I had coffee with crisis information expert Gerald Baron (@gbaron, www.crisisblogger.com) yesterday. We get together to talk about social media, emergency response and crisis communications. Gerald is a local treasure when it comes to best practices in crisis communications. We met almost 12 years ago when I was a spring chicken fire department PIO and he was the hired gun for a petroleum pipeline company. The pipeline had ruptured, spilling over 200,000 gallons of gasoline, which ignited, causing millions in damage and killing three kids. From the ashes, he sweated blood in creating PIER, a leading emergency management information dissemination “cloud” software program, and I worked my butt off to instill a culture of preparedness and resilience within my community.
I came away with the following thoughts stimulated through our conversation;
- The designation “PIO” and current job construct within NIMS is toast. A new job description needs to be written…ASAP.
- Every Incident Commander on every type of IMT better have a clear understanding of the real and potential impact of SM in crisis response and communications. This needs to happen yesterday.
- There is no such thing as segmented “public information” in crisis response and communications. Most information shared and acted upon should be considered public given the mobile technology our responders have. An exception can be made for the “secret squirrel” law enforcement/security information that is usually cleaved off anyway (or they shoot ya).
- Any PIO/JIC process chart that doesn’t include multiple pathways to communicate and share information between the various JIC functions won’t work when the feces hits the oscillator. All future information dissemination and distribution processes must be based on ENGAGEMENT. Effective emergency communications is no longer about “controlling”, “approving” or “releasing”. It’s all about “monitoring”, “assimilating”, “analyzing” ,”engaging” , and “monitoring”……
- The public and private sectors are struggling with transitioning to a culture of real-time information dissemination, and integrating the approach into their crisis response plans.
- Related to #4. We better figure it out quick. The longer it has been since the last disaster, the closer we are to the next one (nod to Ret. Fire Chief Al Brunacini for this quote)
- Crowdsourcing makes traditional leaders uncomfortable to say the least. Giving up information control (even though it is no longer reality) makes ‘em sweat.
I used to think I had omnipotent powers as an IC to spoon feed information to the public in a way that helped me manage an emergency response. Ummmm….. as it stands right now, I know that 70,000 citizens with smart phones can kick my virtual butt…in real time. Shudder….