What is a dark page?
When bad news or an emergency suddenly strikes your school, the website is ordinarily the first place parents, students, staff and the community turns to for information. Given the extreme time pressure inherent in crisis management today, there is just no time to construct a new crisis site from scratch. Instead, a prebuilt dark page can be quickly “turned on” as needed during a crisis management situation.
When do you use one?
Your school can send the wrong message if you adopt a business-as-usual mindset and continue using your website for regular use while you’re in the middle of a crisis. A dark page can be utilized in one of three ways: (1) the everyday website is completely removed and replaced with the dark page; (2) a link to the dark page is prominently displayed on the home page; or (3) a separate URL is created based on the most likely/obvious search terms.
Why use a dark page?
A dark page serves a number of key strategic purposes. Most important, it positions the school to be the primary source of crisis information. This helps suppress and control dangerous rumors and speculation. Similarly, it signals the news media that you intend to provide timely, accurate information, thus encouraging them to make you their first source in more balanced coverage. Your transparent behavior demonstrates that you are in control and take your responsibilities seriously. Concerned members of the public judge your behavior in this way. When your own website becomes a source of credible information, it translates directly into trust. Not communicating is seen as hiding, which frequently causes crises to assume deadly new dynamics when they expand into the online universe.
How does a dark page differ from a website?
The key differentiation is the type of content the page carries. During normal operations, school websites promote school news, events, contact information and more. But during a crisis, parent's, students, staff, and community want, need and expect very different, specific and consistent factual information from a trusted source.
Dark pages tell all concerned staff, students, parents, and the community:
- Any available facts about what happened as part of an opening or initial statement describing the crisis event and the school’s response.
- Special instructions telling everyone affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
- What specific steps are being taken to get the situation back to normal.
- Relevant background information describing the school, the causes, nature and likely impact of the crisis; in short, anything that promotes clear understanding of the situation.
- Contact information for the news media.
- Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis.
- Regular fact- and action-based updates.