I was a bit surprised to hear Tokyo Electric Power Co. recently announced the nuclear disaster resulting from the March 2011 tsunami could have been avoided. What surprised me was not that the disaster could have been avoided (crises so often can), nor that this contradicted earlier statements by the company that the facility was prepared for such a disaster (differing, later statements are not unusual).
Like many, I’ve been thinking a lot about our First Amendment lately. As protest and violence in the Muslim world has occurred in response to the vulgar Internet video satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, and as we’ve seen President Obama simultaneously defending our free speech rights and denouncing the video, I’ve pondered this:
It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community, any apprehensions that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. . . .
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Back to school is upon us. Summertime schedules have officially yielded to school days. Fall is also the season when school/district crisis management teams meet to review their programs and policies.
Unfortunately for most schools, crisis is not a question of if, but when. It may not be this year, or even next. But given what’s at risk – the safety and well-being of our children -- schools must be vigilant.
Crisis typically results in chaos. And any type of crisis, controversy or conflict – no matter the size – creates distress for those impacted. In the worst case, lives are at stake.
Crisis, however, can be an opportunity to strengthen an organization and its relationships. In planning for crisis, we must consider the opportunities a school has to become stronger so it can better fulfill its mission, better safeguard the well-being of the children in its care, and better develop the relationships that are vital to the school’s success.
It’s all about relationships. Crisis planning can result in stronger relationships with children and families, which ultimately benefits the school.
1. Children. In planning, schools can find opportunities to strengthen the most crucial elements for a learning environment. In reviewing plans, ask the following:
· How does this plan create a safe, supportive, and predictable learning environment?
· What other aspects of our plan would make our school more safe, more supportive, and more predictable?
A school can strengthen its relationships with the children by sharing age-appropriate information about its plans and expectations. Drills are an obvious (and required) way to plan, but other communications that help children know what to expect helps them feel safer and more trusting. (See www.ready.gov/kids and www.ready.gov/parents-teachers for some options.) Sharing plans can elicit questions from children, and this gives an even greater opportunity for teachers and administrators to hear and address new concerns.
For older students, seeking involvement and input for some crises may be appropriate and beneficial. Under what circumstances student involvement would be good for both the students and school are considerations that a crisis management team could give thought to as it plans.
In recovery communications, thinking through ways to validate the stress or fear of the past is critical. The balance here is to acknowledge the pain of the past, but not dwell on it. Positive, forward looking communications help the healing process. The communications are not trite, but they are substantive, meaningful and supportive of the student and their families.
2. Families. Schools can strengthen their relationships with parents and families by asking this one question: What would our families want us to do?
The particular demographics of a school may influence families’ concerns, but generally speaking, families want to know:
· If their children are safe
· How and why the crisis happened
· How the school/district will fix any problems
· How the school/district plans to prevent the problem from happening again
· Who is accountable for school safety and crisis management
· How they (parents) can help
To top it off, families want answers to these questions immediately, if not sooner. Once word of a crisis spreads (text messages, Facebook and Twitter promise it will spread fast), the school’s phones will ring and the e-mail inboxes will fill with questions from panicked parents.
A prompt response is among the most important strategies for managing a crisis effectively and maintaining a strong, trusting relationship with families. Schools should review the communications portion of their crisis management plans now. They should focus on providing fast, accurate and detailed communications (through communications technologies, social media, special web sites). Schools should do this even if all the answers to the above questions are not yet known.
The role of teachers and non-teaching staff. A school’s teachers and non-teaching staff are the lifeblood of any successful school. A school can strengthen its ability to respond to a crisis by giving all staff an opportunity to not just review and receive training of plans (which is required), but to provide input to the crisis management team as well. Because teachers and even some non-teaching staff are often the most connected with the students, they are in a good position to provide feedback about student needs. This enables school leadership and a crisis management team to develop a more comprehensive, effective plan.
In recovery communications, teachers and non-teaching staff are critical to assessing how best to support children, identify special situations that require attention, and effectively talk with children and parents to foster a trusting, safe and supportive relationship.
The school is a haven. Other than the home or place of worship, school is the most important place a child spends time. Schools are places of learning, friendship and development. They are places of success and struggle, triumph and tears. Above all, schools need to be safe havens because learning requires safety and security.
No longer will parents wonder if the bottles and sippy cups their precious little ones suck and slurp all day are wreaking havoc on their children’s developing reproductive systems.
The FDA settled the matter in last week’s announcement that U.S. manufacturers of such products may no longer use polycarbonate resins containing bisphenol-A (BPA), which some research indicates may disrupt development of reproductive and nervous systems in babies and children. The FDA issued the ban in response to the American Chemistry Council’s petition that sought the ban because manufacturers had “intentionally and permanently abandoned” BPA’s use.
For baby bottles and sippy cups, parents technically haven’t had to worry safety for years, beginning when manufacturers agreed to stop using BPA at the behest of the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey in October 2008.
What’s in it for consumers? The FDA’s decision is viewed by many as symbolic and expected to have little impact on the marketplace and consumers.
What’s in it for the BPA industry? The bigger, more subtle impact may be seen by chemical manufacturers who hope the ban will limit the collateral damage that has come to BPA with the negative publicity associated with baby bottles and sippy cups.
BPA by the billions. Every year, 2 billion pounds of BPA are manufactured/imported in U.S., and 1 million pounds are released into the environment. BPA is used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and nearly every industry in the United States uses it.
People are believed to be exposed primarily through food packaging, which only accounts for less than 5% of total BPA production. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, BPA is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant, and as such there are questions and concerns about potential effects even at low doses or concentrations.
Little change for consumers. The new rule will not necessarily improve safety or impact consumer buying habits for these products. BPA will remain in other food contact materials because the agency supports the safety of BPA for products that hold food. While some see this as a positive step, the basis for the ban was abandoned use, not safety.
The FDA issued the rule because its own regulations allow it to ban a food additive that is no longer in use. Mark Gardner, an attorney at DuVal & Associates whose practice focuses on FDA law, says “The FDA’s job is to protect consumers. If a chemical is no longer used in a certain application, and is even banned in China, then the FDA wants to follow suit. This is a layup for the agency. The PR fallout of not banning it in this case could have been an issue for the agency.
Industry cuts its losses. Why would the ACC seek to ban a chemical it promotes? The ACC is the chemical industry’s largest trade association, and it’s Polcycarbonate/BPA Global Group “promotes the business interests and general welfare of the polycarbonate and bisphenol A (BPA) industry.” The shots that BPA has taken over baby bottles and sippy cups may have caused enough pain for broader BPA industry that the ACC determined it was time to remove the gangrenous limb.
The ACC issued this excerpted news release and statement following the FDA's ban: “Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about whether BPA is used in baby bottles and sippy cups had become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators . . . . FDA action on this request now provides certainty that BPA is not used to make the baby bottles and sippy cups on store shelves, either today or in the future.”
State legislative and regulatory actions across the country had contributed to confusion about whether baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the United States contain BPA.
Two potential upsides for industry. The BPA industry may benefit in at least two ways from the new ban:
1. States will stop beating the dead horse. First, state legislative bodies will no longer need to pass laws banning BPA now that the FDA has acted. This means no more legislative hearings, no more testimony and scientific evidence about the potential toxicity of BPA and no more media reports involving BPA, babies and baby bottles. A very good thing for the chemical industry.
2. No more need to be “BPA-free.” Second, the ban could ultimately mean an end to the ubiquitous “BPA-free” on every baby bottle and sippy cup sold in the U.S. This, along with an end to the extensive information about BPA by manufacturers at websites may help industry by reducing marketplace saturation suggesting BPA is something to be “free” of.
BPA still has baggage. The baby bottle ban, however, does not end the industry’s challenges. Environmental and health advocacy groups, government regulators and industry will continue to hash out whether BPA should be removed from other food contact materials, including baby formula containers.
What’s more, BPA continues to undergo review and study from governmental agencies, including the EPA, who is studying the effect of BPA on aquatic species, how BPA enters the environment and how to reduce BPA release and exposures.
ACC has devoted considerable resources to inform and educate the public about the safety and necessity of BPA, as can be seen from a quick preview of the ACC-sponsored websites devoted to BPA safety and benefits: http://factsaboutbpa.org, http://www.bisphenol-a.org/index.html, http://www.plasticsinfo.org/.
By removing this singular occurrence of BPA from the consumer consciousness, the ACC might be able to limit the pervasive message that BPA is potentially harming children and more effectively support and promote BPA production and use.
Follow Stacy on Twitter -- @StacyBettison
Follow Stacy on Twitter -- @StacyBettison