In 2009 Annual Conference, Tuesday

FPRA Annual Conference

In this session, Lauri-Ellen Smith, APR, of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office discussed the essentials of communicating with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) during times of disasters and emergencies. The NIMS for public information changes everything about how government and non-government organizations communicate with the public, via the media during times of disasters or emergencies (planned or unplanned events).

Post 911, every unplanned event and many planned events that impact the public are handled using the National Incident Management System. Go to the FEMA website. The 700 class is the introduction class, where you can learn about Incident Structure.

Sitting at the right hand of the incident commander is the public relations officer.  Class 702 is just for public information officers.  You can go through the PIO (public information officer) tract to get a certification.

The model expands or contracts depending on the magnitude of the event or the period of time that has passed since the event occurred. The Joint Information Center (JIC) is sometimes set up to include all of the key players from every organization with a stake or responsibility in the event. There will be a representative (PIO) from every agency in the room.

The Joint Information Center is a federally sanctioned media center which responds to media queries about an incident. This insures a coordinated response. It keeps people staying in their lanes.  Consider everyone you should have around that table and in your own communications plan.

Hurricane Katrina and our lessons from it have helped prepare the Federal government, state government and local government for a more coordinated response.

Who runs the JIC? You need someone working electronic media, standing up your shadow website, conducting rumor control, etc. (Your shadow website is set up in advance of the event and includes a space for post-emergency information.)  When you write your emergency communications plan, think about who will fill each role in the Joint Information Center.  Think beyond the walls of your own organization. Encourage anyone who should be involved to take the certification course.

You will also need a good administrative person to be responsible for personnel accountability.

The command information in the JIC includes research; interviews; daily updates or re-caps to the website, media and those directly involved in recovery; editing and distribution of videos/ DVDs; Command messages; etc.  In your plan, have a list of topics that are CEO worthy and those that are not in terms of who should address the media.

Only the Incident Commander can speak on things that are run through the NIMS, not the PIOs from any of the agencies involved.  You no longer work for your agency when you’re working in the JIC. You’re working for the Federal government.

Lauri-Ellen is lobbying to get NIMS certification courses as part of the APR continuing education.

The emergency management plans are referred to now as “All Incident Plans” because you will do things differently depending on what happens.  Make sure your plan for each of your clients or for your organization includes how you will respond to a variety of different crises.  Social media has to be part of your plan.

Be ACCC certified! (You should include anticipation, coordination, communication and cooperation in your plan.)

You will get inquiries from the media about things you’re not prepared to talk about. You need to plan on the timing so that you can report when you will get back to them. Anticipate media needs and questions.  Ask the nay sayer at your organization about what the worst thing that could happen to your organization would be.

Security, accuracy, propriety and policy are all very important. You don’t want to deal in scenarios. If you have to wait to get the absolute accurate information to the media, do it. “No confirmation of ___ at this time.” “As of this time, ___.”  Etc.

Full of expert advice from a seasoned professional, this session was so worth the hour…and more. Many thanks, Laurie-Ellen Smith, APR!

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