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Role of the Public Information Officer (PIO)

Thu, 7 Jul 2011|

The new free training program from the Firefighters Support Foundation outlines the responsibilites of the public information officer and discusses media relations and more.



[BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] Hi, this purpose of this lecture is on Public Information Officer. And we wanna learn is to, how to establish a guideline for the fire department's flow of information between the department, the news media, and the general public. The action we'll cover in this part will be the department's public information officer, as well as fire department personnel, who operate at any fire department scene or event. With the ability to deviate from the guidelines lies within the fire chief who's appointed designate. The fire department recognizes the need to deal effectively with the general public and the media. The fire department will strive to provide correct and factual information. To the public and news media in a timely and impartial manner. What are the responsibilities of the Public Information Officer? The PIO, Public Information Officer is responsible for coordinating the flow of information concerning departmental policies and operations. On a specific statements concerning issues that could arise concerning the department. The PIO will act as a main source of media contacts; the meet incident commander may be responsible for the release of the news information at the scene of the emergency, but at no time will the emergency operation be compromised for the release of the news information. In the event of an extremely news worthy incident the Incident Commander will notify dispatch, the communication center, and have a PIO, Public Information Officer, dispatched to the scene. Dispatch will notify the PI, PIO and immediately advise him or her of the situation. A PIO report to the scene of all major incidents, and coordinate all media information. As I was mentioning, the PIO gets dispatched to all major incidents. Now, let's look at those major incidents to see what they are. Any multi alarm fire incident involving industrial commercial occupancy. Fire instance involving fatalities or serious injuries. Any incident involving multiple fatalities or serious injuries, a major hazardous material emergency, or another incident requiring major evacuation. Extended or complicated rescue operations. Any incident involving death or seriously to the fire department personnel. All serious accidents involving fire vehicles that result in injury or fatalities to civilians or fire personnel, serious aircraft or railroad accidents, and the P.O., along with the Chief and a Safety or Sarge, are to be notified at any time when a supply line, as when additional lines are being laid out to a fire situation. Once the PIL gets dispatched, he'll respond to the incident command, the command post, and confer with the incident commander on all the information that needs to be released. There are times and certain situations where the media would like to talk to the first responder first hand. Only. Only being the chang of command can the PIO get that release of information from, from the chain commander that first responder can go talk to the media but it must be done completely following the chain of command. It is up to the department. To make sure to maintain the c, chain of command at all situations. We don't have to have firefighters explaining to the public what the situation was, what occurred. We gotta train our firefighters to be careful when we're talkin' to p, the public, where we're talkin' to the public, and when we're talkin' to the public. We don't need unpertinent information bein' released to the. To the media without PIO and the Chief of the Department knowing it. The PIO will obtain approval through the Fire Chief prior to releasing information on internal investigations, personnel matters and citizen complaints to the fire personnel or media representatives. Incident command and a public information officer. The incident commander shall be responsible for management of the public information on the fire ground. Any major incident likely to attract news media, shall be brought to the attention, by, by of the PIO, to the incident commander. As I mentioned before. And once the, once the things starts happening, the incident command should be notifying the PIO. When practical, the incident commander shall establish an immediate sector and advise central office or central dispatch of this location, and then they will turn it over to the new media. So all the news cameras. Have all the reporters go to one location, not to the fire scene and interrupt the operation. [UNKNOWN] requests that this be done via media page and a group of media faxes. At a multi-jurisdicition agency incident, the agency having primary jurisdiction will be responsible for the coordination and release of information to the media. Members of the media will often respond to a scene that would normally not require the presence of a PIO. In such case the incident commander should prepare to provide a media briefing as soon as the command responsibilities permit. Once your department establishes a PIO officer, they should have what is called a information release guideline. And these guidelines will help you dictate what gets told to the media. Information leaked into the media should relate only to the facts of the incident. No determination as to the cause of the incident should be released. Questions relating to the cause of the incident should be related to the appropriate investigation agency. Some agencies have a local fire Marshall, some have county fire Marshall, county arson squad, some have the state police. The all those questions we go, go to them directly. Under no circumstances should the names of fatalities or the injured persons be released unless authorized by the P.I.O or Appropriate Investigation Organization. You don't want, we don't want the media releasing people's names without next of kin or relatives finding out that there has been an injury or a serious death. At no time should fire department personnel information be provided to the news media. All requests for such information shall be immediately referred to the PIO via the chain of command. We don't want to put this out there that so and so has been a member of 20 years and his career is all about. We don't want that information out yet unless there's a chain of command and the chief of the department says yes you can do that. When the opinion of the incident commander under incident results in what may be potentially confidential situation. The PIO will be notif-be notified immediately. So, if there's something going on and the Incident Commander thinks that it's gonna be pretty newsworthy, you must notify the PIO and start setting up your operations right away. If a representative of the news media is requesting interviews and information. From the foreign personnel at any time other than is described in the above situations to be questionably referred to the PIO and to the, and to the chain of command. So they're coming to the firehouse knocking on the door saying we want this information. Call your PIO officer or get your chief of department there to answer their question. Also, we are also be talking about is on radio communications. When do we start talking, releasing names and saying, victims' names over the radio. That has to be stopped also. So the PIO's gonna have to get up and [UNKNOWN] with department procedures on, radio communication. This information is important. We do not want that stuff being transmitted over the radio cuz the news media has radios in their cars and vehicles. The public has radios at home. We don't want information about personal matters over the radio. Do not release the following information. The identity of the victims of a sex crime. If you're doing EMS, your fire department's doing EMS work and you get involved with the sex crimes, don't release the name of the victim over to the news media. Identity of a juvenile suspect. You don't want the names of a juvenile under 17 18 years old out in the paper. The identity of other identifying information. There's a captain of the football team or a cheerleader, we don't want that information brough out any, any attempt at suicide, we don't want that information being brough out to the media. Standard operation procedures were written for emergency response or pre-action pre-fire action plans, we don't want to be telling, giving them out to the media cause that's our. That's our information, if they get the media, they could try to use it against us in lawsuits. So we gotta make sure that, that stuff stays within the Fire Department. Information on suspects that have been interviewed, but not charged, there have been times when you go out and start doing your investigation, and you're talking to all the citizens. They're not being charged for any crime, you're just trying to get your information on this, this fire. Do not give out those names to the public, or to the news media. The public does not need to know who those people are. The release of names is an [UNKNOWN] biographical information of victims, including minors. It is not restricted. No information on the identity of any critical injured or deceased person shall be made prior to notification of the next of kin. This is stuff that we have to keep to ourselves. Until we be able to get to the next of kin and to the person of other people in the family. We don't want the media to get all these names. Individuals identifiable health information obtained by the fire department is confidential. That's under the Hippo laws. We can't go out telling everybody about so and so, patients, their medical problems. By law we cannot do that. And release of names of deceased persons shall be handled by the primary responders. If the Police Department, let them go and handle and tell and notify the next of kin that there's been a death in a fire, or death by an accident. Whatever. Whatever the case might be. It is very important that the PIO is designated very early on makes arrangements. To guide me to vantage points to safely get coverage without interfering with emergency operation. Failure to do would result in freelancing by the media. And we have numerous times when you turn around, you have the media's coverage area set up down the block. And the media sneaking in to get good footage. You need to set up a good relationship and show 'em this is the area where we will be setting up, having news conferences and news briefs. In a large scale operation it may require that a media sector be set up in the staging area or other locations where transportation to the incident site can be arranged by the PIO. We may be using city buses, have them down a block, there's a large scale incident, we don't need them coming up there by a hazmat incidences, we'll have the media sector set up down the road, we'll have buses transport them back and forth, this is all set up by the PIL. After seeing an event of the public interest. Representatives of the news media have been permitted to conduct interviews, take photographs, otherwise perform their assigned tasks, provided that their actions are not in violation of the guidelines that you established in your department's SOGs. And provide such activities not interfere with the fire department operations. So you allow them to do certain things just as long as they're not interfering with our operation. And photo, photographs and video tapes may be taken from areas where the news media have been given access by the incident commander and the PIO. Once they deem it's okay, then they can actually start setting up and taking pictures with their cameras and video machines. Area of access for news representatives on a scene of an incident will include any areas open to the public. Any designated set aside for news media's briefings. We have to have a set area where the briefing is being occurred. And any area to which the news media representatives are provided guided access by the PIO, [UNKNOWN] command, or his designee. News media representatives shall be permitted to interview victims of an incident. Who have consent, consented to such in the use provided. So, if the, if the, the public in-person, says yes. They'll be interviewed, then the news media can interview that to, to the, to the public, The victim is not undergoing medical attention. If the person's not on medicines and it's coherent and contour. The PIL should grant them privilege to talk to the media. The victim appears to able to make sound decisions, once again, be able to talk, and is not upset. Severely injured or emotionally distraught, the last thing you need is a person with a bloody gain band-aid, is hanging all over the place, and the news media talking to them. If the victim decides not to be interviewed, the media representative should be advised. So if the public says, look, I don't wanna be involved with this, I don't want to be interviewed, the PIO is responsible to tell the news media that there is not gonna be any interviews today with this victim. >> We've talked so far about public information, the role of the public information officer. Than the importance of public information at a scene. What we wanna talk about now is more along the strategic planning side. How do we plan for and address the needs of the media. And the needs for distribu, distributing information during time of crisis? [BLANK_AUDIO] Message mapping is the process that we're gonna talk about. It's the process of creating a playbook so that we have a strategic plan of how we're going to collect data, process data, and issue verified validated information to media and other stakeholders. As first responders, we do quite a bit to prepare for a response. We do drills, we go to classes, we study, we process, seeing management so that we understand what we might face in time of crisis. The same thing for public information. The emergency management discipline requires that we focus on. Building strategic plans to address the concerns that we're going to face in time of crisis. Public information officers do the same thing. They have to plan and prepare for what they could expect as far as media inquiries and other stakeholder requests for information during an emergency. The first thing, obviously, is to define. Who are stake holders? We can look at YouTube, or any online video and find examples of where public information has gone awry. The officer who was no t prepared at the time, for requests for information from the media or is bombarded by media with hundreds of questions in a three second time span. We also can find really good examples of personnel who are well-trained, who had the answers before they ever got in front of the media. Because they knew what data they needed to collect. And we're gonna go over some steps so that we can plan for and build almost a script of what information is needed or how to go about collecting the information so that we can get the information and get the story out to the media, meet their deadlines. And meet our operational requirements, because remember, the media can also be used to help us manage the sea and the community's reaction to crisis. Who are some of the stakeholders in public information? There's bonders and their families, families want to know what's going on. The larger the incident, the more disconnected families may feel from their loved ones, so they're going to want data. Regulatory agencies who are going to wanna know what's going on and in what time frame. Citizen groups who have, feel that they have a stake in what's going, obviously. Either the economy of the community or somehow they're involved, or feel they're involved in the incident whether you believe they are or not. Is not important it is their perception. Media, parents especially where children are involved in environments that they believe are safe. Parents for example responding to schools because they heard the school may had a lock down, or because they might have heard a fire at school when it was simply an alarm system. Having a methodology to deliver. That information to the parents so that they are less stressed arriving at the scene, will only make your job better. Public in general has a need for information, especially if we start managing traffic control routes, or we are looking to disrupt the community activities. And the last obviously, is elected leadership. Policy makers or elected leadership want to know what their personnel are doing. Because they're also getting questions from people. They're getting phone calls and need to know how to effectively respond. A strategic planning tool for public information officers is message mapping. It provides an integrated structure to determine. What information is needed and the process for collecting it. It also has core content already developed prior to the incident in a calm environment so that we can control the message that we're putting out, watch the words that we're using, and be more clear and concise in our delivery. We provide the PIO with a process. For strategic development of the message that we want to send out. We then can interact with the PIO at a time, before an incident, when we have the time to research, to analyze to practice together. So that the PIO and the command officers are prepared. For, media or onslaught of all the stakeholders asking for information when you're trying to manage operations. I do want to point out that much of the information that I'm providing is, was created Message Map, Message Mapping is a concept was created by Vincent, Covello, who is a Ph.D out of the Center of Risk Communications in New York City. Additional information can be found at the center's website. There are three goals to message mapping. To organize information in easily understood process, to make sure that we have a framework, that is understood by all. To express the current organizational viewpoints. To focus on important issues, question and concerns particularly the concerns of the incident commander. And the third is to promote open dialogue inside and outside the organization. Part of the thing that we have to remember is in many jurisdiction the PIO may not be from your town, may not be from your department. Particularly as incidents grow in size and become more regional public information might be a shared responsibility, or might be delighted to different jurisdictional authorities so using the message map format let's think a standard house fire. You're, you're responding three o'clock in the morning to a structure fire, standard residential structure, and, so we're going to, create the map for residential structure fire. The title of the map might be, single fire, residential, single family dwelling, residential fire. Initial suppression. So we know that the time frame for this is during that initial period of response and suppression. And don' think media may not show up at that same time you are arriving. It may happen. The stakeholders for this are the general public, people who are going to be seeing this first thing in the morning. The elected leadership maybe who's gonna want information, on your response and what we did, particularly as Council members or solicitors show up at three in the morning 'cuz they live nearby. Questions or concerns? Well, what are the first concerns in a standard structure- residential structure? How many apparatus do you have on scene? They may ask you, did everyone get out OK? Have you contacted anyone to help these people because now they are displaced? Are they even displaced? How many children were involved? These are some of the questions that may come up. One of the other concerns that might come up, is this a key influencer in your community? Is it the Mayor's house? Is it a board member of one of the boards, influential boards on your City Council? These are all questions that should be there and be prepared for. Next is the overarching message. What is the overarching. 27 words what's the overarching message well city fire department responded to this alarm at three am. Everyone was evacuated. No fatalities. We're in suppression operations now you're within 27 words you've gotten all the points you needed to get out three critical elements that you can then message out further on. Key message number one that I said is is we responded because obviously and especially in a small community. The amount of time it took you to get to that scene is critical. Department responded within three minutes to the alarm, good message. The second message is that everyone was evacuated and there were no injuries. Not as critical as the first, certainly important message. You may argue whether that should be the last message or the middle message. The third message is, the city fire department is involved in suppression operations now, and we anticipate that the fire will be under control shortly. We're active and involved, and we're here are the messages the, the points that youre giving out in that one. Your supporting facts can come from the job itself. When you first arrived obviously as you're doing your size up, you're gonna determine what is the occupancy and is the occupancy evacuated, you're gonna initiate some rescue and suppression operations as critical responsibilities on that initial response and you're gonna collect that data at your command post or the back of your vehicle so that you have this information prepared for whatever media's coming along. Imagine if you have a form to write this information down, or a cue card. And to be able to hand that off to an officer or individual that can handle the media for you. That is trained to handle the media for you. The collection of that information is that simple and that quick. What you see on this slide is a standard format for building a message map. You can see across the top we want to put what the overall map is for, what is the topic we're trying to address. Following that we'll title the map. So that we know, not just what it's for but we'll know at what time frame. We'll see then the stakeholders who is it that we're trying to address, and we'll also address questions and concerns that might come up. This is important, we know, what types of questions media might ask. We know, for example, they might wanna know the number of apparatus responded. What alarm is the fire? How many people are displaced or involved? Was anyone killed or injured? What time was it dispatched? We can build those general questions or concerns right there so that we know why we've focused on these three key messages below. Next you'll see the key message points: one, two and three. Key message number one is the most important message that we wanna get out. Remember that each of these three messages are going to be broken into nine second sound bytes, twenty seven words. That's very important to remember. Nine seconds and 27 words for each of these messages. That's the time that you have to get your point across. The first message is going to be the most important. The second message will be the least important. And the third message will be the second most important. Why? So that we're leaving them with information and we're leaving them with a focus. Following the interview or following the announcement. You'll see that right before that, we're going to put our supporting information. What facts do we know? And, again, these are validated, verified facts that we know, that we wanna get across or that created the message. The supporting information facts also below that. Make sure that that information is there because as the media asks you questions you wanna get back on message, and the way to do that is to know what it is you wanna deliver and also the supporting facts that go with each of the messages so that as questions are asked you are able to follow up. With individual media inquiries or concerns. [LAUGH] 1-9 seconds, 27 words. Quite simply, it's because anything more than that is subject to edit. You need to get your point out within those nine seconds and 27 words, or run the risk of the important part of your message being edited, for time constraints within the story when it runs on the local news. This reinforces why we're doing this message mapping. nine seconds, 27 words is a very limited space, to get your major point across. By practicing and building strategic message, and this process will be able to do that, and you'll be ahead of the game. To be more specific on this format. The title of the map is to address what it is we're we're focusing on. Also though the timing, when is it best to issue this message? When are we focused on these three points? The second thing is stakeholders. We really do need to understand who our stakeholders will be for this message so that we can. Build the message according to who the receiver is. Remember, most people don't do fire suppression or rescue operations and have no idea of the terminology we may use. So, it gives us an opportunity to select our terminology based on the receiver, not the sender of the message. Questions and concerns. Is the other section that discusses the data sources that the audience may want. It also focuses on predictability. We really do know, and you can research online the 100 standard questions that a journalist will ask. So that we know which of these questions may come relevant in a time of an emergency, whether it be a car accident. A fire, a flood, whatever response operation we're involved in, there's a series of standard questions that the media's going to want to know. We could build message maps to address those common requests. Under Questions and Concerns, we could identify subject matter experts to help us collect or have information. Stored and prepared. A good example would be. In a pandemic emergency, public health can assist us in building our message maps, If our EMS service is gonna be involved in transporting, Those that are ill, or reported with flu-like symptoms, so that we can start to assist in getting the information out. Also, it allows us to sort our concerns into manageable chunks, and that's very important. We're building messages that are concise, brief and clear to the point, WE want to develop three key elements, or points of information for conciseness. We want to deliver each of these in no more than nine seconds and we want to make sure that we use no more than twenty seven words. For the entire set of messages. They need to be written to a sixth or eighth grade level, so that we make sure that what we're sending out is information is readily and easily understood. For example, we can build a message map or a fatality at a fire. We know that media is going to want to know the name of the individual which we just learned, we don't want to give out, but they're still going to want information. We know that they're going to want to know the age of the individual, or relative age. What were the conditions or environment that the individual might have expired? We know that they're going to ask who rescued the individual? What were the circumstances around that. They're looking for a story. They're looking for information. No comment doesn't work. As a matter of fact, no comment will simply the extend the period that they're seeing information. So let's have managed, controlled information available. We know that an individual passed away in the fire. We are researching now the individual's name and identity. The individual's age appears to be elderly woman, young child, whatever ballpark. And you may not want to issue that information. That is subjective to your community. We know that we can say yes she was rescued by this fire department or the other department. We know that we can say EMS worked heroically on the individual. But unfortunately, was not able to revive the individual, or is currently working on the individual and she's being transported to the hospital as we speak. Whatever the situation calls for. Very concise. Very specific and the points we want to get out is. Individuals that are rescued or recovered, what are we doing with them now, and who are the individuals that address them. I wanna leave you with two thoughts. The first is, in emergency our future as responders may hang on a few words,. Provided by someone in authority as we face a fateful decision. This was said by risk communication expert Baruch Fischhoff of the Washington Post, and there were never truer words. The second thought that I want to leave you with. The media is a distribution system. They need to collect information and send it out to the public. Content is important to them. We want to make sure that we partner with the media preferably before an event to make sure that hat trust and bond is there so that we can give them informed validated information and they don't go seek information from alternate sources which may or may not be credible to them. Artas. We've talked an awful lot about standard operating guidelines for public information. We've talked about the strategic planning that goes on in delivering information. How do we pick a PIL? Its actually a really good question picking a public information office is not like picking someone to make entry. Public information officers have to be specifically trained to deliver the message we want delivered and deliver the information that we need delivered in a matter that. Projects authority, responsibility, and integrity. We need a public information officer that looks the part. But we also need one that is well trained in understanding what the media's needs are. What all the stakeholders' needs are. And how to build these message maps. How to look for this strategic information. In some jurisdictions, the public information officer for all departments comes out of the administrator or mayor's office. In other jurisdictions, each department may have their own public information officer. In smaller towns, it may be the chief that handles all those functions. The fact of the matter is we need to understand that if we're taking the role of public information officer, then we need to take the training and build an understanding so that when we're in front of the camera or when we're addressing the community, we're doing so with integrity and honesty. We're doing it with authority and we're projecting. That confidence that's needed, so that the public feels good about the information being provided is real and factual. I would focus on a public information officer from all emergency operations that has experience in front of a camera, that has maybe had experience in talking to a community organization. Public speakers are available. You may have public speakers in your community that are educators, that are politicians, that are retired and looking for a role to stay involved in their community. You may have firefighters that are well trained. The point of the matter is to find an individual that meets those three criteria, that has an understanding of the environment that you're operating within as firefighters and as fire leadership. And also understands the other side, the needs of the media and the stakeholders for information, and can work that balance, so that we're getting good information out, we're keeping the public and stakeholders informed as we need to, and at the same time, we're not interfering with operations. And blocking our success at, at emergencies. It is important to point out that under the incident command system, the public information officer whether he's operating out of the mayor's office, whether he is the mayor, whether he's the joint, operating out of a joint information center or out of an emergency operations center or even on the fire grounds. A public information officer is part of the command step. His message and his activities are accountable to the incident commander on scene. That has to be, the IC has to control the messages that are going out to make sure that they're verified and factual. Also to look for trends and patterns of the information that's being requested. [BLANK_AUDIO] Whether you're a small or large department, situation may even dictate that you have a public information officer. You may not have a career seasoned trained information officer available. But you want someone to, to address the media and to delegate that responsibility as command staff off to an information officer. What do you do? Well, it really starts before the event, like any operation. You may have a firefighter that is directly from central casting. The perfect build, the helmet looks just right tilted. Whatever. They're right out of central casting, they're not formally trained. You may not use them all the time. Where can you go to get training? There's a variety of places. Your Office of Emergency Management at the state or county level may have training courses available for public information officers. FEMA has courses available through the National Emergency Training Center. There's also online curriculums that are available to assist you in building that confidence in front of the camera, and how to work with and affect communications for your department. [BLANK_AUDIO]

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