In a recent magazine, we covered the topic of how to respond to accidents, injuries and emergencies. We follow this up with a more in-depth look at crisis management and how you can plan for it.

What is crisis management and why should you bother?

The way you manage a crisis will reflect on your setting for years. Research suggests that in crisis situations, people generally fall into two categories: the winners or the losers. In order to be a winner, it is important that you protect the value and reputation of your business and respond in ways that reflect a professional, organised and prepared approach. This means being able to respond quickly, taking effective decisions when needed, and having the resources and knowledge to act under pressure and in escalating situations. 

Many businesses, however, are slow to respond, either because they do not know what to do, or they are unprepared and lack leadership and direction in these situations. This often results in them having ‘knee-jerk” reactions making a further drama out of a crisis. 

Planning

Nobody wants to think the worst, but if you don’t, and the worst happens, you will not respond effectively and could potentially exacerbate the situation. So, the key to managing the unthinkable, is to think about it beforehand. 

Crises that you might face in your setting include:

  • An irate parent/staff member
  • Threats from strangers or intruders
  • Terrorism e.g. bomb threats
  • Criminal activities such as hostage situations
  • Community disasters such as floods/landslides/pandemics etc

The list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a starting point. 

For each situation, you need to think through what might happen, and how you plan to respond. For example, if you have an irate parent who makes it past security, and begins threatening staff or children in the setting – do you have protocols in place to:

  1. Get the children to a safe place?
  2. Prevent staff from being hurt or abused?
  3. Remove the parent from the site?
  4. If a suspicious package was thrown over your fence and landed in your play area, do you have protocols in place to:
  5. Investigate the package either close-up or from a distance?
  6. Evacuate the site safely?
  7. Inform the parents about the situation from another venue?

Or if there was a local criminal activity such as a knife attack/terrorist alert, how would you:

  1. Ensure the safety and wellbeing of all the staff and children in a prolonged siege situation?
  2. Alert the parents to the plight of their children if lines of communication are cut?
  3. Deal with the impending onset of media attention?

If you don’t have the answers to these questions, or you are not confident your staff would not know what to do if you were not there, then you will probably need to write, review or rethink your crisis management policies. 

As we talked about in the last article, preparing for emergencies is an ongoing process involving:

  • risk assessment
  • planning
  • practicing the protocols
  • reporting and reviewing 
  • managing long-term effects

Throughout each stage of this process, it is important to consult members of staff and any governors to gain their involvement and support.

Stages of crisis management

There are generally acknowledged to be 4 main stages of a crisis:

  1. Prodromal stage – this is the point where someone in your setting or organisation discovers a critical situation and usually brings it to the attention of their line manager or superiors. At this stage, the situation is usually only known to a few individuals inside the setting.
  2. Acute stage – this is where a critical situation moves from a pre-crisis to an acute stage that becomes known outside the organisation or setting. When a crisis reaches the acute stage, managers must address the situation head-on and it is too late to take preventative action to avoid the crisis, although there is still time to implement damage control or limitation.
  3. Chronic stage – this usually lasts the longest of the four stages and is the follow-on once the immediate acute problem has been resolved. It could involve legal action or internal/external investigations or negligence claims and can go on for years. 
  4. Resolution – this is the part where things eventually return to normal. Effective resolutions are implemented in the hope of preventing a recurrence or limiting the impact via lessons learned.  

Identifying the key staff roles for all stages will be crucial to your success. There are 3 main roles that you will need to assign:

  1. Crisis leader – The crisis leader is responsible for dealing with the crisis at a strategic level which would mean making decisions about whether the nursery can stay open or what might need to be changed to keep things running, albeit on a different footing. This is usually your nursery owner or top manager who has the authority to make strategic decisions. 
  2. Incident manager(s) – The incident manager(s) could be considered as the people in the ‘incident room’ coordinating your response. They have an overview of what has happened and will allocate jobs to others in the response team as needed. They will report to the crisis leader and act as a communications hub for the incident. These are usually people who are good at planning and assessing the needs of the situation who can remain calm and keep a clear head. 
  3. Response team – The response team is made up of individuals who will respond ‘at the coal face’. They will be marshalling or looking after children, administering first aid or evacuating people in an orderly and practiced fashion. They report directly to the incident manager and will be allocated jobs as necessary. These are usually people with specialist skills such as first aiders, people skilled in managing other people’s behaviours (especially if children are likely to panic) or able to do physical or manual tasks to keep or make areas safe. 

Make sure your plans list all the roles and responsibilities of each tier and it is a good idea to create printed checklists or protocols that people can access easily and run through in the event of a crisis occurring. You may also wish to allocate specific roles to people within the incident management tier, such as those with responsibility for:

  • Pastoral care or child/staff wellbeing
  • Facilities or site maintenance/safety
  • Teaching and development
  • Managing communications (with staff/parents/media)

No one wants to face a crisis, but if you do, make sure you are well prepared. 

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