Last in the series on Award Winning Programs from the 2010 PRSA Del Oro Awards
Award Recipient of a La Plata Award of Merit in the Category: Crisis Communications
When swine flu hit the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District in April 2009, they had no idea how large the public health matter would become over the course of two weeks. When the Health Department ordered a school to be closed indefinitely, followed by the entire school district, the communications team had to move into crisis mode. The crisis communication plan for these events was fluid and challenged repeatedly due to the changing circumstances. With the help of social and traditional media, the school district was able to relay timely and accurate information to its target audiences.
“I actually had no idea a crisis like the Swine Flu would explode into such a large scale,” said Rebecca Villareal, Communications Officer. “I truly became my superintendent’s press agent for those two weeks. When NPR called to interview her, she was so excited. I think for both of us it was one of those experiences we never imagined we would experience in our careers.”
Public relations in school districts is by no means uneventful, but Villareal reported that this crisis was the extreme. “We had swarms of media - day and night. I mean 24/7. I had the early morning guys calling me at 1:30 a.m. and wanting interviews between 3 and 5 a.m. I did not even know the media was out on the street at that time,” she said. “I am just glad they were okay with call-in interviews for those.”
Villareal reports that the organizations had some key learnings after the crisis, which resulted in strategic changes. The district purchased a Content Management System (CMS) for the website for quicker updates. The Tumblr blogging platform is now used to post cancellations and schedule changes and is linked to the Twitter account for instant updates. As well, electronic marquees that can be managed from one remote site were installed at all district facilities.
Randy Escamilla, APR, is a member of the PRSA San Antonio board and Director of Communications for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.