I observed another large scale drill recently. Millions of dollars spent. Wonderfully trained and prepared professionals in place–including some of the top communication professionals in the country. Great facility, technology, logistics. Even the public information technology (ours, of course) was fully integrated in the operation, ready to roll, everyone up to speed. But the communication was a complete disaster. For all the preparation and tools in place, one critical element was missing. The Incident Commander responsible for approval of information was woefully unprepared and ill-informed to deal with today’s instant news world.
The information process was working very well until he arrived. Then, everything stopped. A new release of info was delayed three hours while it went through six wordsmithing revisions. The legal team was invited to come in and help wordsmith–this in a Joint Information Center with multiple state and federal agencies participating and the resulting discussion about using the words “we regret” vs. “we are deeply sorry” took an inordinate amount of time.
Clearly the commander believed he was doing his job and doing it well. Words are important. Note–there was no dispute over key facts–just the way it was written in a release. But by his decision to get everything right to his satisfaction and all the Unified Command he threw away hundreds of thousands of dollars of preparation and years of training and expertise on the part of his JIC team. Far worse, he made a decision to allow bloggers to be the voice of the response. For in a real world situation in an event of this magnitude, neither the public nor the media would wait patiently for this wordsmithing process. They would get the information they were seeking from the thousands of eye witnesses who would see their small view of the incident. The JIC in those three hours lost once and for all its opportunity to be the voice of the response which is their job. Once lost, it is virtually impossible to get it back. The commander made the decision that getting the words just right, making the lawyer happy, and getting complete consensus on every sentence was more important than the JIC speaking for the response.
Someone forgot to tell him the world will not wait for him. Someone forgot to tell him he needed to speak now or forever hold his peace.