A Red Cross survey released today showed that nearly 40% of parents have received no communication from their children’s school regarding H1N1 Swine Flu. If you’re involved in risk communication for your agency, business, school, or other groups, the time to communicate information about the flu is now. Don’t wait until later in the Fall, begin your campaign now. This is especially vital for schools.
Along with that news, the CDC issued new guidance for schools in dealing with the H1N1 Swine Flu threat today, instructing administrators to balance the severity of flu in their communities with the disruption that school closings will cause to the educational process and the wider community.
There are a lot of resources out there for school administrators, but the best advice should always be to consult first with your local Public Health office so that your risk communications will be in sync with other agencies in your area. If we’re all to avoid confusing our audience, we have to be sure that we’re “singing off the same sheet of music”.
Most flu prevention guidance is based on best practices established by H&HS and the CDC. But as the flu begins to impact local communities, you may seen a divergence of risk communication messages as each State, local government, employer, and school district begin to make their own decisions about how to tackle the problem. Some of this is unavoidable, but it’s better now if you establish relationships with public health officials, local government, and large employers in your area. Discuss how you plan to communicate action messages to your audience, and see if those messages can be coordinated.
- Stress prevention at this stage. Communicate action items such as proper hand washing, staying home if you’re ill, provide information about day care options in the event of school closings. Stress the need for personal preparedness.
- Begin to prepare your audience that this Fall season will have two flu vaccines. One for the seasonal flu and one for the H1N1 Swine Flu later on. Start communicating the need for at risk populations to get both vaccines.
- The sooner you begin communicating with your audience, the less stressful they’ll be as events unfold this Fall. At this point, no one can say with any certainty how bad the Flu will be. There is no cause for alarm, but there is more reason to prepare and take prevention steps than in a “normal” flu season.
- Incorporate Social Media into your communication plans now. Your audience is on FaceBook, even if you’re not. Your audience is using Twitter, even if you’re not. Whatever your objection to the use of social media is, get over it. Yes, it has flaws–big ones–but your audience will use it to seek information as the Flu begins to appear in your community. If you want to avoid the rumor mill running in high gear, then be part of the solution. Provide clear, accurate, and brief information using social media resources. Have you considered a “You Tube” video yet?
- Consider some worse case scenarios in your communication plan. How will you react when the first case of H1N1 appears in your school? What will be your reaction if an employee dies from the virus? If you have to close schools or cease business operations for a brief time, how will that be communicated? Plan your communication now, because these types of benchmark trigger a huge demand for informatoin and guidance from your audience. Be sure that you’re ready to meet it.