Oil spills are no laughing matter. However, this video is. An Australian Senator is “explaining” the circumstances how it came to be that the front of the tanker fell off and spilled 20,000 tons of crude.
Yesterday, on our online conference on oil spill communications we discussed current practices in oil spill drill communications. I and others in my company have participated in a large number of oil spill drills and in the communication function of those known as the Joint Information Center. (If you want more information about JICs here are a couple of places to go: The National Response Team JIC manual, and a more updated JIC Guidance manual by one of the nation’s top experts in JICs and current technology (Select “JIC Guidance Manual-Pfuhl))The JIC as it is called, brings together communicators from the various agencies and companies involved in the spill response to be able to serve as one coordinated voice for the response. It is an excellent concept and it has proven to work very very well. But, there are always problems, of course.
Most problems are related to lack of training, lack of good leadership, lack of understanding of the task at hand. The oil industry along with major federal and state agencies work together in annual drills to hone their skills in responding to a spill as well as improving their ability to communicate with the public. But, as we discussed on the call, when the drill planners don’t understand the new world of digital media and how the internet has impacted public information, the drill is too often an exercise in solving problems of yesterday rather than today. Far too many drills I’ve seen are preparing to meet the information expectations of audiences 10 or 15 years ago–and the world has gone on. That’s because frequently the drill planners are emergency response experts who simply don’t live in the world of public information and have little exposure to the drastic changes occuring around them. “Blog? What’s a blog?”
If you are a drill planner or involved in the communication response to a drill, and especially if you are to play the role of “truth” or the “simulation cell,” here are some things you should consider:
– today’s audiences expect information fast, directly and transparently–and they expect a continual flow of new information
– it is imperative to work with the Incident Commanders in advance to outline how the PIO needs to meet today’s expectations
– the JIC is NOT about doling out the minimum of information to the media at the door or calling in to the News Desk or Media Responders. It is about building trust by meeting all stakeholders demand for fast, accurate sent directly to them and regularly. And their expectation the full and unvarnished truth of what is happening.
– Plan on 60-75% of the inquiries coming into the JIC from stakeholders–neighbors, community leaders, government officials, family members, activists, bloggers, etc. It is NOT about simply dealing with the media and letting them tell your story for you. Those days are gone forever.
– Bloggers will be very very active in a major event. They will be telling your story as well. The drill must include simulation of blogger activity including false info and angry accusations. Not including this is to live in a world that went away a few years ago.
– Since the “stakeholder first” strategy involves government officials and community stakeholders, the communication with them cannot be separated into entirely separate functions from the JIC. Technology today is aimed at sending simultaneous messages to multiple audiences. That means the Liaison Officer and the Community Relations leader must be part of the JIC and closely coordinate with the distribution of information.
– The JIC concept itself is outdated in the sense of a physical location for the communicators. By the time a JIC is set up and ready to operate the instant news world has told the story, thoroughly discussed it, the public has made its judgment and are moving on to other topics. If a physical JIC is set up, a Virtual JIC must be employed first in order to meet the initial and most important demands for information
– Virtual JICs are increasingly common (see previous post for excellent white paper on this by Bret Atkins of Ohio State Dept of Public Health)
– the purpose of the JIC is to build trust by meeting the stakeholders’s demand for fast, accurate, direct and transparent information. Anything less will doom the response in terms of public confidence and credibility. This is a job made much tougher by the fact that the public has already made judgments about those involved because of the environmental damage and pre-conceptions about the basic moral character of those in the oil industry.
Thanks again to Neil Chapman of BP for participating in this conference.
If you are in communications in the oil business chances are you have been involved in JICs (Joint Information Centers). In which case, you may be interested in the online conference I will be speaking at this week. If you are not in the oil business, but know you need to know more about JICs and how large multi-agency response teams work together to get the word out in today’s instant information world, you will still find this interesting.
To find out more, and also to learn about a massive oil spill drill going on in the midwest this week (using our communication technology of course), read pierblog. The online conference is free and you can register online at the link provided on pierblog or at www.piersystem.com.
By the way, speaking with me will be my good friend and highly respected communicator Neil Chapman, Director of Communications for BP North America.
Of the many lessons learned from participating in a large oil spill drill last week is that many of the world’s top communication professionals do not understand the blog world and do not appreciate its role in the public information environment. Before saying anything that might sound critical of these professionals, let me start by saying the immense respect I have for them and the outstanding professional job they do of open, transparent communication–particularly with the mainstream media.
But, it does seem clear that they continue to live and breathe in a world where the MSM dominates their thinking. There is not the stakeholder first strategy that is frequently discussed here. And there is little understanding of the growing role and importance of blogging in forming public opinion and determining reputation and trust. To wit: the drill exercise did not include any blogging activity as part of the simulation or “injects.” There was no reference to what bloggers might be doing or saying, no consideration of how the communication team would monitor or respond and no understanding of bloggers would be used by the MSM as part of their story development.
In this case, a large oil spill in one of the most pristine and notorious environments in the world, it is my feeling that likely at least 20 bloggers would be posting stories, photos, videos and comments on their blogs starting from the early hours of the event. This information, though understandably from questionable sources, would be used by the MSM to supplement or perhaps even drive their coverage. An oiled bird shown on a blog site could not be distinguished from this event or one that happened in the past. Nor oiled beaches. Information from observation about response activities, injuries and environmental impact could and would be reported by MSM referencing “witness on the scene.” There is no difference in credibility between a witness standing on the shore and one writing in his or her blog.
Yet, when asked about this some of the communicators were very dismissive of blogging. “No one pays any attentions to blogs.” “Everyone understands that blogs can’t be trusted.” “The reporters know better than to use blogs for their stories.” This is what was expressed to me when I questioned the approach. I think they are quite wrong. Bloggers would to a very considerable degree drive a story like this. The voice of the Joint Information Center representing the response team would only be one of many voices that reporters would use to prepare their stories. It is essential that those involved in these kinds of events be able to do real time blog monitoring and have communicators able and ready to review blogs, comment on them, respond quickly on their own websites and communication releases addressing false information, and be able to quickly correct any MSM stories that reflect the misinformation that may be found on blog sites. It is clear after this experience that even some of the world’s best communicators and communication organizations still have a ways to go in understanding just how much and how fast the world of public information is changing.