptively communicate to the community your plans in the event of a swine flu outbreak so they know how the school will be managed during a crisis – especially if you are in a community with a swine flu outbreak.

6. Swine Flu-Specific Sick-Leave Policy: Develop and issue an employee sick-leave policy specifically for swine flu. Many employees don’t want to miss work, especially in the current economy. But encourage them to stay home and see their doctor if they experience symptoms – and report back to their principal if diagnosed with swine flu. Also, remind employees to follow standard sick leave policies if they become ill for any reason.

7. Swine Flu Faculty and Staff Education: Educate faculty, staff and students about swine flu symptoms and what to do if they believe they have been exposed to it. First and foremost, they should go to their primary care physician for treatment and testing. According to the CDC, swine flu symptoms can mirror those of regular human seasonal flu, including: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as extreme and sudden dizziness.

8. Swine Flu Prevention Tips: Provide faculty, staff and students with credible flu prevention tips, such as the CDC’s hand washing guidelines. Make sure teachers, and students wash their hands; cover their mouths when they sneeze; and use hand sanitizer. Additional swine flu prevention tips recommended by the CDC include:

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent spreading germs.
- Stay at home if you are sick or not feeling well.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

9. Swine Flu-Specific Employee Travel Guidelines: Track swine flu outbreak areas and monitor employee travel. Establish short-term travel guidelines related to swine flu. And, make sure employees follow all CDC and airline policy swine flu guidelines – even if they are not traveling to an area with a swine flu outbreak.

10. Stay Informed About the Swine Flu: www.cdc.gov/swineflu, www.pandemicflu.gov, www.who.int and your local and national news Web sites.