Episode 92

How a strong communication strategy helped during a hurricane

February 1, 2018 | Communications
Guest:Greg Turchetta

In this episode, host Joel Gagne is joined by Greg Turchetta, Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement at Collier County Public Schools in Florida, and the two chat about how a strong communication strategy can help in a hurricane and a number of other challenges.

Greg discusses literal and figurative hurricanes, or challenges, having recently guided his district’s communications strategy through Hurricane Irma. 

The Category 4 storm made landfall directly on top of the district of 50 schools and 47,000 students, knocking out power and cell phone service for anywhere from two days to two weeks.

School buildings, being the largest and strongest structures in many communities, had been designated as emergency storm shelters.

Whether it’s a hurricane or some other form of crisis, Greg says, districts must be prepared as best as possible. It’s a matter of when they hit, not if.

“I believe that you prepare for the storm on the sunny day,” Greg says.

For each of the district’s 50 schools, the strong communication strategy included outreach via Facebook and Twitter, providing information about when schools would be open and sharing photos of the damage. The district employed a messaging system to text message, email, call and send app alerts to parents and staff. With the information cycle being so fast, Greg says the days of sending home a letter at the end of the day are gone.

“So as a school communications department, we turned into a news service during the crisis,” he says.

Greg says the engagement provided an opportunity for people to help out by making bag lunches or bringing supplies.

Some systems had to be reinvented, which proved that districts must be nimble during crises.

“When principals were going to check on their buildings, we had to be able to communicate,” Greg tells Joel. “We created internal text groups of principals to just do the emergency communications.”

Asked about the most effective platform used in a strong communication strategy, Greg says there’s no right answer and that it should be tailored for each unique district.

Polling parents about preferred method is important, and the Collier County School District is getting far greater feedback because of it.

“Every communication plan starts with that research piece to find out what does your community prefer,” Greg says.

Teachers also must be engaged in communications strategies, and shouldn’t fear social media.

Greg says it often comes down to student privacy, fear of technology and fear of messing up.

“Training can alleviate all three of these,” he says.

Teachers take on the responsibilities of protecting students in code red situations and communicating with parents during parent-teacher conferences, Greg notes, so social media shouldn’t be overly stressing.

With competition with charter schools getting more intense, Greg and Joel talk about how it is important for a district to tout its superior product through storytelling and not “marketing.”

“You do it day in and day out, showing your excellence,” Greg says.

Greg and Joel discuss how the fields of education and communication have drastically changed and that doing things “how we’ve always done it” won’t cut it.

Recommending a book to listeners, Greg chooses Good to Great by Jim Collins.

“That’s what it comes down to,” he says. “There is a difference between good and great.”

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