Via ABC’s The Drum: The media is not there to help. It does not feel your pain

The media presents itself as being in some way empathetic. They are there, they are broadcasting, because they care, because somehow bringing the images into our homes, over here across so much water, can … well, what?

Surely anyone with a true need for information can access it through official channels? Appeals for donations are hardly a key feature of the current rolling cover. It follows then that everything else is a sideshow staged purely for amusement.

The relationship between media and victims is so often plainly exploitative. Look no further than this afternoon’s News Limited websites, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Both featured screen-wide images of a family, a father and two children, moments after they had been told there was no hope that their mother could have survived the crushing impact of the quake.

All three are caught by the camera in a frozen spasm of grief. It is torture to see. It is an extraordinary intrusion … a stolen moment of agony that has nothing to do with any of us. The news agencies that flog the image have nothing to offer these people in return. No empathy, no support, merely a momentary exploitation of sorrow in the hope the image might arrest the passing internet eye and draw traffic. Grotesque.



From the mouths of editors.

Jonathan Green, of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Drum blog posted an AMAZINGLY frank article today.

Public information officers and public relations folks have, I’m sure, felt this very same way when dealing with the media, especially a national or international media. Swoop in, soak up resources, exploit the survivors and off like a flash without enriching–or even helping–the damaged community. Your community.

I see so many lessons that we’ve talked about here, and so many more that I want to talk about that I’m kind of speechless. Understanding the media, ensuring that your local media is taken care of, ensuring that your community is shown in the best possible light, providing access, the list goes on and on. And yet, I’m taken aback by the frank tone of the article. The scathing language used. The validation of all of our worst fears.

Reading back over my post now, I wish that I had let it stand by itself. I worry that I cheapen this single example of a member of the media calling his profession out. In the end, I left my thoughts only as an introduction to entreat you to forward this post widely.


Via Don’t Get Caught: Should PR Have It’s Own Transparency

To start, I LOVE the name of this blog. Don’t Get Caught is a blog written by a PR consultant in DC. Props to her for such a clever name. (And maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I really get a kick out of how it seemingly confirms PR critics’ worst fears, that we’re only here to cover things up.)

Ms. Graveline posted an article earlier this week that ties nicely into my post from yesterday about our need to be better planners (and a huge part of that was transparency). In it, she shares a number of recent articles (including one by Shel Holtz and one by Ivan Oransky) about how PR agencies, professionals and practitioners should be more transparent about what they do and have done. I don’t know that I could agree more:

*Unlock those PDFs urges this blog post, noting that when you make it impossible to search, clip or print a PDF, you’re limiting your readership to on-screen viewing only. No way that one’s going viral.

*Sharing live video coverage of your company and publishing your business practices are two transparency moves that are becoming the norm for corporations. Check this list of good examples from Edelman PR.

*Tell your potential partners how you want to be pitched — not reporters per se, but suppliers, cosponsors, fundraisers, you name it.

*Open APIs for developers. From the post, “API or application programming interface, is…one part of a software program that makes it easy for other programs to make use of a piece of its functionality or content.” Making them openly available lets developers expand and build on your brand. If you’re creating a new platform, consider this.

*Don’t think like a portal: Make that video available was the message to the Columbus Dispatch, which removed the video of the “homeless man with the golden voice” from YouTube and put the video on its homepage. And while you’re at it, make sure that video’s shareable.

Besides being transparent being the right thing to do, just think how ahead-of-the-times you’ll look when you start espousing these ideas, and then they become normal business practices in two years.

After the Los Angeles Decision, We All Need to be Better Planners

The field of emergency planning got a kick in the pants this past weekend with the court decision that found the City of Los Angeles discriminated against people with disabilities because their planning, especially around shelters, did not adequately account for their needs. Many in the know figured something like this would happen, but it’s still a shock when it actually happens.

With LA City suit decided, many in our field began to talk about citizen responsibility to preparedness. “Doesn’t the public have a responsibility to self-prepare,” they ask. This isn’t said snidely, but in the context of emergency managers who already have mandates and responsibilities far beyond their budgets and capabilities.

The thing is, both are right. The public should prepare themselves and the government should be ready to help those who did nothing (by choice or not). We should work harder.

No, scratch that, we should work smarter, not harder. Let me give you a relevant example.

Public emergency communication has proceeded in one direction for years. Broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. I would argue that best practices developed in the communications sciences (and on Madison Avenue) show us that doesn’t work. Even the research we do do shows us that our current route of communicating doesn’t work (evacuation orders before Hurricane Katrina, anyone?). But, that’s the way we’ve always done things.

And now we’re being told to do more. I say this calls for a fundamental review of how we do emergency communication: utilize researched and validated best practices, open up your planning process, talk with your community.

First, best practices. This isn’t something we do very well. And I don’t mean we don’t incorporate best practices, I mean we don’t develop and make available best practices. On my old blog, I used to complain about the glacial pace of academic research and how, in the absence of current research, many emergency planners wrote their own plans. (Be sure to note that this “ready, fire, aim” process was probably done at the behest of a funder.) That doesn’t really apply anymore, though. In public health we’ve got nearly ten years experience in what we do so even if nothing’s been academically vetted (which is increasingly unlikely), there are partners across the country with whom we can share what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. The Department of Homeland Security’s Lessons Learned Information Sharing website tries to facilitate that sharing, but site is poorly organized and onerous to get into. As such, I think that it’s not much of a tool. But those personal relationships should exist. Every time I’ve reached out to folks in other cities and counties, the amount I learn is way more than I expected.

The next step is to open up your planning process. Of the three, I would argue that this will probably the most difficult to get approval to implement. And that’s because I’m going to tell you to take your wonderful, secret, FOUO plans and let others read them; make comments; identify gaps; identify solutions; propose partnerships. Start with your fellow response agencies (they’ve all seen your plans, right?), and move outward. Consider, in the case of the City of Los Angeles, sharing your plan with those advocates and agencies who brought suit; ask them to help you think outside of the box and find what’s unworkable. Take your communications plan and share it with members of the local media—not so they can write a story, but so they can be ready and know what to expect when your emergency happens. The better they know what you’ll do, the more quickly they’ll get your story out (and I think we can agree that both parties would like that). Open your planning process, let others help you write, refine, perfect your plans. I know your planners are the second best in the country (sorry, mine are the best), but they can’t think of everything.

Finally, talk with your community. This goes beyond the previous step, which really talked with the folks who would be on the front lines with you during your emergency. What I mean is, you should take your now very well vetted plan and teach the public about it. Teach them where your shelters are and where the evacuation routes to the shelters are, train them to listen to the radio station you’ll be announcing updates on, set up an emergency placeholder page on your website that tells people that this is where the latest updates will be posted.

Talk about what could be the worst day in their lives and tell them how you’ll help to get them through. If they know that you won’t be there for 72 hours because you told them that, they’ll stop assuming that calling 911 will fix everything. Engage the public in training exercises (a la The Great ShakeOut), so they see you in action and learn how they can take part. The enemy here is not fires, or explosions, or gas, or airplanes; it’s lack of information and coordination. We’re doing one thing and our public thinks we’re doing something else. One only needs to look at the recent earthquakes in Chile and ChristChurch, New Zealand to see how a well-prepared government and people can overcome a disaster.

Hopefully this recent court decision, and others that will surely follow, lights the right kind of fire under planning and response agencies. The kind of fire that makes us all safer.

Via It’s Not My Emergency: Omnipotent or Impotent? Guess…

  1. The designation “PIO” and current job construct within NIMS is toast.  A new job description needs to be written…ASAP.
  2. Every Incident Commander on every type of IMT better have a clear understanding of the real and potential impact of SM in crisis response and communications.  This needs to happen yesterday.
  3. There is no such thing as segmented “public information” in crisis response and communications.  Most information shared and acted upon should be considered public  given the mobile technology our responders have.  An exception can be made for the “secret squirrel” law enforcement/security information that is usually cleaved off anyway (or they shoot ya).
  4. Any  PIO/JIC process chart that doesn’t include multiple pathways to communicate and share information between the various JIC functions won’t work when the feces hits the oscillator.  All future information dissemination and distribution processes must be based on ENGAGEMENT. Effective emergency communications is no longer about “controlling”, “approving” or “releasing”.  It’s all about “monitoring”, “assimilating”, “analyzing” ,”engaging” , and “monitoring”……
  5. The public and private sectors are struggling with transitioning to a culture of real-time information dissemination, and integrating the approach into their crisis response plans.
  6. Related to #4.  We better figure it out quick.  The longer it has been since the last disaster, the closer we are to the next one (nod to Ret. Fire Chief Al Brunacini for this quote)
  7. Crowdsourcing makes traditional leaders uncomfortable to say the least. Giving up information control (even though it is no longer reality) makes ‘em sweat.

I hate quoting this much of someone else’s post, but the post has no connective meat outside of this juicy, juicy piece.

Look out DeSean Jackson, I might have a new favorite person in this world, and his name is Chief Boyd.

Chief, if you read this, please expand on these topics. You’ll move this field ahead by leaps and bounds.

When is a Snow Emergency like a Public Health Emergency?

Snow events, for local government agencies, are pretty unique. They are emergencies, no doubt, but kind of slow-moving emergencies. There’s generally a lead-in time with advanced warning (when the grocery stores get cleaned out), then a slowly deteriorating situation that stresses response capacity and only after the event is over do you how bad it really was.

Sounds a bit like a pandemic to me.

Except for places that are the first hit (Mexico, San Diego, and Texas in H1N1, China in SARS), there’s at least some warning in a disease event. And response capacity stressed? Oh yeah, definitely; beds, nurses, medications, vaccines, respirators, you name it there was a shortage of it. And only after it’s over do we really have a good view of how bad it was, and how big of a bullet we (hopefully) dodged.

The public information needs are also similar. There are new rules put into effect (snow emergency route parking restrictions and isolation or school closings), recommendations on how best to deal with the situation (wear lots of layers or lift with knees while shoveling and covering your cough), and a need for situation updates (Mayor Booker is a great new example and CDCs FluView is another).

Okay, for all of you naysayers, it’s not perfect, but there are lessons to be learned, right?

Which leads to my point. Pam Broviak, writing for the Government in the Lab website, details the efforts of a City Manager for the City of Elgin, IL during the recent blizzard that ate the Midwest to communicate with the public.

Ms.Broviak identified eight things we all can learn about communicating during slow-moving emergencies (and most of them have to do with utilizing social media):

  1. Publish the local weather alert and let people know where to get more information. This information should be issued in a press release, posted on the city’s website, and sent out through the city’s social media accounts, automated call services, and e-mail blasts.
  2. As more information is received, follow up through the same channels letting people know about special rules in effect and how services will be impacted.
  3. Once the storm hits, post information on social media channels about the snow and ice control operations and give people an idea about how often updates will be provided.
  4. Continue regular updates throughout the storm, and include information about equipment, schedules, staffing, status of services such as power, traffic conditions and road closures, weather conditions, emergency service response, and other relevant issues.
  5. Post snow plow location data if available.
  6. Inform citizens if operations are suspended and let them know when they resume.
  7. Inform citizens of problems and property damage.
  8. Let residents know as operations near completion. Leave them with contact information and one last update on the status of operations.

While these are very much associated with snow removal and other infrastructure-y things, I think they’re absolutely necessary in public health and other slow-moving emergencies. Push out information early and often, through a variety of channels, provide situation updates including information on where things are happening, be the first to note when things aren’t going as well as planned, and finally, let people know where they can learn more.

I think of these tips as core goals of an emergency communication effort. That they’re tied to social media here is just an illustration of one tool in the toolbox.

Via Bernstein Crisis Management Blog: Build Your Army

It starts with your customers, clients, users, whoever. What you’re doing for them on a day-to-day basis defines how they’ll treat you when you need them. Are you going out of your way to be helpful? Are they buying from you, or from a “big-no-name-store?” Will they get a human being on the line when they need one, or will they go into voice mail hell?

Here’s one that I can appreciate. For those of you in the private sector, this seems like a no-brainer. Respect your customers. And even for some of the more forward-thinking government agencies, this makes sense. Take care of your constituents.

(And seriously, if you don’t think this makes sense or is critical? I think you’re in the wrong business — any business!)

I’ve talked in the past about building up your goodwill with your customers. If you’re a respected member of the community, those who respect you will come to your defense. I’ve seen it happen, and have been lucky enough to have been defended by my constituents, so believe me when I say it works.

Normally, I wouldn’t pass this link along because it’s so basic. But the title reminded me of something that I wanted to mention about, well, building your army.

Think about who are the people most invested in seeing you succeed? Well, besides yourself–and the taxpayers–and the elected official. Your fellow employees, maybe?

Shouldn’t the people you work with be your best ambassadors? I mean, they work there! I don’t know how much outreach goes into worker bees in private industry, but I know that very little of that takes place in government.

The place where this would really pay off is during an emergency. “Hey, you work for the Health Department? What’s going on?” Now, how would you like your sanitarian to answer that question?

A) “Me? I dunno. They don’t tell me nuthin.”


B) “Well, it sounds bad, and I know the news is all over it, but we’re giving out antibiotics to people who were exposed. Go the website to learn more.”

You’ve got HUNDREDS of built in outreach workers who are well-known in their own community, yet we continue to struggle with developing outreach programs and training folks in the community to deliver messages in an emergency. Why do we continue to ignore the best ambassadors we’ll ever have?

The Media is Untrustworthy and the Only One That Gets Harmed by That is You

Bill Salvin is one of my favorite thinkers in our field. He’s got oodles of experience and writes well on very important matters. And he’s a heck of a nice guy. His most recent post is on the issue of trust, specifically the issue of trust of the media. he passes along a link to the 2011 Edelman PR Trust Barometer and notes the following:

According to the study, trust in media is very low. In the US, only 27% of those surveyed trust the media. It’s even lower in the UK at 22%.

I’ve written previously on how poorly the media passes along stories, so I would argue that this lack of trust is well-deserved. Mr. Salvin gives us some advice about how to do the work we do in this less-than-perfect situation:

Companies that plan to rely on outdated crisis communications plans that focus on press releases and traditional media relations are placing their reputations in the hands of what many believe to be an untrustworthy source. The opportunity here is in developing your company’s social media presence so that you can connect directly with the audiences you need to reach. The cool part is the news media also uses and monitors social media, so you can check that box, too.

I think it’s high time we start taking responsibility for our own reputation. Politicians today talk about going around the media filter and speaking directly to their constituents. They aim to build and maintain their reputation without having to depend on good stories getting picked up by the media while hoping that less flattering stories don’t make the news.

Are we doing the same? Or do we continue to place our agencies’ reputations in the hands of one of the most untrustworthy industries out there?