Category Archives: emergency management

Blending of comms into response–what should it look like?

In my eleven issues for 2011 post, one of the items referred to what I see as the inevitable coming together of external communication and operational response. This triggered this thoughtful blog from James Garrow, who until today I only knew as “Jimmy Jazz.” Have greatly enjoyed the interaction with “Jimmy” on this blog and appreciate his insight on these issues of real importance to the future of NIMS, ICS and response management.

For those not jumping to his blog post (which you should), here is a relevant comment:

I advance the idea that today’s media environment is completely different than the media environment that ICS was developed in. Aside from increasing capacity (see: incorporation of the Joint Information Center, media center and ESF 15), there has been no fundamental change in how PIOs act within the ICS structure. I wonder if the change in how the world interacts with the public information component of modern organized response should necessitate changes in how modern organized response creates and disseminates public information. Has public information become part of operational response?

I’ve talked with colleagues at the local and federal level about this idea, (start ICS) about moving public information out of the Command staff and placing them under the Operations Chief (end ICS). No one thought it was a good idea. They felt that the direct relationship between the Incident Commander (IC) and PIO was vital to speed information releases. But I find that there is already talk in social media circles about how getting social media messages approved by the IC is too slow, so I don’t see how that relationship will continue to be sacred.

For my part I tend to agree with Patrice Cloutier who commented on Garrow’s post that the fear would be loss of PIO influence over Command decisions. If anything, that influence is almost certain to expand. However, I completely agree with James’ observation that the world in which ICS was created does not resemble the world we currently live in regarding public information. Public and political sentiment already is substantially impacting response decisions and will only grow in the future. Communication in this world is not one way linear flow of bare facts. It is a complex interaction, a conversation occurring at multiple levels. That conversation needs to become embedded not just in Command or Operations, but in every element of the response. How to do that will be the big challenge for influential response professionals and policy makers.

Our multimodal world

I was speaking to a group of Navy PIOs the other day and as part of a panel was asked a question about how to reach seniors, in this case the large population of Navy retirees in this region.  Other panelists commented on the high degree of penetration among seniors of the internet which still surprises a lot of people. While not as high as 18 year olds, the majority of seniors do use the internet regularly, particularly to stay in touch with family.

But my answer was there is no single answer. Email, websites, absolutely. But no single medium will reach all you need to reach and part of the internet-dominated world we live in is the reality that the receiver is in control. They choose their own media and it is constantly changing. It reminds me of the student from a campus who was not in a position to receive and urgent message from the university via the automated phone message, the text message or the email message. Using the website, he complained he didn’t hear the announcement on the radio in his car! Mass media still lives and still plays a role in this day of instant, direct communication.

The message is simple: use multiple means. No single method has any assurance of being complete. There are even times to use snail mail. Well, not often.

School communication, social media sites and current thinking

Here is an excellent paper by Dr. Dennis McDonald
about school communication. Virginia Tech continues to be a driving force in people’s thinking about communication and particularly mass notification. As I commented today to a reporter from PR Week, this event perhaps more than any other since 9/11 demonstrates the huge shift to a post media world. Every day the expectation is increasing of direct communciation vs mass communication through traditional media. Isn’t it astounding to look at the criticism leveled against the administrators that they did have the capacity to simultaneously alert thousands of people with an instant and direct message? And since that event, that expectation has multiplied many times over. It is not just university administrators who are scrambling to come up with ways to meet this new kind of direct and instant demand. It is anyone who is in the public safety business.

McDonald’s paper focuses on the use of social media sites. As crisisblogger readers will note, this is something I have commented on several times in the past. Indeed, the technology we provide for mass direct communication, is used to push info to social media sites and we now consider it one of the many important distribution modes.

The world of public information management gets more complicated and challenging every day. Thanks Dr. Mcdonald for helping address some very important issues.

Notification is Not Communication

Ever since the Virginia Tech tragedy in April, there has been a tremendous increase in interest in emergency notification. There is almost a sense of panic, so many seem so intent in putting emergency callout capability in place. This is positive in many respects because it is a strong indication that more are starting to understanding the growing expectation that today’s stakeholders have for DIRECT communication. When their lives are at risk, or what you are doing affects them, they want and expect to hear from you directly, not the media, not from blog sites, not second hand–directly from you.

But there is a lot wrong in this frenzied rush to buy notification solutions. We have bandied this about in our offices for weeks and with the prompting of Marc Mullen, my associate who drafted the first version of this paper, I finally put down what I think is wrong with the current thinking about emergency notifications.

Here is the White Paper.

I fully expect that those providing telecom-based notification services will disagree. Good, let the debate begin.

Anne Klein on "fighting fire with fire" in crisis management, Eric Holdeman on emergency mgt

Anne Klein is a respected PR professional from the Philadelphia area. Her article, titled “Crisis Management: Fighting Fire with Fire,” was published in the Boards and Directors newsletter.

It is an excellent review of the role of technology in today’s crisis management including a helpful glossary.

Full disclosure: the technology she refers to, including the examples provided, is the system sold by the company I lead.

The second article I refer you to is an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times written by former King County Dept of Emergency Management head Eric Holdeman. Eric, a valuable resource for the entire region, is now principal at IFCI, a consultancy, specializing in homeland security and emergency management consulting.

False claims abound in the new world of instant notification

One sad outcome of the Virginia Tech tragedy has been the hyper-activity of many of the notification vendors who provide phone or text message services. I have talked to a number of university leaders and all have commented on how they have been inundated with pitches–many of them distasteful in light of the tragic circumstances.

Then you get those who claim they are the first or only or whatever–even by people who know better. Here is an example from an otherwise excellent article about the emergence of mass notifications in crisis communication by Bulldog Reporter writer David Henderson. What university and other communicators need to know is that there is a dizzying array of notification options and providers. What they also need to know is that sending a max 140 character message on a cell phone, or sending a brief phone message, or lighting up a digital sign (all good ideas) will trigger a massive demand for information. It will require continual delivery of messages to those who wish to receive them, it will require a virtual non-stop flow of information on a specially-prepared website, it will require the ability to manage potentially thousands of personal interactions–all with a very stretched and probably distributed leadership and communication team.

There are complete solutions that help you do that. But don’t think that communication end once you triggered the siren. Now the real work begins.

Visiting with some of the world's leading communicators

I just returned from a bit of whirl-wind trip to two major cities. It’s part of my new job as CEO of PIER/AudienceCentral. Some of the visits were sales related but most involved initial implementation of PIER, our online communication management technology.

This job, as well as work I have been doing in crisis management and communciation, has given me the rare opportunity to work with some of the top-level communication professionals in the world. For me, this is such a treat, because my journey through life is mostly about learning, and I am learning so much from these people. What an opportunity to discuss personally with the communication manager of one of the world’s leading companies how he is dealing with the controversies that right now occupy the pages and screens of old media and new media outlets around the world. And what a privilege to work with leading emergency management leaders, responsible for planning and communication that may protect millions of lives–to hear their concerns, priorities, strategies, etc.

This blog is in part my attempt to share with any of you who care, some of the things I am learning from these people. I wish I could credit my teachers more, but for obvious reasons, I usually cannot. On this trip, where I had to make several presentations, my basic message was about trust. Whether you are a government communicator or operate in the private sector, it is trust that is the ultimate measure of your success. Whether or not you are building trust depends on two things: are you and your organization doing the right thing–not in your eyes, but in the eyes of your stakeholders? And, two, are you communicating continually, speedily, directly and with absolute authenticity?

These questions resonate with all communicators at senior levels with whom I work. I get so distressed when I see the cynicism in the media, in our schools, in our political and social discourse–the assumption that most in positions of power and authority are bad people and out to screw you at the first chance. Sure, there are the bad apples, as there are in every profession and all walks of life. But the people I am privileged to meet and work with are, virtually without exception, people of high moral and ethical standards, who are continually working to do the right thing, and take their responsibilities as communicators very very seriously.