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Communication Support Homepage
Crisis Communications Process
Sample Crisis Checklists, Letters and Scripts

Crisis Communications Support 

AWSA along with the Donovan Group can help during a crisis situation. On this page, we will provide you with the information about what to communicate, to whom and how.

This page is created to quickly help you in a crisis by walking you through a crisis communication process. Please note, however, if you have a crisis or a communications-related question, you are welcome to contact AWSA’s retained communication council, the Donovan Group. Joe Donovan, the Donovan Group’s president can be reached at 414-409-7225 ext. 2, or via email at [email protected].

Crisis Communications Process 

Step 1) Get all of the information

Start by getting all the facts about the situation. Get dates. Get times. Get names. Get locations. Get the who, what, where, when and how and write it down.  Ask who else knows of this situation and if the police have been contacted.  If the police have been contacted, ask for the officer’s name.

Check your facts and try to clarify.  Write the time and date of the phone call.

Step 2) Do you need help?

Take a deep breath and determine if you are up to handling the next steps.  Do you need help? You should always have someone in your district you can call to help in a crisis situation. If you need them, call them or contact AWSA or the Donovan Group. 

Step 3) Determine your communications obligation

Ask this question: what is my obligation to communicate? There is a hierarchy of communication. For the list below, determine:

  1. Who do I need to contact this minute?
  2. Who do I need to contact in the next ten minutes?
  3. Who do I need to contact in the next half hour?
  4. Who do I need to contact in the next hour?
  5. Who do I need to contact in the morning or later in the day?
  6. Who do I need to contact in the next two days?
    • The local police
    • Involved parents
    • Involved staff
    • The school district’s attorney
    • School board members
    • Parents in the school
    • Staff in the school
    • Other district parents
    • Other district staff
    • Your community
    • The Department of Public Instruction
    • The media
    • Your key communicators network

Take a deep breath and double check your list. 

Consider breaking your crisis communications into two tiers.  There are the communications that need to take place right now, what we may call first tier, and then there are those that need communications in the hours and days after, that we can call second tier communications. 

Step 4) Communicate with the First Tier now

The people you need to contact this minute, in the next ten minutes and in the next half hour are contacts you will make by phone. Make the calls now and keep a record to who you spoke with.

The following are considered Second Tier communications efforts.

Step 5) Line up your team

Have someone in charge of communications; designate a spokesperson. This person should be trained in advance and ready to take over.  They should have templates and media contacts and the ability to push messages through various technologies.

Step 6): Create a simple Key Facts document

Create a simple document that includes basic information about the situation including times.  Often, in the haze of a crisis, key facts are lost. Keep a record. 

Step 7): Restrict access to the buildings

You do not need to allow media in your building or on your property. Whether now or later, you can counsel students and staff that they do not have to speak with the media.


Important: Before communicating, consult with your attorney and if appropriate, local authorities.  Stay connected with your team and board members. Act fast but do not rush.

Step 8) Determine your messages

Based on the information you have, determine the four or five key message that you want to communicate with your second tier audiences. Unless the situation is a true tragedy, consider the following message prompts:

1)   Explain what happened and why and when you learned of it.

2)   Explain the outcome, ideally that everyone is safe.

3)   Explain what the school or district is doing to ensure that this situation never happens again.

4)   Explain that the district is safe and when you will communicate next, if appropriate.

Step 9) Determine your audiences and how you will communicate with them

So, now that we know what we want to communicate, let’s go back to our hierarchy and determine to whom we want to reach out. What tools are you using to communicate? 

Step 10) Map your communications

Using the hierarchy in Step 3, determine with whom you are going to communicate and how. 

Step 11) Create your communications

Now that you know with whom to communicate, what you are going to communicate and how, start developing your content. Use the templates below as starters.

Step 12) Assess your communications

Within two weeks after the crisis situation, take some time to review your crisis communications efforts. No situation is handled perfectly. Determine what you did well, where your efforts fell short and how you will improve in the future.

Sample Crisis Checklists, Letters and Scripts 

Please note: Many of the samples included in this packet were written by Donovan Group staff or shared with us in some form over the years.  AWSA and the Donovan Group makes no claim to their ownership.