Via Peter Sandman: Risk Communication Videos

For folks who remember the old blog, you’ll remember I’m a really big fan of Peter Sandman. I’ve mined his site countless times and believe that reading his thoughts has made me a better risk communicator. I’ve always wanted to hear him speak, but have not yet gotten the opportunity. Fingers crossed!

In lieu of going to a place and seeing Dr. Sandman speak, now I’ve got the next best thing. He’s posted 12 videos of a training recently completed in Brisbane, Australia. Love it!

Thanks so much, Dr. Sandman. Here’s the link to his new Media page.

Bloggers as Information Disseminators

When you plan for and conduct outreach campaigns, or issue press releases, or disseminate risk communication materials, most people in our field will tell you to make sure you hit all of your target audiences. (Thinking back to your social marketing classes, you’ve already segmented your audience, right?) And that’s usually pretty easy. There’s the mass media (print, radio, TV and static adverts), your employees, partners that are either invested in the effort or that you work closely with, any special populations outreach media (think Spanish-language radio stations and newspapers), any other specific outreach modalities (think doctor’s office waiting rooms, etc.) and the really forward thinking folks will post to their Facebook page, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels.

Think you’ve got everyone? I would argue that you don’t. There’s a hugely influential population that hasn’t yet made it to the list for a lot of government communicators.

Who? Bloggers.

If there is internet access around you, there are people in your jurisdiction who are building a community online. Those communities are as varied and specialized as our campaigns and, in many cases, hyper-local. They are written in your town or city, written about things that are going on in your town or city, and are visited by residents of your town or city. If they’ve gained any sort of following, they’ve established themselves as trusted agents within your town or city. And, as a blogger, let me tell you that they’re always looking for new readers.

In the past, I helped design a campaign to connect with family medical decision-makers in our community. The campaign was never fully implemented, but a key tenet of it was targeted, personal outreach to members of the “mommyblogging” community in Philadelphia. Wives and mothers are usually the ones that make the medical decisions in their families, and research has shown that women visit so-called “mommyblogs” by the truckload.

So, if these blogs have established themselves as places that medical decision-makers visit and interact with, why wouldn’t we want to establish a relationship with them? Working in public health, it’s easy to see the connection, especially as some “mommybloggers” have taken very vocal pro-vaccine stances in the past. What a natural dissemination point! And yet, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a public health department, or other public agency, partner with individual, unaffiliated bloggers to further push out messages.

We willingly and regularly partner with community- and faith-based organizations who reach hundreds of community-members, and act as trusted agents in their community, but continue to ignore online communities that are viewed as trusted resources by tens, hundreds, thousands of people.

Given the thirst for increased readership and interesting content of most bloggers, which we as government agencies can easily provide, I can’t think of a more natural fit.

I wonder if this oversight is simply a blind spot that will be overcome as we become more comfortable online, or if it is an active rejection of bloggers as online ranters with no community, blathering on about nothing in their pajamas. As a blogger who’s never blogged in his pajamas, I hope it’s the former, and quickly overcome.

 

Via Philly.com: What Your Media Trainer Should Tell You is Going to Happen

During an interview this morning on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, the governor said though he apologized to Stahl afterward for his outburst, he didn’t apologize to her producers, who he said goaded her into asking him the same question “over and over again.”

He said the other alternative was to walk out of the interview, which was on the subject of casinos. But, he said, “that would have been just as bad because I believe the press should have access to public officials.”

Soon-to-be former PA Governor, Ed Rendell, is usually pretty media savvy. When he recently sat down with 60 Minutes to discuss legalized gambling, which is a hot-button issue here in Philadelphia, thing didn’t go so well. He came off poorly, to say the least. He was angry, snarling, yelling, abusive, etc.

At the time, I was surprised by his reaction on camera, and am now even more surprised by his reasons why this happened. Every media trainer I’ve ever met tells you that the media will ask the same question a thousand times, in slightly different ways. When they get the answer they want (see: Rendell, Ed) they toss the rest of the tape and just use that.

Please, for the sake of your agency, if there’s anyone who might be in front of a camera, put them in front of a media trainer first!

An ICS Expert Weighs In

Have I got a treat for you! Gary Oldham, an expert in many things response-related, including ICS, who has been doing work in this field for almost as long as I’ve been alive has contributed a comment to our ongoing discussion on the role of public information in the ICS structure. See below for the full post:

Let me start out with some full disclosure. I was pretty heavily involved in the fairly early days of ICS’s evolution as part of Project FIRESCOPE in California. I’ve served in a lot of ICS roles, including that of PIO (and initially when I filled that role – long, long ago – it was called FIO, for Fire Information Officer. And back then, Operations was called “Suppression and Rescue.” This was back before we recognized the “all-hazards” value of ICS.) Because of that, perhaps, I tend to be protective, perhaps over-protective of ICS.
The ideas presented here merit a lot of thought and sole searching. I tend to initially reject out of hand ideas that involve major overhauling of ICS. The beauty of ICS is its scalability and indeed its all-hazards nature and applicability. But we need to be open to the idea that we may need to do some revamping at some point.

I’m not sure this is it, though. I continue to believe the fundamentals, the underpinnings, of ICS are as solid today as they were in 1980. We’re better at using it than we were then. But we need to do some things differently, and information dissemination is certainly one of those. I’m a big proponent of social media in emergency management and public safety, and SM can certainly be a tool in the Information Officer’s toolkit within ICS. If there are things that impede information flow and release, they need to be fixed. Systemically if that’s where the problem resides, or on an individual incident or incident commander basis where appropriately. If IC approval is unduly slowing information release, then that incident needs some standing orders about how/when/and by whom information is going to be released so that routine releases don’t need specific IC approval. If there’s a trust issue there between the IC and PIO, that needs rectifying – through some candid dialog, through some accelerated approval processes that let each person get a feel for the others abilities and sensibilities, and a mutual effort. Items that are more sensitive – names of injured or killed, for but one example – may need specific approval, and working protocols can easily allow for that. None of these things require that ICS change; its framework certainly allows for protocols like these to be quickly implemented.

I watched the Deepwater Horizon debacle often in agony at how ICS had been bastardized and then criticized for its inadequacies. ICS was fine. NIMS added some useful things – like the Multi-Agency Coordination Center function, which is tremendous when done properly (as it was back in the 80s and 90s in California, where hard resource allocation decisions were made quickly, judiciously, and fairly by involved stakeholders). The Joint Information is another NIMS aspect that can be a good thing – or not, when done improperly. But the real bastardization of ICS came from the “oil spill version” that gives the violator, the causal agent, the “responsible party” (in law enforcement, we usually called them “the suspect”) a seat at the command table. In my mind, that’s where the Deepwater Horizon management effort reached the “success is impossible” threshhold. You can’t have parties with diametrically opposed agendas and goals sitting at the table with equal authority and reach a result that satisfies both parties. We really don’t need, in my mind, “versions” of ICS for oil spills, hospitals, schools, etc. ICS lets an incident or an organization fill roles as needed for their particular situation; it doesn’t require a separate “version.” And in no case, should “responsible parties” OR “suspects” get an equal say in how an incident is managed, OR how/what information is disseminated.

I think the closing sentence in this essay really hits the crux of the issues: “I see certain enlightened ICs perceiving as using it as tool (i.e. radio, shovel, dosimeter, etc.) , versus an independent function.” I completely agree – and I believe “enlightened” is the operative word. An enlightened IC working with a savvy PIO doesn’t need ICS’ framework to be altered, he or she just needs to recognize that ICS is a tool, too, and it is a flexible tool that allows these goals to be achieved within its existing framework. I don’t think ICS needs modernization – I think many of US do.

Thanks for this thought-provoking essay, and for the opportunity to weigh in on it.

Truly thought-provoking. Thanks so much for your contribution, Gary.

Via PR Daily: Kill ‘em with Kindness

Here’s how Southwest responds to critics on Twitter

As you’ve probably heard, Southwest Airlines is revamping its Rapid Rewards program. “The changes sweeten the rewards for people who pay more for tickets, since the points earned are directly linked to the ticket price,” The Dallas Morning News explained. As you might imagine, the changes irked some people and pleased others. One Twitter user with about 100 followers offered this tweet: “Wow. Epic marketing #fail by @SouthwestAir … announce big changes to their ‘mileage program’ via Twitter and aren’t responding to tweets.” Southwest’s reaction to the Twitter user? “Hey did you have a question about the new program? I’m happy to help!” The conversation became more civil after that. Two lessons from the exchange: Doesn’t matter how many followers your critics have, pay attention; engaging — not ignoring — your critics can be the best practice (though not always the best practice).

What a wonderful story about diffusing a potential situation!

Ingredients:

(1) Listening

(2) Ability to respond

(3) Kindness

Can you listen? Can you respond? Are you kind? I would argue that the only thing keeping your agency from doing what Southwest did is rules and availability; rules not allowing monitors (if you can afford them) from fixing a situation before it blows up. And that’s easily fixable.

Have a great weekend, folks.

The Debate Continues: Blending Communications into Response

Wow! What a response! In four years of blogging, I’ve never had that much feedback. And the people who commented and messages and tweeted and emailed are pretty much my heroes in this field, so yeah, banner day.

The other part of that great response, and arguably the more important part, is that so many people thought it was an important enough topic to actually speak up about it. And yes, the vast majority didn’t agree with my proposal, but it was poorly fleshed out solution. The idea, though, had some traction. People are worried that the current ICS structure might not be the best way to handle today’s media landscape. We might be onto something here.

So, what exactly are we on to? Following is some of the comments I received about my ICS post:

First, Patrice Cloutier disagreed with my idea:

I’d keep it a command position to ensure that the PIO has the opportunity to get the whole picture and interact with higher level echelons that interact with the IC.

Much better, because it’s a more and more operational AND liaison function, to keep it with command instead of moving it under ops.

His feeling was that the problem is less about the placement of public information on an org chart, and more about taking public information preparedness more seriously, at all levels:

To deal with the challenges brought by social media in terms of immediacy of a communications response you need a sound crisis comms plan with pre-approved messaging and the right channels to communicate quickly and effectively with all your audiences. No need to do that from the ops section…

Marcus Deyerin agrees with Patrice in disagreeing with me, saying:

One of if not the principle function of the JIC is to provide coordinated and unified messaging to the public that supports the overall strategy – and that insight has to come from the IC. For example, the IC wouldn’t want the Public Works department to independently send out a Tweet that a road is clear and open, because the IC may want it to remain closed to the public so it’s available exclusively to emergency responders.

He advocates taking the idea of pre-approved messages a bit further:

An example might be an [social media] post from the field that “responders still clearing slide on Hwy X, area remains hazardous.” This on-the-spot responder initiated report feeds the information beast, while supporting the general message of “stay away, let us do our job.”

He also notes, correctly, the measured growth of ICS, specifically pointing to the inclusion of the Intelligence component:

Just as we’ve seen how the “intel” function has morphed into a “put it where it makes sense” element, so too may SM emerge. But given the go-slow approach with how the Feds tweak ICS (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), I wouldn’t expect social media to show up under the Ops section as it very own box anytime soon. If anything, I see certain enlightened ICs perceiving as using it as tool (i.e. radio, shovel, dosimeter, etc.) , versus an independent function.

Gerald Baron, in his response post, echoes a lot of what the two gentlemen above said. I definitely think you should read his whole post here. I’m pretty amazed how the core of those three posts is really the same.

So, to bring it back to the original post, where does this leave us? I’m pretty sure that you all have convinced me that public information doesn’t belong in Operations. (You could even argue that social media monitoring performs some of the requirements of the Planning section.)

What’s next, then? Well, first there needs to be a serious discussion about the role of public information, especially with regards to social media, in ICS. Assuming there should be a PIO role (and I’m all for that) that reports directly to the IC, how can one centralize public information, while allowing for the speed (and benefits, see Planning note above) that today’s media needs (and can offer)? I’m not so naive to think that just because a problem has been identified that a solution is possible. Addressing our concerns might be as simple as PIOs and ICs learning to manage information better. But we at least have to have the discussion first.

H/T to @kim26stephens for the post title.