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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 want to learn is to how to establish a guideline for the fire department's flow of information between a department, the news media, and the general public. The actual cover in this part will be 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 that was appointed designee. 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, 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. Now, on a specific, specific statements concerning issues that could arise concerning to the department. The PIO will act as a main source of media contacts. The incident commander may be responsible for the release of the news information at the scene of 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. Dispatcher will notify the 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 instances, see what they are. Any multi alarm fire incident involving industrial, commercial occupancy. Fire instances of fatalities or serious injuries. Any incident involving multiple fatalities or serious injuries. A major hazardous material emergency, on another incident requiring major evacuation. Extended or complicated rescue operations. Any incident involving death, or seriously to the fire department personnel. All serious access involving fire vehicles that result in injury or fatalities, to civilians or fire personnel. Serious aircraft or railroad accidents and the PIO along with the chief and the safety authority are to be notified at anytime when the supply lines, that's where additional lines are being laid out to a fire situation. Once the PIO 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 in certain situations where the media would like to talk to the first responder, first hand. Only. Only via the chain of command can the Peioga that release information from, from the chain of command. Our 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 ca, chain of command at all situations. We don't have to have firefighters to, explaining to the public what the situation was, what occurred. We gotta train our firefighters to be careful when we're talking to pe, the public, where we're talking to the public and when we're talking to the public. We don't need impertinent information being 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 the internal investigations, personnel matter and citizen complaints to the fire personnel or immediate representatives. Incident command in 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 the, of the PIO by the incident commander. As I mentioned before. Once it, once the thing starts happening, give the command, should be notified a PIO. When practical, the instant command should establish an immediate sector and advise central office or central dispatch of this location, then they will turn it over to the news media, so all the news cameras... And all the reporters go to one location, not to the fire scene and interrupt the operation. The instant command and request that this be done via media page and a group of media faxes. At a multi-jurisdiction agency incident, the agency have a 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 be prepared 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 the information release guideline. And these guidelines will help you to dictate what get tells to the media. Information in relation to the media should only relate to the facts of the incident. No determination to the cause of the incident should be released. Questions relating to the cause shall be referred to the appropriate investigation agency. Some agencies have their local fire marshal, some have county fire marshal, county [INAUDIBLE] squads, some have the state police. All those questions that we've, will go to them directly. Under no circumstances should the names of fatalities or the injured persons be released unless authorized by the PIO or appropriate investigation authorities. You don't want, we don't want the media releasing people's names without next of kin or relatives finding out that there's been an injury or a serious death. At no time should fire department personnel information should be provided to the news media. All requests for such information shall be immediately referred to the PIL via the chain of command. We don't wanna put it out there that so and so has been a member of 20 years and his career's all about. We don't want that information out yet unless it goes up the chain of command and the chief of department says, yes, you can do that. When the opinion of the incident commander and the incident results in what can potentially be a controversial situation. The PIO will 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 way. If a representative of the news media is requesting interviews and information. From the personal at any time other than is described in the above situations. The request shall be referred to PIO and to the chain of command. So they're coming to the fire hose knocking on the door saying we want this information. Call you PIO officer or get your chief of department there to answer that question. Also, we are gonna be outside talking about is our radio communications. When do we start talking? Releasing names, saying victims names over the radio. That has to be stopped also, so the PIO's are gonna have to get involved with department procedures on radio communication. This information is important. We do not want that stuff being transmitted over the radio because the news media has radios in their cars and vehicles. the public has radios at home. We don't want that information about personnel matters over the radio. Do not release the following information. And identify of victims of a sex crime. If you're doing EMS work, your fire department's doing EMS work and you get involved with a sex crime, don't release the name of the victim over, 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 identify of other identifying information. There's a captain of the football team or a cheerleader, we want that information brought out. any, any attempted suicides, we don't want that information brought out to the media. Standard operation procedure were written for emergency response pre-action, pre-fire action plans. We don't want to be telling them, giving it out to the media because that's our. That's our information. If they get the media, they could try using it against us in lawsuits. So we gotta make sure that stuff stays within the Fire Department. And information on suspects who have been interviewed but not charged. There have been times when you go out and you start doing your investigation, and you're talking to all 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, to the, to the news media. The public does not need to know who those people are. The release of names is an identical biographical information of the victim, including [xx], is not restricted. No information on the identity of any critical injured or diseased person shall be made prior to notification of the next of kin. This is stuff that we have to keep to ourselves. Until we get, be able to get to the next of kin, and to the person, other people in the family. We don't want, we don't want the media to get all these names. Individuals identifiable health information obtained by fire department is confidential. That's under the HIPPA laws. We can't be going out telling everybody about so and so, one of the patients, their medical problems. by law we cannot do that and release of names of the seized persons shall be handled by the primary responders. If the police department let them go and handle and tell them notify the next of kin that there's been a death in the fire or death by an accident, whatever the case may be. It's very important that the PIO is designated very early on, makes arrangements. To guide me to vantage points to safely get coverage without interference with emergency operations. Failure to do it will result in freelance invited media. And we have numerous times where we turn around, you have the media's coverage area, certain set ups down the block, and the media sneaking in to get good footage. You need to set up a good relationship and show them this is the area we, we're setting up, having news conferences and news briefs. And a large scale operation, it may require that media set, to be set up in a staging area or other location where transportation to the incident site can be arranged by the PIO. We might be usin' city buses, have 'em down a block if it's a large-scale incident and we don't need 'em coming up there by usually a Hazmat incident. We'll have the buses, we'll have the media sector set up down the road, we'll have buses transport 'em back and forth. It's all set up by the PIO. At a scene, of event of a public interest. Representatives of the news media will be permitted to conduct interviews, take photographs, otherwise perform their assigned tasks, provided that their actions are not in violation of the, of the guidelines that you established and your department's SOGs. And provided 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 operations. Now photographs and videotapes may be taken from areas where the news media have been given access by the incident command 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 a incident will include any areas open to the public. Any designated areas set aside for news media briefings. We have to have a set area where the briefings are being occurred. At any area to which a news media representatives are provided guided access by the PIO, incident Commander or his designate. News media representatives shall be permitted to interview victims of an incident. Who have consent consented to such interviews provided. So if the, if the publican's person says yes he'll be interviewed, then a news media can interview that, to the, to the public. The victim is not undergoing medical attention. If the person is not on medicines, and is coherent, they can talk. The PIL should grant them privilege to talk to the media. The victim appears to be 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 gan, bandages hanging out 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 want to be involved in this, I don't want to be interviewed, the PIO is responsible to tell the news media that there is not going to be any interviews today with this victim. >> We've talked so far about public information, the roll of Public Information Officer. And the importance of public information at a scene. What we want to 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 distributing information during times of crisis. Message mapping is the process that we're gonna talk about. It's the process of creating a play book 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 stake holders. As first responders we do quite a bit to prepare for a response. We do drills, we go to classes. We study, we process scene 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 are going to face in a 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 inquires and other stakeholders requests for information during an emergency. The first thing obviously is to define. Who are stake holders. We could look at YouTube or any online videos and find examples of where public information has gone awry. The officer who is not prepared, at the time for request for information from the media, or is bombarded by media, with hundreds of questions in 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 going to 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 information so that we can get the information and get the story out to the media and meet their deadlines. And meet our operational requirements cuz remember, the media can also be used to help us manage the scene and the community's reaction to crisis. Who are some of the stakeholders in public information? The responders and their families. Families wanna know what's going. The larger the incident, the more disconnected families may feel from their loved ones so they're gonna want that. 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 on. 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's their perception. Media, parents, especially where children are involved in environments that they believed were safe. Parents, for example, responding to schools, because they heard school may had a lockdown, or because they might have heard of a fire at a school when it was simply an alarm system. Having a methodology to deliver. That information to the parents, so that they're 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 route, or we look at disrupting community activities. And the last obviously is elected leadership. Policy makers and 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 and 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, our onslaught of all the stakeholders asking for information we you're trying to manage operations. I do want to point out that much of the information that I'm providing is, was creating mess, message mapping as a concept was created by Vincent Covello who is Ph. D. out of the Center for 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 and easily understood process to make sure that we have a framework is understood by all, to express current organizational viewpoints. To focus on important issues and questions and concerns, particularly, the concerns of the incident commander. And the third is to promote open dialogue, both inside and outside the organization. Part of the thing we have to remember is that many jurisdictions, 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 deleted to different jurisdictional authorities. So using the message map format, let's think about a standard house fire. You're responding at 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, 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't think that media may not show up at that same time you're arriving. It may happen. The stake holders for this are the general public. People who're gonna 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're 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 influence in your community. Is it the mayor's house. Is it a board member in one of the boards the influential board in your city council. These are all questions that should be there and be prepared for. Next is the over arching message, what is the over arching. 27 words was the overarching message. Well City Fire Department responded to this alarm at 3 AM. Everyone was evacuated. No fatalities. We're in suppression operations now. You're within 27 words; you've gotten all the points that you needed to get out. Three critical elements that you then can message map further on. Key message number one that I said is we, is, we responded because, obviously, 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, it's a good message. The second message is that everyone was evacuated, and there were no injuries. Not as critical as the first, certainly an 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 points that you're 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 going to determine what was the occupancy and is the occupancy evacuated. You're going to initiate suppre-, rescue and suppression operations as critical responsibilities on that initial response. And you're going to collect that data at your command post or the back of your vehicle so that you have this information prepared for whatever media is coming along. Imagine if you have a form to write this information down or a cue card, and be able to hand that off to an officer individual that can handle the media for you, that is trained to handle the media for you. The collection of information is that simple and that quick. What you see on this slide is a standard format for building a message map. You could see across the top, we wanna 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 stake-holders, 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 want to 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 we know why we've focused on these three key messages below. Next, you'll see the key message point one, two and three. Key message number one is the most important message that we want to get out. Remember that each of these three messages are going to be broken into nine-second sound bites, 27 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 up our supporting information. What facts do we know? And again these are validated verified facts that we know that we want to 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 ask 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're able to follow up. With individual media inquiries or concerns. Why nine seconds, 27 words? Well quite simply its 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 points across. By practicing and building this strategic message and this process, we'll 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 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 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 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 is going to want to know. We can build message maps to address those common requests. Under crisis and concerns we can identify subject matter experts to help us collect or have information. Are 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 going to 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 27 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, if we can build a message map for a fatality at a fire. We know the media is gonna wanna know the name of the individual which we just learned we don't wanna give out but there still gonna want information we know that there gonna wanna know the age of the individual or relative age what were the conditions or environment that the individual might have expired we know that there 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 extend the period that they're seeking 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 individuals 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 fire 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 point we want to get out is. Individuals rescued or recovered. What are we doing with them now? And who are the individuals that address them? I want to leave you with two thoughts. The first is, in an 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 that 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. or toss. 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 PIO? It's actually a really good question. Picking a public information officer 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 manner 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 and understanding what the media's needs are, what all the stakeholder's 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 by the Chief that handles all those functions. The fact of the matter is that we need to understand that if we're taking a 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 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 for all emergency operations that has experience in front of a camera, that has maybe had experience talking to community in talking to community organizations. 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 an environment that you're operating within as firefighters and fire leadership. And also understands the other side. The needs of the media and the stakeholders for information. And to work that balance so that we're getting good information out. We're keeping the public and the stakeholders informed as we need to. And at the same time, we're not interfering with operations. And blocking our success 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 operations center or out of an emergency operations center, or even on the fire grounds. The public information officer is part of the command staff. 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. 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 season trained information officer available. But you want someone to address the media and to delegate that responsiblity 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 fire fighter 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 country 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.

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