The news out of the Gulf seems unremittingly bad. The spill continues unabated and continues to threaten sensitive areas, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people. There are families–too forgotten I feel, grieving the loss of eleven men. What the long term damage and cost will be is still far from certain. The media are doing their typical thing of finding any and every reason to get people to get eyes on their screens or pages. The politicians are playing their roles perfectly–wringing their hands in righteous indignation and trying hard to pin blame, while their staffs are busy working at piles of new laws and regulations. The White House has a clear strategy–make certain that the government is blameless in all regards and make certain this is not the president’s Katrina.
From an inside/outside perspective it is amazing to me what is happening and the lessons learned. I spoke yesterday to a group of Public Affairs Officers from the National Guard and pointed out that this event will be one of those we look back on that changed our world. But right now we are in it, deep in it.
It was just about eleven years ago that the event from which PIER was created happened. Being involved in the communications in that large pipeline event, I saw that there could be and had to be a better way of communicating. A few key beliefs emerged:
- all communications had to be conducted on a web platform because as George Gilder said a long time ago, the network is the computer. Web-based meant completely portable and facilitate collaboration from wherever.
- Everything had to be in one place–contacts, background info, team members, web content, distribution methods, reporting, tracking, etc. Can’t use multiple systems when the world is crashing around you.
- web service had to be incredibly robust–even eleven years ago it was obvious the web would be the primary way of getting info. It is.
- Had to manage communication with everyone, not just the media. All stakeholders expect and demand the latest and best info. The media in this view was one of many many important audiences for the info.
- Had to automate basic processes–like building a list of those who want to get your updates.
- had top be able to manage interactivity–there will be a lot of people including reporters who have questions, some will have comments, some will want to vent. In their own minds, they are all important–and they are absolutely right.
PIER became the system we developed out of those beliefs. While the world may be in shock and expressing outrage over the events, and while there remain serious internal obstacles to getting the right info out fast, from my perspective the beliefs were right and are now being played out on a scale I could not have imagined 11 years ago. The dedicated communicators from many different organizations and located at different parts of the globe are collaborating with quite remarkable effectiveness. A steady stream of meaty information releases is going out to the tens of thousands who have registered themselves to get those updates (register yourself at www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com). There are thousands and thousands of individuals who have submitted questions or comments–many are helpful suggestions, some are expressions of support, many legitimate questions, and thousands have used the opportunity to express their disdain, hatred, political views and threats of harm. All but the most abusive have been personally and directly responded to. Monitoring is part of the function and is being done. Social media is being used to great effect. The processes for creating, editing, reviewing and approving information are proving their worth–even as approvals get increasingly convoluted.
And some are taking note of how this working and the effectiveness of it. An article in Nextgov highlighted PIER’s use and yesterday I was interviewed by the New York Times technology reporter on how web-based technology is being used in this response (still waiting the report to publish).
I remember the line from the A Team, Hannibal I think it was who said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Eleven years later, though very far from perfect, I think the plan has come together.