Ukiah Unified School District – Crisis Communication

Ukiah Unified School District serves approximately 6,000 students, preschoolers through adults. The district comprises six neighborhood elementary schools, two middle schools, and a comprehensive high school. In addition, it offers an early education preschool, independent learning opportunities for elementary and high school students, an alternative education high school, and an adult learning center.


CLIENT TESTIMONIAL

Jendi has been a great resource in times of crisis. She helps us communicate in a clear and timely manner.

– Deb Kubin, Superintendent


 

CHALLENGE

During a particularly dry summer, cockroaches infested the high school, horrifying students, staff and parents. The species of cockroach was new, and unfortunately, it was both prolific and hardy. We worked with district leaders and scientific experts to figure out 1. Whether this infestation was merely a nuisance or a serious health threat, 2. How to eradicate the problem, and 3. How to prevent it from recurring.

SOLUTION

Working with experts from the California Department of Pest Regulation (DPR) and Dr. Andrew Sutherland, an urban integrated pest management advisor from the University of California Cooperative Extension, we learned more about the pests and Ukiah Unified developed a plan to reduce their number. The primary communication challenge was dealing with misinformation on social media born of fear and disgust. We started releasing daily updates, then weekly, addressing questions and sharing information as we learned more. We held public meetings so people could ask questions directly, and continued to release information via traditional media, social media and on the website until people's questions were answered and fears were allayed. We did an education campaign about the need to keep the campus clean, with special attention on making sure food waste was discarded properly, adding stickers to campus trash cans reminding students not to feed the roaches.

RESULTS

We did not shut down social media but rather allowed questions to be answered so we could address them. Many organizations panic when social media turns nasty, but if you shut it down, it's harder to know what the most pressing concerns are. Once we provided transparent, informative press releases and social media posts, community members felt more at ease. We explained the problem, the solution, and how the school district would continue to work with experts to prevent the problem from happening in the future.
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