Incident Response Guide

Netsafe’s Incident Response Guide can be used when planning for, dealing with, or reviewing online safety incidents. It is strongly recommended that schools dealing with complex online safety incidents contact the Netsafe team for direct advice and assistance.

The goal is to ensure the wellbeing and safety of those involved, and to work towards a resolution so that a positive learning environment is maintained. It is important to remember that the focus should be on the behaviours behind the incident and not the technology.

The principles that guide how schools respond to digital incidents are to:

  • Minimise student / staff distress or harm;
  • Maintain student / staff safety;
  • Focus on the behaviors – not the technology;
  • Follow school processes regarding student consent and confidentiality.

The school’s usual disciplinary or behaviour management practices apply and schools have the authority to act even if the incident has taken place outside of school.

For information about the surrender and retention of digital devices visit the Ministry of Education’s guidelines.



Determine nature of behaviour and begin to record incident


  • What has happened (e.g. bullying, sexual content etc) and how (e.g. messages, videos)?
  • What is the nature of the content?
  • Where is this happening (e.g. online/offline; social media)?
  • Is this part of a wider situation?
  • Who else is involved or impacted? Target/s; perpetrator/s; bystander/s?
  • What actions, if any, have been taken so far?
  • Does it involve sending, creating and/or accessing information?

  • How do those involved feel? Do they have support?
  • Who else already knows or has been informed? (e.g. parents, friends, teachers, Police)
  • How and when will we involve whānau/family? Consider consent and confidentiality of students.

  • When did it start?
  • How often has it happened? Is it ongoing?
  • Is there a likelihood that content is/will be replicated or shared by others? Refer to the BullyingFreeNZ assessment matrix

Must do

  • Is it potentially unlawful conduct? E.g.
    •  Threatening, harassing, intimidating behaviour, intimate photos or video, aiding or abetting suicide, online grooming, unauthorised access to an online account. Seek advice from Police.
  • Is it objectionable material? E.g.
    • Objectionable material is material which is illegal to view, possess or share. For example, images of child exploitation, acts of torture, or sexual violence. Contact NZ Police if the incident involves objectionable material.
  • Is it intended to harm or offend?
  • Is there a privacy breach? (See school’s own policy and/or Privacy in Schools guide)
  • Is surrender of the device an appropriate course of action? (see p. 9 of Guidelines for the Surrender and Retention of Property and Searches)

Refer to: Criminal offences and civil law in ‘Digital Technology: Safe and responsible use in schools



Must do

  • Engage nominated staff and family/whānau as appropriate.
  • Clarify roles and processes – where appropriate, assign two staff members in interview roles
  • Provide pastoral care for all those involved
  • Record all information, decisions, and actions
  • Follow school processes regarding student consent and confidentiality
  • Assure the student/s that you will work with them to address the issue and explain what the next steps will be
  • Suggest others may need to be involved (e.g. Police, parents/whānau, principal/ lead teacher, Netsafe, Board of Trustees).
  • Gather evidence: Only that which is compliant with legislation. URLs, emails and some screenshots (Not objectionable content).
  • Report or block online content if this would help the immediate situation – consider if evidence will be needed to on-share with e.g. Police, senior staff, parents/whānau
  • Refer to: ‘Responding to digital incidents’ in Digital Technology: Safe and responsible use guidelines

Seek Advice

  • Netsafe – if support or advice is needed at any stage or if help is needed to report content.
  • Police – if any aspects of the incident includes unlawful conduct
  • Regional Ministry of Education office
  • Traumatic Incident Response Team (0800 TI TEAM (0800 848 326 anytime) for advice and support if incident could affect operations of the school/s; affect a large number of students/staff; potentially draw media attention.


  • Don’t access personal accounts, or search devices of those involved in the incident. Teachers/authorised staff are not permitted. Refer to Guidelines for the Surrender and Retention of Property and Searches
  • Don’t store evidence of objectionable material. Ask for URLs/account names that can then be passed on to the Police or Netsafe.


Who now needs to be informed or involved?

  • All Senior Staff
  • BOT chairperson
  • Guidance Counsellor/ Pastoral Dean
  • Parents/whānau
  • Third party agencies – e.g: Netsafe; NZSTA; YouthAid; Youth Line; N4L for tech support, Police


  • Refer to Communicating with Parents, Students and Media (Traumatic Incident Guidelines)
  • Determine how and when to release information to:
    • Staff
    • Students
    • Family/whānau
    • Media (if media attention likely or occurring)
  • Schedule meetings to inform staff, students, family/whānau/ media if necessary: Relay only necessary facts, procedures, and key messages appropriate to each group
  • Provide opportunity for students/staff to express concerns/needs in appropriate settings
  • Outline services/key people that they can go to to, e.g. Guidance Counselor (note: High Schools’ counselors can support Primary/Intermediate schools if needed)
  • Prepare responses/scripts for frontline (e.g. office staff) and other staff should the school need to inform the wider school community/ media. Communications should:
    • Acknowledge an incident has occurred
    • Assure all that the safety and wellbeing of those involved are priorities
    • Inform that the school is dealing with the situation
    • Indicate that support and advice is being sought.

Example of an initial response: “At this stage we understand there has been an incident and the school is dealing with this. We are working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all, and have contacted appropriate support agencies who are assisting us as we move forward”.


  • Make sure the incident details and all follow-up actions have been recorded as appropriate.

Take a proactive approach to preventing similar incidents

  • Make sure the incident details and all follow-up actions have been recorded as appropriate.

Looking ahead

Take a proactive approach to preventing similar incidents

The lead team could follow up by:

  • checking on students’ and whānau wellbeing
  • reviewing how the incident was managed
  • reviewing how school actively promotes online safety, citizenship and wellbeing.

Useful resources for further references

From Netsafe

Social media - how to report content

Social media sites provide information about appropriate use of their site in their Terms and Conditions. They also provide ways to report harmful content/comments. Note: You can report content/comments on many social media sites without being required to have your own account on the platform/site.
How to report on a particular site/platform

If you are unfamiliar with a particular platform/site – use a search engine and insert key words into an online search, E.g:   “how to report comments/content on …………”

  • Follow the steps outlined in the instructions
  • Contact Netsafe 0508 638 7233 if you have any questions or problems with reporting content

Quick Links for reporting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube: