Yesterday I started a week long FEMA class for Incident Commanders. The curriculum is designed to provide detailed position specific education for those of us charged with organizing chaos. The two instructors have extensive ICS pedigrees, and likely have forgotten more than I’ll ever know in managing big time emergencies. The same goes for many of the students in the class. We are an eclectic and experienced lot, representing private industry, public education, health, fire, law enforcement, utilities and the military.
I’m intrigued to see if/how the instructors will ‘drift’ during the week from the party line as it relates to PIO functions. The six inch thick (I kid you not) student manual doesn’t appear to address new media relations and contemporary expectations and considerations in giving the public what they want.
During an initial overview of PIO perils and pitfalls SM was briefly mentioned. In general, it was portrayed primarily as a complicating factor in “mess management”. But, the sage instructor noted the importance of constantly reading what is being said and responding accordingly, in what he be musingly called “Whack a Mole”. For those of you who never played this game at your local carnival, a player uses a mallet to smack mechanical moles that pop up from a variety of holes as quickly as possible before time runs out. It is hilarious, but not as satisfying as getting rid of the real thing in your yard.
I know my instructor was being flip. But, his analogy was dead on in describing what needs to happen in new age public information messaging. Information Whack A Mole means;
- Understanding you may only have a short window of time to reach your goal.
- Watching all of the information silos (holes) simultaneously.
- Quickly recognizing when important information pops up.
- Deciding if you have enough time to effectively react (or if you even need to try to “whack it”)
- Taking dead aim in quickly and accurately responding.
- Repeating the message as necessary, ensuring your point gets across…whacka, whacka, whacka
- Noting your score and figuring out if you need to make another investment to improve your odds of winning (or at least breaking even!).
When I was a kid, I really sucked at this game. I played it so much it ruined any chance I had at being a starting pitcher in college….OK…. not really…. I actually sucked at baseball. But, I digress.
To carry the analogy to the bitter end, the best the PIO/IC can hope for in playing Information Whack A Mole is winning the virtual warm and fuzzy prize from a grateful public and agency administrators- the greatest prize of all.