Three top risks to consider before the bell rings

How organizations can prepare for back to school

As summer winds down, teachers and children anxiously await the first day back in the classroom. And while schools are expected to be (and often are) a safe environment for education, organizations need to do more than lesson planning to prepare for the upcoming school year. Here are three of the top risks to consider before the bell rings.

Cybersecurity

According to the FBI, organizations across the country lose billions of dollars each year repairing computer systems following a cyberattack. In a matter of seconds, hackers can infect a computer network with ransomware or malware and gain access to confidential information, giving them the potential to expose an entire organization. For public entities — and particularly schools — cybersecurity is a growing concern, as their internal systems store personal data about faculty and students. But the risk goes beyond a data breach. Many public entities have an obligation to report cyberattacks to the community, so the organization’s reputation may be negatively impacted.

It’s critical that organizations properly define the risks, and create data privacy policies and trainings to help mitigate them.

In July, the governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency after several Louisiana school systems were infected with malware. But they aren’t the only state being taken advantage of by cybercriminals. The Houston County School District in Dothan, Alabama was forced to postpone their first day back to school this month after malware disrupted their organizations’ telecommunications and computer functionality. And as technology progresses, the issue will only continue to escalate. It’s critical that organizations properly define the risks, and create data privacy policies and trainings to help mitigate them.

Transportation

Each year, millions of students rely on buses for school transportation, giving drivers an immense amount of responsibility to keep children safe. But what happens when they aren’t able to fulfill that obligation? Bus drivers are exposed to many risks — everything from congested traffic and distractions from passengers to weather-related catastrophes and auto-liability incidents. And while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers school buses safe methods of transportation, many lawmakers aren’t convinced. Recently, the House of Representatives introduced a safety measure calling for enhanced driver oversight and the addition of fire suppression systems, or “firewalls” following a fatal Iowa school bus fire in 2017.

Other lawmakers have made recommendations for three-point seatbelts, automatic emergency braking and electronic stability controls. But in the meantime — while we wait for critical bills to pass — it’s important to ask questions. Do all school buses in your district meet current state regulations? Have all drivers been properly trained on daily operations and emergency procedures? Do these trainings comply with state requirements and/or recommendations? Are children with special medical needs and/or wheelchairs properly secured in school buses? Are assigned routes and pick-up/drop-off locations checked periodically for safety?

Communication

No matter the severity of the incident — whether it be a minor fire in the science lab or an active shooter — it’s important for teachers, students and parents to be well-informed.

In the event of a crisis, a risk communication strategy is critical to inform the public about what the situation means for them and their loved ones, and what they can do to stay safe. No matter the severity of the incident — whether it be a minor fire in the science lab or an active shooter — it’s important for teachers, students and parents to be well-informed. Technological advances have made it easier to implement immediate solutions, but how and where do you start? The tips below can be used as a guide to help develop and deliver a clear message.

  1. Create pre-drafted messages. During an emergency, emotions are high, so it’s important to prepare communications while you’re level-headed
  2. Implement a multi-pronged communication strategy to target all audiences by updating the school website, posting to social media and sending out emails.
  3. Maintain a message that’s timely, accurate, concise and redundant to prevent confusion across communication channels.

As emerging risks continue to introduce themselves, it’s important to keep up, stay informed and get prepared. If you previously developed a risk strategy, let this be a reminder to review and update policies and trainings. All students and educators have a right to attend schools that are safe and conducive to learning. Let’s make it happen.

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