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Crisis Response in the Education Sector

All maintained schools and academies are required to have an up to date School Business Continuity Plan (SBCP). Within an educational establishment of this kind, an SBCP sets out how to minimise disruption if any disaster or critical incident occurs. A critical incident in this case relates to an unexpected emergency that could affect people (students, staff and visitors), premises, systems or suppliers. Resilience is essential in schools, as a failure to deliver services could potentially put vulnerable children or adults at risk.

Without a defined plan on how to deal with a critical event, a school could suffer huge financial and reputational damage, as well as risk of non-compliance if the school falls foul of any regulations.


When would an educational facility invoke a Business Continuity plan?

This one is pretty universal, no matter what sector or industry. All that needs to be asked is, has the incident had a significant impact on critical functions? If yes, then the continuity plan should be activated, and the recovery process put in place to minimise disruption as much as possible.

What becomes more specific within the education sector is in the Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and Crisis Responses stages, in terms of the activities which need to be prioritised and the methods which are required to react to and communicate the problem.

So, what are the events that could cause a loss of critical services and may have significant impacts on a schools operations? These could include injury to people (e.g. transport incident) damage to premises (from fire or flood), IT, systems or utilities failure, and loss of personnel or suppliers. All of these could have an impact on the facility’s critical activities, which would then require the activation of the schools’ BC Plan.

We will now take a closer look at these critical activities, and the kind of impact they might have.


Critical Activities

A critical activities list can be used by the Business Continuity Team within an educational faculty during an emergency to assist in the decision-making process and the process of prioritising key activities during incident response. There are a number of activities and statutory duties that occur in a normal operating day for either a school or higher education centre. These include:

  • Safeguarding of staff members and pupils – i.e. prevention of injury
  • Teaching - delivery of education
  • Catering and provision of free school meals - students may go hungry
  • IT Equipment - Could affect exams, ability to teach and learn
  • Examinations - Student’s learning assessments

The purpose of the Business Continuity plan is to ensure that critical activities are resumed as quickly as possible, or continue to be delivered, during the disruption. Non-critical activities may need to be suspended - for example, during a disturbance an activity like class tests could be postponed and rearranged but somethings like providing school meals to children cannot be postponed. In this case, pre-defined alternative measures would have to be put in place. This kind of example highlights why considering regular activities and determining the impact and implications of any disturbance to these activities over time is imperative during the creation and management of a BCMS.


Major Incident Response

Once critical activities have been identified an education centre should strive to design a process in which it is able to respond in the case of an incident quickly and effectively. This will make sure that in case of a disruption, they are able to act within an acceptable response time, keep impact to a minimum and allow a smooth implementation of their pre-defined BCP. In the creation of a BC plan, the steps which should be taken to respond should be identified and mapped out. These would include the procedure to be used when carrying out an initial situation assessment, the evacuation process, how and when to contact the relevant emergency services, and the way in which communication with relevant external parties should be managed.


Communication Management

It is essential to consider is how an incident would be communicated to relevant external parties – such as students, staff, parents or carers. This is a particularly sensitive area in this type of an establishment due to both the potentially vulnerable nature of those affected, and the importance of reputation in this type of environment. Any issue which could potentially cause an unsafe environment to children can quickly cause widespread fear and panic amongst parents and the community. To effectively provide awareness of any disruptive events to all affective parties, crisis communications should form a crucial part of a BCMS.


Recovery

This is another big part of what will constitute an educational BCMS – not just how to react in the case of the crisis, but how in fact services can be recovered to acceptable levels. This process could be lengthy and involve various activities. These include providing support to students and staff, physical refurbishment to premises, recovery of IT and technical systems and the re-building of connections with existing or new suppliers as necessary. Of course as with any industry, a post-event debrief can be especially useful to improve the BCMS as it is a chance to determine what went well and what should be changed to react better in any future incidents.


Some 'real-life' examples

One recent case in the UK which affected the vast majority of schools and universities, at least in some part, was the 2018 ‘Beast from the East’ extreme weather event. Health and safety of children is paramount and in such cases the decision can be out of the hands of the educational facility itself, but instead determined by local authorities (e.g. governing council or the emergency services). However, any such event would still require the educational body to rely on its BCMS to manage – from being able to communicate with staff, students etc. to how they will re-allocate important lessons or exams affected by the closure.


Another type of incident which we unfortunately hear of more and more often is that of a terror attack on a school or university. The Independent reported in 2018 that attacks of this kind have increased continuously in the last five years. Notorious cases like the Peshawar School Attack of 2014 and the very recent active shooter episode in Charlotte, North Carolina when a gunman killed two people on the UNC campus highlight that this is an issue which is by no means coming to an end. One of the ways in which the University of North Carolina managed their crisis communications was utilising social media, tweeting information and updates as they became available. We covered how social media is becoming increasingly important within crisis management in a previous blog here.


Conclusion

In some ways, Business Continuity Management within education is much the same as in any other industry – a BCMS should be implemented and maintained, and include major activities like determining a Business Continuity Team, conducting a BIA and creating a Crisis Management Plan. However as this sector provides services to children and young people, it could be argued that a BCMS holds even more weight in terms of priority and importance than it does in others. Another reason that a BC strategy is vitally important in this kind of facility is the influence that damage to reputation can have on it as an operation – arguably more so than in other more corporate environments.

Are you working in resilience within the education sector? Do you have a comprehensive BCMS in place and feel confident that you are ‘ready for anything’? Talk to us today to find out how our solution allows automation of key BC functions to make the entire process of a BCMS faster and smoother!


Posted on June 20, 2019

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