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PIO, Time For A Team Approach

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I continue to noodle around on the tangled web of integrating social media into the NIMS/ICS environment. After looking at various JIC models and discussions about how emergency agencies are trying to bring SM into to their ICS, I’m starting to coalesce around some concepts. Warning; random stream of consciousness follows……
First, some simple and abbreviated views on PIO/JIC functional responsibilities during emergencies;

Information gathering
Learn what outsiders are saying about how good (or bad) responders are doing and the impact on community psyche. Monitor the game to learn whether you are winning or losing, and watch what is being said to see if people are paying attention to the score and wagering on the outcome.

Information creation/dissemination
Use traditional and new information tools in providing fast, frequent and accurate information/ instruction. The bigger the mess, the more likely you will use all of the arrows in your PIO quiver. A mess demands real-time engagement. The PIO must have permission to engage without having to have everything approved by the IC (I know I sound like a broken record). The challenge is agreeing on the boundaries past which approval must be obtained.
Traditional tools – media releases, interviews and press conferences will always have their place, especially press conferences with a background filled with uniformed chief officers looking important, concerned and/or uncomfortable (that’d be me). But, SM is quickly becoming the gold standard for getting information quickly into the hands of those who need or want it. It is changing our culture faster than Mark Zuckerberg’s bank account.

Functional Operations
Make sure the PIO function is equipped to feed the voracious appetite of the information animal. Don’t forget to keep copies of the food you feed it (records retention). The PIO must bring in folks with the appropriate skills and abilities to build and maintain public confidence in the operation. This skill set must vary depending on the communications medium being supported. A 18-year-old volunteer SM maven can make your SM platform sing, but is probably not going to be first on my list to draft a release on the environmental impact of a large chemical spill. Likewise, I’m probably not going to expect a 60-year-old industrial hygienist to create and monitor a uberhashtag or write a crowd sourcing summary.

PIO’s get lonely in a hurry

Perhaps the PIO function should now be a team sport regardless of the size of the incident. Today it is nearly impossible for one person – the PIO – to adequately engage the public, and the public defines “adequate”. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying there should be more than one PIO at an incident. But, at a minimum, the PIO should consider snagging a teammate – an assistant(s) with the skills and experience to monitor and disseminate real-time SM information over several platforms, allowing the PIO to work with the IC in coordinating media strategy, boundaries in releasing info and deciding which stuffed shirts should be standing in the background at the obligatory press conference. If your organization does not have the resources to allow this, setting up SM messaging tools in advance that allow you to send a single message across multiple SM platforms can really help ( I use Ping_FM). My organization has some of these tools, and we are working on capturing folks who can help us use them. We still have work to do.
If the mess is big enough to require a Situation Unit, grab another PIO assistant to liaison with the Unit to monitor internal operations and listen to what external stakeholders are saying.
If your community is having a REALLY bad day and a full-on ICS is in play, building out the JIC is a must. This means you’ll likely need a JIC liaison in Planning and maybe another in the field to observe and report on conditions that can then be passed along in real-time.

And, I’m still trying to figure out how the ICS Intelligence monitoring functions fit, or don’t fit, into the ever-expanding role of crowd sourcing and monitoring. Topic for another day…..

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Comments - Add Yours

  • http://crisiscommscp.blogspot.com/ patrice cloutier

    Hello Chief … Thanks for the excellent post. Your broad categorization of EIC/JIC functions are logical in the social media world.

    A couple of things. We need to ensure that the Social Media monitoring folks can actually feed stuff back into the planning or intel group in the EOC … (will they listen?) as we know SM (particularly crisis mapping) is also a very valuable situational awareness tool.

    Second, the PIO must have the flexibility (and humility) to call for help … and more and more, this includes volunteers. People who were generally excluded from any incident site or JIC not so long ago.

    Thanks again

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.