The Debate Continues: Blending Communications into Response

Wow! What a response! In four years of blogging, I’ve never had that much feedback. And the people who commented and messages and tweeted and emailed are pretty much my heroes in this field, so yeah, banner day.

The other part of that great response, and arguably the more important part, is that so many people thought it was an important enough topic to actually speak up about it. And yes, the vast majority didn’t agree with my proposal, but it was poorly fleshed out solution. The idea, though, had some traction. People are worried that the current ICS structure might not be the best way to handle today’s media landscape. We might be onto something here.

So, what exactly are we on to? Following is some of the comments I received about my ICS post:

First, Patrice Cloutier disagreed with my idea:

I’d keep it a command position to ensure that the PIO has the opportunity to get the whole picture and interact with higher level echelons that interact with the IC.

Much better, because it’s a more and more operational AND liaison function, to keep it with command instead of moving it under ops.

His feeling was that the problem is less about the placement of public information on an org chart, and more about taking public information preparedness more seriously, at all levels:

To deal with the challenges brought by social media in terms of immediacy of a communications response you need a sound crisis comms plan with pre-approved messaging and the right channels to communicate quickly and effectively with all your audiences. No need to do that from the ops section…

Marcus Deyerin agrees with Patrice in disagreeing with me, saying:

One of if not the principle function of the JIC is to provide coordinated and unified messaging to the public that supports the overall strategy – and that insight has to come from the IC. For example, the IC wouldn’t want the Public Works department to independently send out a Tweet that a road is clear and open, because the IC may want it to remain closed to the public so it’s available exclusively to emergency responders.

He advocates taking the idea of pre-approved messages a bit further:

An example might be an [social media] post from the field that “responders still clearing slide on Hwy X, area remains hazardous.” This on-the-spot responder initiated report feeds the information beast, while supporting the general message of “stay away, let us do our job.”

He also notes, correctly, the measured growth of ICS, specifically pointing to the inclusion of the Intelligence component:

Just as we’ve seen how the “intel” function has morphed into a “put it where it makes sense” element, so too may SM emerge. But given the go-slow approach with how the Feds tweak ICS (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), I wouldn’t expect social media to show up under the Ops section as it very own box anytime soon. If anything, I see certain enlightened ICs perceiving as using it as tool (i.e. radio, shovel, dosimeter, etc.) , versus an independent function.

Gerald Baron, in his response post, echoes a lot of what the two gentlemen above said. I definitely think you should read his whole post here. I’m pretty amazed how the core of those three posts is really the same.

So, to bring it back to the original post, where does this leave us? I’m pretty sure that you all have convinced me that public information doesn’t belong in Operations. (You could even argue that social media monitoring performs some of the requirements of the Planning section.)

What’s next, then? Well, first there needs to be a serious discussion about the role of public information, especially with regards to social media, in ICS. Assuming there should be a PIO role (and I’m all for that) that reports directly to the IC, how can one centralize public information, while allowing for the speed (and benefits, see Planning note above) that today’s media needs (and can offer)? I’m not so naive to think that just because a problem has been identified that a solution is possible. Addressing our concerns might be as simple as PIOs and ICs learning to manage information better. But we at least have to have the discussion first.

H/T to @kim26stephens for the post title.