Category Archives: Virtual Joint Information Center

Now is still too early for some government communicators

It absolutely astounds me how some of the top people in our government responsible for responding to large scale events–such as terrorism events–still don’t get the realities of today’s instant news world. I recently had a conversation with someone involved in the information operation of some large scale drills that the federal government runs regularly. It wasn’t until three hours after the event initiated that there was a call for the formation of the JIC–the Joint Information Center–which is the point of all communication about the response. Hours later and there was discussion among the leaders about whether or not to and when to hold a press conference. Hours later and they got their initial statement out.

I suspect that at the end of the drill, they all got together and patted themselves on the back for a job well done. While in reality, there would be a completely and totally predictable story dominating the news media–both mainstream and online–that once again, the government response was too little, too late and hopelessly inadequate.

What will it take for those responsible to understand the new realities? Government officials in Katrina took three days setting up their JFOs (Joint Field Offices) and related JICs. Those three days were absolutely precious in getting the word out about what was being done. Instead, they spent this time getting ready to tell their stories. It is like a person whose house is burning tying up their sneakers with triple knots because they don’t want them to fall off in their dash out of the house! Get out of the stupid house!

There is no question that the news media today has a story pre-writ about any large scale government-led response to a major disaster. That’s too bad because a lot of people are spending an awful lot of time and energy preparing to respond quickly and effectively. But if their communicators, under guidance of their response managers, think that releases and conferences hours after the event are just fine, they will find the news stories are horrible before they even crank up their fax machines. The rules have changed. Machine guns are on the field–and the generals are still lining up the troops in rows and telling them to charge the hills. Unbelievable.

Someday, just maybe, they will realize that a Virtual JIC, with all preparations in place is the ONLY way they have a chance of getting out in front of another “botched response” news fiasco. I’m afraid we might have to go through a few more Katrinas before that lesson is finally learned.

The satisfying validation of pioneering a whole new concept–Virtual Joint Information Centers

I hope my patient readers will allow me a little self-congratulations here. Once in a while, if you are lucky, you get a brief and fleeting sense that maybe what you are doing is making a difference and changing the world even just a little. Eight years ago, almost to the day, I became involved in a major oil industry disaster. It involved a fuel pipeline explosion that took three lives and since I was contracted to one of the oil companies involved, I became very involved in the communication response including serving as spokesperson for the company. I learned a lot and it was my first experience with an ICS (Incident Management System) response including the use of Joint Information Center or JIC.

The communications were a disaster–despite our best efforts. And it was largely about the lack of technology needed to meet the high demands for information from the media, neighbors, government officials, agency leaders, etc. Attorneys were involved–enough said. Out of that experience came my book (Now Is Too Late2) and a communication management technology now widely recognized as the leading urgent and critical communication management system. Out of it also came a concept which the technology expressed and made possible–the idea of virtual JICs.

The idea is simple: Joint Information Centers as conceived and currently implemented flat out don’t work. Too slow. They depend on communicators from a variety of different organizations getting physically together in one room, getting all the needed technology hooked up, getting all the lists and tools they need to work with together, getting them organized, coordinated and properly directed. All that is very possible and happens all the time. It’s just that it takes days, not hours or minutes. And minutes and hours is what you have to work with in these days of instant news, blogs, fulltime all the time news channels and the like. For long term events, it still is possible and necessary to pull a big JIC together–but that is after the virtual JIC has been at work.

The virtual JIC depends on technology. A complete and comprehensive technology platform that allows a dispersed team to function as if they were all in the same room. And it also depends on universally accessible technology–because a JIC by definition includes communicators from a variety of organizations that normally don’t work together and frequently don’t even get along. So using one organization’s tool without providing full and complete access to all the players simply doesn’t work.

That was our concept. It works–it has been proven in major oil industry events, major government events (such as the G8 Summit), major weather events and natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina. It is at work all over the world right now.

We’ve been trying to gain attention and understanding of the concept of virtual JICs for over five years. And now, here is the point of all this, we have some validation. Out of the Ohio State Public Health Department, a researcher by the name of Bret Atkins has analyzed the concept of Virtual Joint Information Centers and in a very academic mode, has evaluated the idea and its potential. Here is the strongest external, sober-minded, non-commercial and completely unbiased analysis of this idea since the days it first hatched.

The White Paper: “The Virtual Joint Information Center: A Technological Tool for Public Health Emergency Communication.”

I hope that Mr. Atkin’s call for continued evaluation of this concept will bear fruit and that his study will result in national level recognition of the importance of this for public safety as well as for protecting and enhancing reputations.