OUR SAY: Panic in Orange schools shows new rules needed for communication

THE NSW Police Force and the Department of Education and Communities both have media units which should be learning from the Facebook-fed panic which swept Orange schools on Thursday.

Most parents with school-aged children would be well aware of the confusion at schools which followed a Facebook alert about a threat to harm school children.

It appears the threat made by a man at a community services centre was passed on to the school in question but the police were not initially notified.

What followed was really nothing more than the old-fashioned rumour mill, but turbo charged by the power of the internet and the connections of social media.

By the time police weighed in, using their Facebook page to put out an alert and description of the man they wanted to interview, they had lost control of the situation.

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It spiralled further out of control as the afternoon wore on because no further information was released, either to the media or to parents.

In the absence of a single coherent message, which continually updated parents, schools staff and the media, school gates were closed, playground activities were curtailed and several schools were indeed locked down.

There is a lesson here for the police and the education department and it is a simple one: having used social media to reach an audience directly, it is imperative to keep the lines of communication open, update the known facts constantly and quash rumours.

Letting the social media genie out of the bottle and sitting back thinking the communication job is done, is a recipe for chaos. 

It was foolish of the person who first received the threat not to contact the police immediately but it would be far more foolish for authorities not to expect this to happen again in the future and plan a much more strategic response next time.

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