Over the past couple of weeks the #SMEM Twitter world has been noodling with the question of the changing role of the Public Information Officer (PIO) in crisis. Some even wondered aloud if this function is now obsolete with the proliferation of smartphones and citizen reporters.
ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME?!!!!
Today, the PIO role is not only important, it is critical to keeping the heat off the backs of those working their butts off to get ‘r done. The Incident Commander carries the water in making sure the emergency response is safe, effective and efficient. The PIO carries the water in making sure the public understands and accepts the strategies and efforts of those in the trenches. Helping people understand what is going on is a helluva lot easier than helping them accept that the emergency is real, and that it may directly ruin their day. To do this, we need to revisit a convo from earlier this year that was regurgitated by my esteemed colleague Patrice Cloutier, a thought leader in the realm of crisis communications. You can read his blog post here. Make sure you scroll down to the comments and hear what other thought leaders thinkk.
Here’s my two cents;
- The PIO function is a critical component of crisis response, period. The only argument should be where it should be plugged in in the hierarchy of ICS. Patrice thinks the PIO function is important enough to warrant its own section designation. I now think the PIO gig should be treated like the Intelligence function in ICS; Command Staff Officer, General Staff Chief or Branch Director. This provides the flexibility to respond depending on the pressure for external engagement.
- It is time to recognize the significant resources needed to engage the public during crisis – 24/7. Quit thinking of the PIO as a single person. It needs to be a team of people; at least two for even the most basic of high visibility incidents. The higher the visibility (visually or virtually) the greater the need for additional resources.
- The face of your organization must be virtually engaged with the community BEFORE things go bad. It helps foster credibility, and more importantly identify leaders who have none (the “Crowd” is really, really smart).
On a totally unrelated subject, this is my last blog post as a chief fire officer. At the end of this week, I waltz into the private world. But, I plan on staying engaged with the issues related to public information and crisis response. My new employer- Coastal Industrial Services- understands and supports my engagement activities. I’m curious to see how these two worlds blend. Cya’ll on the flip side!
To all my public safety brothers and sisters; stay safe and sane.