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.