Friday, October 31, 2014

The weekly read

Zombie Preparedness
Office of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control

Today is Halloween. In addition to carved jack o'lanterns, trick-or-treaters and stomach aches from too much candy, the holiday is also known for scary stories about haunted houses, ghosts, monsters and zombies.

Playing off this theme, someone very creative at the Office of Public Health for the Centers for Disease Control came up with a clever and popular training tool - an exercise to prepare for a fictitious zombie apocalypse.

The site is chock full of resources to use the training materials, including posters, preparedness checklists, a zombie themed blog and even a novella to introduce people to the exercise.

I have seen some local first-responder teachers use this resource while training their students, giving disaster preparedness the appropriate twist for today's ghoulish celebration.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Sandy experience

I lived in New Jersey for the first 18 years of my life, and - as with many other Garden Staters - visited New York City and the Jersey Shore many times. During my years there, we saw very few hurricanes. I can remember Belle in 1976 and Gloria in 1985, but neither one became the destructive force that we saw making landfall in places like Florida and the northern Gulf coast.

The storm-vulnerable Jersey Shore
After I left, other storms did threaten the City and the Shore - Bob in 1991, Isabel in 2001 and Irene in 2011 stand out as storms that had the potential to do tremendous damage, but none lived up to the predictions.

But, two years ago today, Hurricane Sandy changed all of that. The storm raged ashore in the vulnerable northeast with a tremendous wind field, storm surge and heavy rains. Both my mom - living on New Jersey's southernmost point Cape May - and my dad - living by a wooded lake in north Jersey - took tremendous impacts from the storm.  The Jersey Shore and New York City took some tremendous impacts from the storm, and help was needed.

Storm damage along Rockaway Beach
So, when New York City made an Emergency Management Assistance Compact - EMAC - request for assistance from a team from Central Florida, I offered my services. Now, I didn't deploy as a public information officer, which would have required me being a registered deployment team member of the Florida Fire Chief's Association. I deployed as part of an Emergency Management strike team of people with different disciplines, and I was going to do whatever was required of me.

Here I am, inventorying containers in the city's supply warehouse
As part of an EMAC deployment team, one of my duties was to file daily reports to keep everyone updated on the team's daily operations and observations. While I could have e-mailed those reports back to the county, I decided on a totally different tactic. As a hobby woodworker, I maintain a blog about the projects I build, the tools I use and my lessons learned. I've been doing that since 2007, and am comfortable working in that environment.

Given that experience, I turned to Tumblr, a free blogging software tool that would allow me to embed photos, videos and links to other resources to show the full effect of the storm. That's exactly what I did working from the logistics center in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn for a ten day deployment. You can read the blog here.

A funny thing happened while writing that blog. Our office promoted it to the members of the Tampa Bay media market. The team sent from the city of Boston to assist at the logistics center used the blog as part of their reporting toolbox, as did the team from the state of Texas that followed. Even the New Yorkers themselves were turning to the blog to get a better picture of what was happening in the logistics center.

The returning Central Florida team at Tampa International Airport briefing the media
Now that it has been two years since Hurricane Sandy's landfall and the EMAC deployment, and I still occasionally look back on that blog to remind myself of what the experience was like, and why it's important to continue to push the preparedness message. One day, it could be us who needs to put out the call for emergency assistance.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Monday, October 27, 2014

3 Ways PIOs Can Commit to Staying Relevant

Besides from helping organizations plan and manage their way out of crises and communicate effectively with their audiences, a big part of what I do is education. Whether it’s through speaking engagements, delivering workshops and trainings or through crisis simulations, educating professionals to better understand today’s crisis realities, the expectations of their audiences and how to leverage the right technologies and tools to save lives and better communicate in an emergency, is part of what I consider my most important work.

Melissa Agnes leading a discussion about crisis communications
Why? Because it’s all about education, understanding and strengthening skills. The expectations of your audiences in a crisis continue to evolve, as does social media and technology. For those who have not yet embraced today’s realities, challenges and opportunities, their education - and hopefully inspiring an “ah-ha” moment - is absolutely critical. For those who have, their continued education is absolutely critical if they want to continue to excel and meet today’s ever-evolving challenges, as well as continue to take advantage of the numerous opportunities.

As such, I believe in and agree with Tom’s mission with PIO Chronicles: To provide relevant information and helpful insights to the PIO and emergency management community. But Tom and others like him can only go so far. It’s your dedication to continual education that will enable you to continue to be the best PIO you can be.

The PIOs commitment to staying relevant

PIOs have such an important role in crisis and emergency management and as their tasks continue to evolve, so must their understanding, planning and skills. So how can you commit to this continued education - for both yourself and the different members of your teams and partners?

Here are some considerations: 
Commit yourself to staying up on the latest trends, apps and technology.  Opportunity is everywhere, you just have to spot it. The trick to spotting it is to keep abreast of:

  • Who your audiences are; and
  • Where / how they prefer to receive their information.

A great example is BBC’s new WhatsApp strategy for delivering timely, helpful and informative updates to West Africans on Ebola.

The WhatsApp logo
WhatsApp is the most commonly used “chat app” in Africa. Therefore, why shouldn't it be used as a form of communication during this major and escalating crisis?

By understanding who your target audiences are and the apps, tools and technology they use regularly, you will enable yourself and your team to strategize efficient and effective communication possibilities in an emergency.

Note: This is a continual challenge, and something that should be part of your daily thoughts and considerations prior to experiencing an emergency.

Continue to challenge yourself 
Continuing to challenge yourself is a dedication to continued self-growth and education. It’s also the mark of great PIO. Here are some ways to facilitate this task:

  • Subscribe to the right blogs
  • Listen to the right podcasts
  • Read the right books
  • Keep up-to-speed on the latest emergency events and case studies taking place around the world
  • Continue to build your network and connect with great minds

Study up on the latest trends and tools
Just when you think you know everything there is to know, you’ll realize that you don’t. Having an outlook that embraces change, evolution and self-education, as well as continually trying to surround yourself with people who know more and have different experiences than you, will not only keep you on your toes, but keep you passionate. Passion is not only inspiring, but is the route to continued success

Go beyond your own education to better do your job 
Your own continued education is the first step. But you also have to make sure that the rest of your team understands both today’s crisis realities and your challenges and tasks, if you’re going to continue to grow and work together efficiently.

As a PIO, communication is a skill and an asset. However, it’s not just about external communication or emergency communication. The more regularly you communicate with your team and keep them in the loop of the realities and challenges you face as a PIO, the better and more efficiently you will be able to work together. Not to mention learn from one another and grow as a stronger team.

Melissa Agnes
President and Co-Founder
Agnes + Day 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The weekly read

The Digital Photography Book
by Scott Kelby
ISBN-13:  987-0321934949

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit through one of the most useful non-PIO related classes I had attended in years - if not ever - during my career.  Run by famous photography instructor Scott Kelby, the class opened my eyes to the nuts and bolts of how to take great photos.

Even if you don't want to become a professional photographer or photojournalist, you probably want to take great shots for your website, social media pages and other potential uses. David took the time to explain the material in a way that even a camera illiterate person like me could understand.

Kelby's Digital Photography book - Volume 1
This book, the first volume in a five-volume set, covers the absolute essentials on how to compose and shoot outstanding photographs using professional digital equipment. Even if you are just using a simple point-and-shoot camera or your smart phone, there are tips in there that can help make you a better photographer.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coordinated messaging

I'm not sure where it started for me, but I am totally geeked out about the world's space programs. Maybe it was that Star Trek was one of my favorite shows growing up. Maybe it's because I was born a few weeks before Apollo 8's historic mission. It could be because where I live in Florida, I can easily see launches taking place across the state at the Kennedy Space Center.

Launches get my heart racing
Whatever the reason may be, I am enthralled by the power of the rockets, the voyages of discovery and the raw courage of the astronauts and cosmonauts who strap themselves to devices that harness barely controlled explosions to propel them to great heights. 

I have also learned a lot about being a public information officer from NASA's storied history. One of the classes that I instruct is G291 - Joint Information Systems. It's a one-day class that teaches public information officers how to work together closely in large, complex events. From the Super Bowl to a hurricane's impact to something like the Republican National Convention held in Tampa in 2012, this coordinated delivery of information keeps everyone 'in their lane,' prevents conflicting information and helps ensure the speedy release of important details to residents. 

A Joint Information Center in action
The greatest challenge in that class? Helping students wrap their arms around the concept. Why not just let everyone talk to the media as they need to and let the chips fall where they may? 

NASA had to address this very problem during manned space flight. With the one (Mercury), two (Gemini), three (Apollo) or more (Space Shuttle) astronauts in orbit, tending to any one of a thousand tasks, how would they know who to listen to, especially if conflicting orders were given? To help eliminate this problem, the Manned Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas, adopted strict protocols for communicating with the crews.

Tranquility Base with Buzz Aldrin in the foreground
The best way to show this process in action is to visit the First Men on the Moon. This is what the Internet was made for. Basically,the site creators took the communications loops from Houston, between Houston, the Columbia and the Eagle and a slew of other flight data and synced them up to show you exactly what was happening when Apollo 11 made its historic touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility.

Gene Kranz as Flight Director - or Lead PIO
Listen carefully to the audio and you will start to get an idea of how a Joint Information Center works. The legendary Gene Kranz, as flight director, serves in the role of lead PIO. He gets the information from the other flight controllers - flight surgeon, retrofire officer, flight dynamics officer, guidance officer ... the works ... and helps coordinate the activity in the room. Think of those other positions as the PIOs for the local law enforcement offices, the local fire departments, the local health department ... and you will start to get the picture. Each has an important piece of information, and it's up to Gene Kranz to sift through the details and determine what is critical to communicate to ensure the success of the mission.

Charlie Duke as CAPCOM - or the media spokesperson 
Once the data is collected, Gene Kranz turns to the only person authorized to speak with the astronauts - Charlie Duke as the CAPCOM. Not only is Charlie giving cleared data to the crew, he's also an astronaut who later flew on Apollo 16. As a fellow astronaut, he is very familiar with the operations in the Lunar Module and Command Module, giving him a level of comfort that the engineers who see only a small part of the operations don't have. 

Another important duty of Charlie Duke's was to listen to what the crew was saying, and to relay it back to the control center. Again, as someone focused solely on the needs of the astronauts, he was in a unique position to ensure they would get their questions answered quickly. Think of him as the dedicated media liaison and spokesperson. 

Now, if you imagine astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins as members of the media, seeking clear communications, you start to see how the parallel can be made. 

While it may seem a little unorthodox as a teaching tool, I can't even begin to tell you how many students have their a-ha moment as they watch the event unfold.

Plus, wow, it's just too cool!

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where did you begin?

I can remember the conversation as if it happened yesterday. A new PIO had started with a local law enforcement agency, and she had been instructed to take the G290 Basic PIO class with me. We spoke for a few moments - she in a very clipped tone with me - and eventually asked me flat out, "Just WHAT will I learn taking this class from you? I worked in the media for the past ten years, and I know everything there is to know about this field."

Ever have one of THOSE phone calls?
I can also vividly remember a different conversation that started at lunch during a training exercise. A large group of us PIOs had gotten together, and were having a lively conversation, when one of the people at our table mentioned that she didn't think former reporters could do a good job as a PIO, because they didn't have any inside knowledge of how the organization works.

And that, my fair PIO friends, is an interesting dynamic set forth today in the world of PIOs. As the number of journalism jobs decreases in newspapers and broadcast outlets seek to contain costs, many journalists are finding themselves out of work or looking to leave the 24-hour news cycle to get into public information work. This is often referred to by journalists as 'going to the dark side.'

You see, it's not so bad here on the dark side!
All of the experience that a former journalist can bring to an organization is certainly seen as an asset. After all, former journalists know the news cycle, are strong writers, are able to discern what makes news and - if they stay in the market they worked in, they already have a reputation - good or bad - that serves as a calling card.

Knowing about your agency and media needs is critical
This doesn't automatically mean that former journalists are better PIOs. In fact, journalists who worked as general assignment reporters, while fully immersed in news craft, have in many cases a cursory level of experience of what a firefighter, police officer or some other employee may do.

PIOs promoted from within an organization have intimate knowledge of policies and procedures, and can offer that depth of experience to reporters on scene. However, the job of a PIO isn't the same as a firefighter or law enforcement officer, who is more concerned about actually battling a blaze or apprehending a suspect. To an incident commander who may not understand the importance of the role of a PIO, he or she may dismiss you as a member of the media yourself and ask you to go stand behind the tape with the reporters on scene. Believe me, it happens.

Media relations is key to just about any event
So, with this post out there, I'd like to find out a little bit about each of you. Did you come to the world of PIO 'through the ranks' of your organization, or do you come from the world of media? I'd be interested to see where everyone's from.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The weekly read

Handing negative comments or complaints in social media

I'm sure that the folks at Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences can probably tell you the best way to rotate crops, get the highest yields from your apple trees or grow a thick, lush lawn. But, who knew they had great advice on how to handle negative comments in the world of social media?

Sometimes, people don't like your online presence...
This article offers nine important tips on how to handle negative comments in social media, and offers some smart solutions that can help defuse a bad situation. If you are developing or enhancing a social media communications plan, this is a great model to show your bosses how negative comments can be addressed - and made positive - with the right techniques. 

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exercise. Classes.

I've hit middle age, which means I have to work harder to ward off those extra inches at my waist, and just about totally overdo it to drop any pounds. To help with this health maintenance effort, I have joined a few exercise classes which help keep me motivated, honest to myself and working under the careful eye of a trained instructor, ensuring that I'm not slacking off.

Why does it feel so bad if it's supposed to be good for you?
I have always wondered,though, why are there so few venues for public information officers to get better at what they do?

Think about it for a minute. Talk to a firefighter. They go through the fire academy, get classroom instruction, do simulated drills and exercises and get plenty of feedback on how they perform.

Talk to a law enforcement officer. They go through the police academy, get classroom instruction, do simulated drills and exercises and get plenty of feedback on how they perform.

Talk to an emergency medical technician... well, you are starting to get the idea.

Firefighters getting training
Now, talk to a PIO. Yeah, how does one get that kind of intensive training? How can you make your agency look its best without committing too many mistakes? It's a tough one ...

That's why there are some important things a PIO - or the supervisor of a PIO - should consider doing to improve his or her skills.

First, a great place to start is by taking FEMA's G290: Basic Public Information Officer training class.  This is a two-day classroom-based training that is administered at the local level by real-world PIOs. Each state has their own requirements for instructors, but I believe that you will discover that the people who choose to instruct are well spoken and care tremendously about spreading the knowledge. Check with your local emergency management department or other state training agency to find out where the training is being offered.

Tabletop exercises allow participants to simulate real-world events
Another important part of creating a well-trained cadre of PIOs is to gather them together to run an exercise - be it a tabletop or one that's more active. Well-prepared exercises provide a near real-world simulation of what a PIO can expect out in front of the cameras and reporters. Stuck for ideas on how to make this happen? Gosh, FEMA has a great link to some emergency planning exercises that could be adapted for PIO work. Just be sure to have the least comfortable PIOs in your group serve in the most responsible and challenging positions. Otherwise, how else will they learn?

A law enforcement PIO conducting a media update
Remember, there's no substitute for real world experience. When your agency does respond to an incident, be sure to pair your more seasoned team members up with the newer members, so they can see first-hand how field interactions work with reporters, incident commanders and the public.

There are also many other training programs out there, and more advanced PIO training classes offered at places such as the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland. By simply taking the time to run a few dedicated exercises for your PIO's, they will soon be flexing their media and public relations muscles.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Monday, October 13, 2014

Some important apps

Now that smart phones are part of just about everyone's PIO go kit, I have gotten a number of questions about what's on my phone. I have to admit, I have a few which I'm sure don't do much for me as a PIO (how about a rousing game of Battleship?), but there are a few that have really helped me while in the field, especially in light of recent events.

The Sony Xperia Z1s
First, let me start by telling you what platform I am working on. I have Sony Xperia Z1S. It's a pretty awesome Android-based phone with a huge screen, great camera and - best of all - it's waterproof. That's a huge plus, especially here in semi-tropical Florida.

I'm not here to promote that particular phone or the Android operating system - I'm sure many of you are using various iterations of the Apple iPhone, Windows based phones or even Blackberries, so if I tell you about a particular app that I use, I'm sure you can find a similar one for your phone of choice.

A screen full of apps
First, I'm sure you are using your phone for taking pictures, making phone calls, accessing the Internet and managing e-mails. They all seem to do this pretty well.

The big social media platforms - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram ... the works - all have their proprietary apps that fast track you to your account of choice. One thing you might want to consider, though, is moving to a social media aggregation program such as Hootsuite, which can post to multiple social media platforms at once for you. It saves a few steps for you in the field, and can help make your social media coordination that much easier.

Dictating notes into a smartphone
You can always rely on your built in note program for taking down details at briefings. I discovered (remember, I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack) that by using the phone's built-in voice recognition software, I could dictate notes to myself. This made it a whole lot easier to read my chicken scratch notes. Let's just say that my teachers used to recommend that I become a doctor.

A few photo and video apps I use include Photo Resizer and Media Studio. These programs allow me to adjust the sizes of photos or trim video to length right from my phone - a definite plus while working in the field. Media Studio even allows for some basic video editing as well, This is where iPhone users have it over us Android types... both iPhoto and iMovie are built from the ground up integrating with the Apple iOS.

Skype is also a great app to keep on the phone, since it gives you the ability to do a live interview - if need be - with the news office while getting both audio and video.

My phone cradle with my phone.
I would throw in a few other accessories. First, a cradle mount of some type that allows you to hold the phone a little steadier. I have a Woxom Slingshot, but it appears that it is no longer available. Trust me, though, there are tons of other options.

The other thing I would recommend is some type of waterproof cover for your phone. Yes, mine is waterproof, but I discovered that water on the screen makes it just about impossible to operate. From a simple sealable freezer bag to a high-end dry case for your phone, get something to keep it dry when the skies open up.

I'm sure I must be  missing some important details here, but I think this is a fairly decent start for stocking your phone to become a lean, mean PIO assistance machine.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The weekly read

Communications Strategies for the 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic
The National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases  
December, 2011

If you are a public information officer working anywhere in the world, you will eventually be asked about the emerging Ebola Virus Disease and what its potential effects will be. While there are many resources online which offer outstanding information on this disease (especially the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization), there are many lessons that can be learned from the last major international public health threat - the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Mexico City commuters wearing masks to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus
This outstanding paper is full of keen observations about what tactics worked - and what didn't - as the fear of the H1N1 Novel Influenza pandemic spread. From pre-pandemic communications to spreading the word about precautions to the public, the NCCID explored the entire arc of how information was disseminated. Differences between the information distribution processes of different nations are discussed at length, giving a detailed analysis of what transpired.

While Ebola and the 2009 H1N1 Flu pandemic are very different illnesses, the public health communications lessons learned can help make spreading the facts about the illness just a bit easier.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The unplugged PIO

Empowering a community without power

We’ve all been there.....the sinking feeling as you watch the last of your smartphone battery drain away or the sudden sense of helplessness brought on by the words, “Internet connection not available.”

In the world of emergency services and even forward thinking corporations, plans and procedures are in place for Continuity of Operations during a disaster, but ask yourself this question: While we may have plans and backup systems, how ready are you to communicate with an entire community that suddenly becomes completely disconnected? No power, cell towers down, no telephones, no TV.

Joe Farago in his fire attire
Do you have the tools and skills necessary to reach an audience that may be effectively isolated by the loss of electricity and communications? And when you do, what will your message be?

In the fast-paced world of Twitter, Facebook, web pages, blogs, electronic news releases and interviews, we've come to rely on almost instantaneous, sometimes two-way communications with local residents and the world at large. But, in the scramble to keep up with the onslaught of new technology there lies a danger of becoming too dependent on electronic avenues of communication. We may be doing this at the expense of some basic preparedness principles.

When’s the last time you considered what your job would look like without electricity or the Internet?

As an example, consider what Public Information Officers on National Type I and II Incident Management Teams have been dealing with over the years as they work with communities often isolated by wildfires or hit by large scale disasters. 

Getting the information out however you can
"Go Kits" for those PIOs contain everything from stick pins, tape, flagging, paper and marking pens to large staplers, pliers, signs and battery operated portable printers. News releases and information are distributed in person and tacked or stapled onto community bulletin boards at stores, post offices, city/county offices and in other high traffic areas...complete with colored flagging to draw attention to the material.

Distribution systems called “trap lines” are created and mapped to insure that each location is known and can be maintained by team members on a daily basis. These updates become vitally important to any community cut off from the normal flow of information during an emergency.

Are “Go Kits” or portable bulletin boards part of your response plan?

Until lately, basic emergency communications methods like these had been found primarily in the world of wildland firefighting and Incident Management Team PIOs. Fortunately, some of these “lessons learned” have been blended into new courses such as the FEMA E/L 952: NIMS ICS All-Hazards Position Specific Public Information Officer.

Another example of thinking outside the “electronic box” comes from the experience of a Florida State PIO Deployment Team during Hurricane Charley in 2004. 

Hurricane Charley's aftermath left many difficulties
The Charlotte County Emergency Operations Center had been devastated by the storm. So much for plan A with all its connectivity! There was a local radio station on the air broadcasting information about points of distribution for ice and water, but how to get that message out? Team member Joel Gordon of the Florida Association of Public Information Officers noticed an undamaged plane at the airport across from the EOC being inspected by its pilot. The single engine aircraft was one normally used by advertisers to fly a banner over local beaches. The rest is history as Gordon and the team got the pilot to fly their message behind the plane with details of the radio station operation over the community.

These are only two small examples of the type of thinking required to deal with emergencies outside our comfort zone and into a world unplugged. Neither fits into that neat, comfortable space between our computer terminal and smart phone.

Public Information Officers are continually scrambling to keep up with changing times. We’re living in a world where some people are starting to expect an official emergency response to “tweets” and Internet postings. We have sophisticated systems of contacting residents with outreach messaging and electronic alerts. The media broadcasts in real time and we’re more connected than at any other moment in human history.

Emergency responders are working in a whole new environment
As response guidelines, procedures and operational manuals keep growing in scope and size, it’s a real challenge to adjust our thinking, and our training, to confront what may be the basic reality of an uncertain future. The plug might just be pulled. Then what? Have you ever been to a busy grocery store or other business where the credit card terminals have suddenly gone down? Everything just stops. Cashiers are frozen. The customer response? It’s often not pretty. Now, think of a busy airport... 

Maybe it’s time to start asking ourselves if we’re really ready for the results of something as devastating as another mega-storm or, God forbid, an electromagnetic pulse that fries our telecommunication and power grids along with most of our electronics. 

Joe teaching a new crop of public information officers
Does your training include scenarios like that? Do you have the plan or the resources in place?

You know, being a Public Information Officer involves more than just what you do at a desk or in an office. It reaches into almost every part of who you are. There’s the constant need to prepare, to look at the “what ifs.” To be informed and situationally aware. It comes with the territory.

In everyday life, it’s possible that people tell you that you worry too much. After all, they say, what’s the worst that could happen? Funny question. In the world we live in, it’s our job to consider just that.

Emergency Communications Professional

Monday, October 6, 2014

The important part

Watching my two sons grow up has been a joy. One of the things I really enjoyed the most was coaching them both in youth basketball. We had our ups and our downs, and now that they are past the years for rec sports, my coaching days are pretty much over.

But, oh, that last season. We had an awesome team. Attentive players. They wanted to learn. They wanted to hustle. The results of our first nine games, though, were pretty bad. I think we entered the last game of the season 1 - 8, riding a two game losing streak. It's not that we were abysmal. Our first few games were bad, but after every loss, we gathered for practice. We learned to drive to the basket, not blindly jacking shots up from the outside. We tightened up our defense, getting better on denying passes to the other teams' star players. In other words, we learned from what we had seen, and had gotten better.

We were the champions, my friends.
How much better? We entered the playoffs as odds-on-favorites to lose early and go home. But, something happened... we started winning. Knocking off teams that dismissed us as soon as they got onto the court. By the end of the following week, we hadn't only made a statement - were the league champs. What a transformation.

And, how did that happen? The kids checked their egos at the door, payed attention to the coach and saw ways they could improve how they approached the game.

That's why I contend that the most important part of any event is the after-action analysis, also known as the hotwash. No matter how many times you practice something or run table top exercises, there is nothing that can take the place of actual real-world experience. The reporters aren't people from other departments or agencies 'playing' reporter - they are actually reporters with real world deadlines. They may even have an axe to grind with your agency, making things just that more difficult.

A meeting of the minds after the incident can help tremendously
So, make it a point to have that hotwash, even though everyone will be busy trying to get back to their regular duties. Just a few rules about the hotwash:
  • Hold it promptly. Memories are elastic things, and with time, we can underplay a huge deal, or make the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. People also tend to forget details after time, so plan for the hotwash within a day or two of the event.
  • Check your ego. Just like the kids on my team, nothing in the hotwash is directed at you. Besides. you learn more about yourself and your plans from what goes wrong that what goes right. 
  • Ask the tough questions. Did you have the right equipment? The right people?  Did you have all the phone numbers you needed? How were your procedures? Was everyone using the same playbook? This isn't an opportunity to embarrass anyone - it is an opportunity to improve what you do for the next event. 
  • Take notes. Don't rely on people telling you they will make improvements. Take notes. Assign steps to people in your organization and give deadlines for things to be done by.
  • Ask for the moon. After an event is the time to ask for what you need. Extra staff members. Equipment. You might not get what you need, but the lessons will be fresh in everyone's mind. You never know.
If you are unsure how to run a hotwash, there are plenty of online resources that can help. Even if you don't run yours 'by the book,' simply going through the steps with the right people at the table can help you build a winning public information team.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The weekly read

Why rumors outrace the truth online
The New York Times
Sept. 29, 2014

It's a public information officer's worst nightmare. You are working the scene of a small incident that doesn't seem too terribly important when your phone starts ringing incessantly, with reporters barraging you with questions that seem to be coming totally out of left field. What gives?

Illustration originally appeared with the New York Times article
This article, written by Dartmouth Professor Brendan Nyhan, offers an interesting look at just how quickly rumors can spread in social media, and how the retractions/corrections can never catch up with the initial spread of the rumors themselves. He offers a case study about the recent online rumor about a woman who claimed to have had a special prosthetic surgically implanted to enhance her appearance, and how quickly that rumor about that spread online. Using online analtyics tools, Nyhan illustrates how the initial report circulated three times as widely as the retraction.

A fascinating read about just how quickly news can spread online, and why it's important for public information officers to stay on top of emerging social media trends.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

For the duration

So, what's it like being somewhere for the duration of an event as a PIO?  Well, it means a lot of different things.

It means waking early to a call from someone in the field telling you that there's 'something' going on, and that they may need some media support.

A sight you never want to see near a sanitary sewer pipe
It's about getting to the scene and realizing that - wow - it's a huge event like a giant sanitary sewer overflow - a scene which I'm sure Dante Alighieri might have written into his master work, the Inferno - and that you are going to need a lot of support from your team to make a successful response happen.

It's about gaining the confidence of the incident commander and assuring him that the more information you have, the better you can do your job.

It's about becoming an instant expert on pipe diameters, pump pressures, air locks and valves, so you can effectively communicate these things to the public through the media.

The nearby school's PIO delivering important messages to the parents and students
It's about coordinating with the nearby private school that has to readjust its schedule and pickup/drop off pattern for nearly 700 families, and helping them get their word out through the media. And, about thanking them for being gracious hosts to a small army of trucks and heavy equipment.

It's about spelling your first and last name - correctly - and giving your title about a thousand times as each of the reporters does an interview trying to find those facts.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night ...
It's about standing and delivering those media updates in the heat, the dark and any weather condition that mother nature can throw your way.

It's about early morning rising to find that the utility workers have done an outstanding job busting their tails through a long, difficult night.

Utility workers and contractors working side by side to fix the problem
It's about telling the reporters and your superiors about the outstanding job that these under-appreciated men and women do and making sure that their selfless, tireless contributions aren't forgotten.

It's about remembering that you have a smartphone with an HD camera on your hip to catch the moment the flow of the pressure main is turned off, and having it aimed in the right direction when the awesome moment happens.

If you can imagine that, yes, than you can imagine what it's like being part of a PIO team on the scene for the duration.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida