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FEMA IS-29: Public Information Officer Awareness Course Summary

IS-29 – Public Information Officer Awareness

Lesson 1: Understanding Your Role

Course Goal

The goal of this awareness course is to provide an orientation to the public information function and the role of the Public Information Officer (PIO) in the public safety/emergency management environment.

This awareness-level training is suitable for new PIOs. It can be taken alone or before Basic Public Information Officer Training (G290). A secondary audience is elected or other officials such as Incident Commanders or emergency operations center managers who want an overview of emergency public information.


Overall Course Objectives

At the completion of this course you should be able to:

  • Describe the role and function of the Public Information Officer (PIO).
  • Describe the target audiences for the PIO.
  • List the skills needed to be an effective PIO.
  • Describe traditional media available for communication.
  • Describe evolving media tools, including social media, for communication.
  • Describe how to effectively communicate orally and through written products.
  • Describe how to have a successful relationship with the news media.
  • Define a public awareness campaign.
  • Describe how to develop and execute a public awareness campaign.
  • Describe the role of the PIO in an emergency.
  • Describe how to manage the news media at the scene of an incident.


Lesson Overview

The remainder of this lesson presents information on your role as a Public Information Officer (PIO). At the completion of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe the role and function of the PIO.
  • Describe the target audiences for the PIO.
  • List the skills needed to be an effective PIO.


The Role of a Public Information Officer

Public Information Officers—or PIOs—are an important link between the organizations they work for and the communities they serve.

They tell the public about services and programs that can affect their lives, like information about staying healthy, fire safety, and changes in community college tuition. They also tell people how they can prepare for a disaster, and protect themselves when disaster strikes.

PIOs get their message out by communicating directly with the public, working through the traditional news media and through new media.

This course introduces PIOs with no, or limited, experience to the basic skills and tools needed to communicate effectively with the public.

After taking this course you may want to take other courses to help you continue your professional development.


Transparency and Open Government

Transparency in government promotes efficiency and effectiveness and allows the people in your community to understand and participate in your processes. While local, tribal, territorial, and State governments may have different laws regarding transparency and open government the general principles are to be:

  • Transparent. Disclose information to the public in ways that are easy to find and use.
  • Participatory. Offer the public the opportunity to participate in policy making.
  • Collaborative. Actively engage the public to work with government.

As a PIO, it is important to know the laws that apply in your area because of your role in providing information to the public.


A Fundamental Principle

People have a right and a need to know about the risks they face. Having such knowledge enables them to make informed choices that affect their health and well-being.

This fundamental principle is the basis for public information in emergency management in this country. Public information can help people make the right decision at the right time.

As a PIO, you will likely communicate public information and emergency public information as well as conduct community education.

Let’s look at each of these.


Types of Communication

The types of communication are:

  • Public Information: Information collected, assembled, disseminated, and maintained by an organization in connection with the transaction of official business and available to the public. The term “public information” is usually associated with public sector organizations and can encompass information about a wide variety of subjects.
    Examples include: Providing information on staffing, response capabilities, training, awards, and agency activities and accomplishments.
  • Emergency Public Information: Information developed and disseminated in anticipation of, during, or after an event to provide life-saving and other information, including actions that individuals and communities should take. The goal of providing emergency public information is to give people the information they need to make good decisions in an emergency.
    Examples include: Announcing a road closure due to a multiple-car accident or answering reporters’ questions at the scene of a fire.
  • Community Education: Information provided to individuals in the community by local, tribal, territorial, State, and Federal governments with the goal of educating members of the community, therefore improving a community’s resiliency to identified risks.
    Examples include: Providing information on how to prepare emergency supply kits and family emergency plans.


Who Are Your Target Audiences?

Effective public communication involves collecting, verifying, and disseminating information to your target audiences. As a PIO, your target audiences include . . .

  • External audiences
    • The media
    • Your community
    • Other PIOs
  • Internal audiences
    • People in your organization
    • Your leadership


What Type of Information Does the PIO Provide?

As a PIO, you communicate with your target audiences to keep them informed about activities, events, and resources. The information you provide:

  • Calls people to action.
  • Educates and informs.
  • Changes behavior or attitudes.
  • Creates a positive impression of your organization.
  • Prepares people for emergencies.


What Qualities Does a Good PIO Have?

To be an effective PIO, you need to be:

  • Knowledgeable. Has a real mastery of facets of the organization’s mission and operations.
  • Analytical and strategic. Collects and synthesizes information, prioritizes actions, sets goals, makes decisions, and evaluates effectiveness.
  • Credible, trusted source. Builds trust with the public and the media by providing accurate and timely information, being accessible, returning calls and email messages in a prompt manner, and following through on commitments.
  • Proactive and assertive. Able to use information about the community, organization, and services to achieve the strategic communication goals. Anticipates the community’s needs for information. Constructively redirects negative information and reports. Seeks guidance from leadership when needed.
  • Flexible. Able to adjust plans and priorities based on the evolving situation.
  • Cool under pressure. Able to meet the demands of the situation without losing his or her cool and without sacrificing good decisionmaking.
  • Professional communicator. Demonstrates effective oral and written communication skills.


What Skills Do You Need To Succeed?

In addition to the qualities necessary to be a good PIO, there are skills and knowledge you need to ensure your success.

  • Written Communication Skills
  • Oral Communication Skills
  • Media Relation Skills
  • Community Awareness
  • Emergency Management Knowledge

FEMA PIO Courses:

  • Basic PIO (G290): This course prepares participants to function as full- or part-time Public Information Officers (PIOs). This training is a prerequisite and foundation for more advanced training that takes participants from the awareness level to the mastery level in their public information careers.
  • JIS/JIC Planning for PIOs (G291): This interactive course presents information to equip PIOs with the skills needed to establish and operate a Joint Information System/Joint Information Center (JIS/JIC). The course imparts a working knowledge of operational practices for performing PIO duties within a National Incident Management System (NIMS) multiagency coordination system.
  • Advanced PIO (E388): This course builds on the foundations established in the Basic PIO course (G290) by focusing on PIO responsibilities in large-scale emergency situations. Students apply their knowledge and skills through a series of simulation exercises.
  • Master PIO (E389): This course provides experienced PIOs (who are serving or will serve) in a leadership role in a JIS/JIC setting with NIMS guidance and management and leadership tools and techniques used during disasters. It addresses larger coordination efforts needed for events requiring communication at the regional, State, and Federal levels.


Written Communication Skills

An important part of the PIO’s role is to prepare written products, so the PIO must be able to write clearly and effectively. Successful written communication conveys your key messages and:

  • Is well-organized and easy to follow.
  • Uses clear, concise language.
  • Uses correct grammar and contains no spelling or punctuation errors.
  • Uses appropriate formats and styles.

More information on writing clearly and effectively is presented in Lesson 3.


Oral Communication Skills

PIOs must possess good oral communication skills because they will need to present critical information and prepare other people to speak:

  • On camera,
  • On the radio,
  • At public events,
  • In news conferences and briefings, and
  • In front of large groups of people.

More information on speaking and preparing speakers is presented in Lesson 3.


Media Relation Skills

The successful PIO develops credibility and builds relationships with the media by consistently:

  • Providing information and access to newsmakers.
    • Be knowledgeable.
    • Be honest and forthcoming.
    • Be accessible and responsive.
  • Demonstrating an understanding of media needs and operations.
  • Respecting media deadlines.
  • Maintaining open dialogue.
  • Disclosing information to the public in ways that are easy to find and use.

More information on media relation skills and managing the media is presented in Lessons 3 and 5.


Community Awareness

PIOs need to have a thorough understanding of the communities they serve. This includes:

  • Local, tribal, territorial, and State government structure. How do organizations relate?
  • Key players in government, the media, nonprofit organizations, etc. With whom will you interact during an emergency? Who has influence in the community?
  • Relevant community history. What happened in previous events? For example, if an area has recently experienced a large fire, the residents may be more receptive to information on fire safety. If a hurricane has repeatedly changed course and left a community unharmed, the residents may be less likely to follow evacuation orders.
  • Community culture. What are the community’s values, concerns, and interests?

More information on learning about the whole community is presented in Lesson 4.


Emergency Management Knowledge

As the PIO, you must know your organization’s role in an emergency and have emergency management knowledge, including:

  • Basic Emergency Management Concepts. Local, tribal, and territorial governments are the first to respond to a disaster. The State will provide support, as needed, and the Governor will request assistance from the Federal Government if the event exceeds the local, tribal, territorial, and State capacity to respond.
  • Local Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). The ongoing plan for responding to a wide variety of potential hazards. The EOP describes how people and property will be protected; details who is responsible for carrying out specific actions; identifies the personnel, equipment, facilities, supplies, and other resources available; and outlines how all actions will be coordinated.
  • The Incident Command System (ICS). A system that originated in the 1970s during massive wildfire-fighting efforts in California. ICS is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazard approach to incident management. It provides a common framework within which people can work together effectively, even when they are drawn from multiple agencies that do not routinely work together. ICS has been called a “first-on-scene” structure, where the first responder on the scene has charge of the scene until the incident has been declared resolved, a superior-ranking responder arrives on scene and assumes command, or the Incident Commander appoints another individual Incident Commander.
  • The National Incident Management System (NIMS). A systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment. The all-hazards National Response Framework (NRF) builds upon NIMS: NIMS provides the template for the management of incidents, while the NRF provides the structure and mechanisms for national-level policy for incident management.
  • Joint Information System (JIS). An information network of PIOs working together to deliver accurate and timely information to the public. The JIS provides a structure and system for developing and delivering coordinated interagency messages; and for developing, recommending, and executing public information plans and strategies. The JIS can be as simple as two PIOs talking to each other on the phone about a news story that involves both of their agencies, or as complex as 150 PIOs working a major disaster.
  • Joint Information Center (JIC). A physical location with tools to enhance the flow of public information. By collocating PIOs, the JIC speeds information release time, enhances information coordination and analysis, reduces misinformation, maximizes resources, and helps build public confidence in response efforts.


Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to your role as a Public Information Officer (PIO). As a PIO, you need to:

  • Provide public information, emergency public information, and community education to your internal and external target audiences.
  • Communicate information to enable people to prepare for an incident and to make decisions during an incident to protect lives and property.
  • Possess and enhance certain qualities and skills that make an effective PIO.

In the next lesson you will learn about various tools available to you for communicating with the community.



Lesson 2: Using Your Tools and Resources

Lesson Overview

This lesson presents information on tools you can use in support of your role as a Public Information Officer (PIO). At the completion of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe traditional media available for communication.
  • Describe evolving media tools, including social media, for communication.


Types of Media

In the previous lesson, you learned about the audiences with whom you will need to communicate—the media, the public, and employees and leaders within your organization. Next you need to identify how you will communicate.

You can use different types of media and different avenues to get your message out, including:

  • Traditional media (print, radio, television),
  • News briefings/conferences, and
  • Evolving media (Web sites, email, blogs, social networking sites, etc.).


How Do People Get Their Information?

According to a Pew Research Center project conducted in December 2010, Americans now get most of their news information from television and the Internet, with newspaper readership declining.

Let’s review the different types of communication tools in more detail, starting with print media.



Print media—newspapers and magazines—are the first type of mass media developed. The table below summarizes what you need to provide for a print story, and identifies the advantages and limitations of print.

The PIO needs to provide . . . Advantages are . . . Limitations are . . .
  • Details
  • Background
  • Access to subject-matter experts
  • More details provided
  • People can return to it
  • Ability to hold feature stories and run them when space is available or on specific dates or times of year
  • Delay in information getting out



Radio is a form of broadcast technology that has the following needs, advantages, and limitations.

The PIO needs to provide . . . Advantages are . . . Limitations are . . .
  • Audio (sound clips or telephone interviews)
  • Sound bites
  • Information is immediately available
  • Can reach specific populations
  • Limited field reporters
  • Audio only
  • Has peak listening times
  • Prerecorded segments lack the break-in option for providing emergency information


Television is the main source of news for Americans. The following table shows what you need to provide for a television story, the advantages of television, and its limitations.

The PIO needs to provide . . . Advantages are . . . Limitations are . . .
  • Visuals
  • Sound bites
  • Staging area
  • Varied programming
  • Information immediately available
  • Not very detailed
  • Increasingly fragmented (many channels)
  • Exaggerated nature of local television news


News Briefings or Conferences

Another way to get information to the media or public is by directly sharing with multiple members of the media through a news conference or briefing.

  • News Conference: Gathering at which reporters expect to be able to ask questions on a variety of topics.
  • News Briefing: An exchange of information on a single topic to include a question-and-answer period.


Using News Briefings or Conferences

A news conference or briefing may be used when you want to:

  • Speak to several members of the media at one time, especially during an incident.
  • Announce events of interest to your community or share information about an incident.
  • Communicate newsworthy information.

A news conference or briefing may be announced by using a press release or media advisory.


Organizing News Conferences or Briefings

The steps to organize and conduct a news conference or briefing are:

  • Identify the best spokesperson. When deciding who should speak for the organization, it is important to consider the type of information being presented:
    • For highly technical information, it might be best to prepare a credible subject-matter expert to present.
    • For highly visible or controversial matters, it might be best to have a leader in the organization speak.

    Note: You may want to identify several knowledgeable people to assist and provide information at the news conference or briefing. It is important to prepare each person to ensure your message is consistent.

  • Develop your message and materials. Your materials will likely include talking points, factsheets (bulleted summaries), and any audiovisual or handout materials needed to convey the message. When deciding on the message and materials, ask yourself:
    • What do you want people to know or do after hearing your message?
    • What is the community sentiment toward your organization or the issue?
    • How knowledgeable is the audience on this topic?
  • Prepare the spokesperson. Whether you will be speaking for the organization or preparing a spokesperson, remember:
    • Even a few minutes of practice can make a big difference.
    • Practice talking in 5-second to 8-second sound bites.
  • Hold the conference or briefing. When holding the news conference or briefing, manage the environment by:
    • Holding the session indoors, if possible.
    • Minimizing distractions, if outside.
    • Minimizing background noise.
    • Watching the background. For example, change the location or angle of the lectern so cameras don’t capture an unwanted view.
    • Clearing access and egress for speakers.


Evolving Media

As exemplified in the Pew Research study, people are getting information from sources other than traditional media. An important difference in these evolving media is that anyone can report the information—it could be a reporter, you, someone in your organization, or anyone in the public. Some examples of evolving media tools are:

  • Web Sites
  • Email
  • Social Media


Getting Your Information Onto Web Sites

Web sites can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional media and other evolving media to get your message out. Web sites can link to social media sites, help you collect email addresses, display videos, house blogs, or link to other Web sites.

Different types of Web sites can be used to get information to your community:

  • Television, radio, and newspaper/magazine sites. A story you provide to the newspaper, television station, or radio station may appear on their Web site.
  • Your organization’s Web site. Your agency’s or organization’s Web site is a natural place to provide your community with information written by you or someone in your organization.
  • Other Web sites. Other Web sites may be vehicles for getting information to your community or organization—for example, local library sites, local park sites, etc.


Using Email

Email is another way that you can get information to members of your community and organization. Email can be used to get people:

  • The latest information on activities, events, and resources.
  • To go to your Web site for information.

In order for email to work, you need to have a good email distribution list. If you need to build an email list, consider including a place for people to sign up on your Web site.

Email is also an ideal tool for communicating within your organization because you generally have access to your colleagues’ email addresses.


Using Social Media

A tornado strikes in the Midwest. Within minutes pictures, videos, and messages about the destruction are available on social media sites, Web sites, and throughout the news media.

The news media and local government ask the community to send videos and photos via social media, email, and text messages.

People use technology to tell others that they are okay. Social media sites help disaster survivors look for lost family members and pets, and provide information on where to get assistance, where to find shelter, and how to give aid. Social media have changed how quickly information about a disaster is available.

The widespread use of social media means you and your organization need to include social media in your communication strategy. For example, you can post videos, use social networking sites, and/or create a blog.

In your communication strategy, identify how you will use social media by itself and together with traditional media to prepare your community for emergencies, and to provide them with life-saving information when an incident occurs.

This demonstrates how social media are now an integral part of our lives and a valuable part of the PIO’s toolkit. The benefits of social media include the following capabilities:

  • Two-way communication with the audience. Feedback can be immediate—you know what the questions are and what people want to know.
  • Vast and varied distribution system. The social media “menu” allows each person to select a preferred method of contact.
  • Cross marketing. Social media sites can link to Web sites and Web sites can link to social media sites. Social media sites can also point users to traditional media. Therefore, the audience can be redirected for more information or a different communication experience.
  • Transparency. Social media are another way to demystify programs and policies by making the information even more accessible.
  • Rapid response capabilities. Inaccuracies and misinformation can be corrected quicker using social media than may be possible through more static types of news media.


Types of Social Media

New social media tools are being developed and implemented all the time. Let’s look at some general descriptions of social media available:

  • Blog
    A blog (a contraction of the term Weblog) is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

    Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

  • Micro-blog
    A micro-blog is a form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates (say, 140 characters or fewer) or micromedia (such as photos or audio clips) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group that can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio, or the Web.
  • Social networking
    Social networking sites are online communities that connect people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.

    The most popular social networking sites have groups, which offer chat boards for members. There are also professional social networking sites with sections for jobs. All social networking sites allow users to find people they know among the members, or look for other members with similar interests or affiliations. These sites make it easy to establish networks of contacts.

  • Wiki
    A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative Web sites and to power community Web sites.

    A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted. Many wikis are open to alteration by the general public without requiring them to register user accounts. Sometimes logging in for a session is recommended, to create a “wiki-signature” cookie for signing edits automatically. Many edits, however, can be made in real-time and appear almost instantly online. This feature can facilitate abuse of the system. Private wiki servers require user authentication to edit pages, and sometimes even to read them.

  • Video sharing
    Videos can be used to communicate information on Web sites or on video hosting sites. Video is a good choice for sharing information because of its audio and visual components.
  • Podcast
    A podcast is a series of visual or sound files that are distributed over the computer by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers. Though the same content may also be made available by direct download or streaming, a podcast is distinguished from most other digital media formats by its ability to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added. Like the term broadcast, podcast can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Feed
    RSS (abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication) is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. An RSS document (which is called a “feed,” “Web feed,” or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored Web sites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. The user subscribes to a feed by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The RSS reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new work, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds.
  • Photo sharing
    Photo sharing is the publishing or transfer of a user’s digital photos online through both Web sites and applications that facilitate the upload and display of images. The term can also be loosely applied to the use of online photo galleries that are set up and managed by individual users, including photoblogs.
  • Video blog
    A video blog, sometimes shortened to a vlog or vidblog, is a form of blog for which the medium is video. Entries are made regularly and often combine embedded video or a video link with supporting text, images, and other metadata. Vlogs also often take advantage of Web syndication to allow for the distribution of video over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats, for automatic aggregation and playback on mobile devices and personal computers.



Blogs are a good tool to use to communicate with your audience. Blogs are Web sites that allow you to engage in a conversation with readers. Many Web sites include a blog as part of the site.

Use blogs for . . . Do not use blogs for . . .
  • Promoting discussion
  • Gathering feedback and heading off problems
  • Explaining your mission, policies, and goals
  • Supplementing official comments
  • One-way communication
  • Personal information
  • Reposting information

Successful blogs are compelling and current, and encourage interaction with readers.

The following are excerpts from some successful blogs by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Ventura City Manager in Ventura, CA, and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

CDC Blog

Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

The following was originally posted on CDC Public Health Matters Blog on May 16, 2011, by Ali S. Khan.

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

A Brief History of Zombies

We’ve all seen at least one movie about flesh-eating zombies taking over (my personal favorite is Resident Evil), but where do zombies come from and why do they love eating brains so much? The word zombie comes from Haitian and New Orleans voodoo origins. Although its meaning has changed slightly over the years, it refers to a human corpse mysteriously reanimated to serve the undead. Through ancient voodoo and folk-lore traditions, shows like the Walking Dead were born.

In movies, shows, and literature, zombies are often depicted as being created by an infectious virus, which is passed on via bites and contact with bodily fluids. Harvard psychiatrist Steven Scholzman wrote a (fictional) medical paper on the zombies presented in Night of the Living Deadand refers to the condition as Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome caused by an infectious agent. The Zombie Survival Guide identifies the cause of zombies as a virus called solanum. Other zombie origins shown in films include radiation from a destroyed NASA Venus probe (as in Night of the Living Dead), as well as mutations of existing conditions such as prions, mad-cow disease, measles and rabies.

The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too!

To read this blog, go to:


Ventura City Manager Blog

Disaster Averted

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Imagine your living room exploding in flames and your family cut off from the only door down the stairs from your second-floor condominium.

That’s what happened to Jose Martinez yesterday morning as he woke early to get his 9-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son off to school on time.

Their three-bedroom condo was almost immediately choked in smoke and he could hear screams from below as roaring flames billowed from the balcony outside his front door.

He and his wife threw open their window and helped their kids drop to waiting neighbors gathered below. In their haste, each suffered minor injuries, including stitches for their son who cut his ankle on the glass of the first floor window. But all four occupants miraculously escaped and the 45-year-old dad told the Ventura County Star: “We thank God that we’re alive, regardless of what we lost up there.”

Later in the day, Deputy Mayor Mike Tracy and I stood in the same bedroom, getting a first-hand briefing from Fire Chief Kevin Rennie and Capt. Doug Miser. Although firefighters were able to knock down the blaze before it reached the parent’s bedroom, the smoke-blackened walls dramatically underscored how lucky they were to escape with their lives. On the couple’s dresser were two heat-seared imprints where Martinez had left his wallet and cell phone as he frantically scrambled to ensure his family’s leap to safety. Coming back after the fire to retrieve them, their ghostly shadows left indelible evidence of the inferno that swept through their home.


AZ Department of Health Services Director’s Blog

When You’re Hot, You’re Hot

May 13th, 2011 by Will Humble

The Sonoran Desert will be among the hottest places on the globe for the next 4 months. The heat on the desert floor isn’t just a nuisance, it’s expensive & lethal. Do you know what to do to protect yourself and your family? Do you follow through?

Year in and year out, nearly 1,400 Arizonans get heat related illnesses so serious that they end up in an emergency department. Hundreds are so ill that they end up being admitted to the hospital. In 2008, the average per-person hospital treatment cost for heat related illnesses in Arizona was about $7,500, leading to a whopping $11M in treatment costs. And that’s not all. On average, between 30 and 80 Arizona residents die from heat related illnesses every summer. More than 70% of the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are guys. Chris Mrela wrote a dynamite report on this a couple of years ago.

The good news is that preventing heat related illness is easy to do if you just use common sense. You can learn how to protect yourself from heat with some resources on our website including our Heat Brochure, Heat Related Illness Tips for Schools and our newly revised Heat Emergency Response Plan.

To read this blog, go to:



Example 1: “Survivors of the April tornadoes have until Monday, June 27 to register for disaster assistance from FEMA as well as . . .”

Example 2: “There is more severe weather on the way as a large storm cell is moving across Livingston Parish into EBR. Continue to monitor the weather.”

Example 3: “4 Shelters remain open: MassMutual Ctr, 1277 Main St. Springfield; Quarry Hill Comm. School, 43 Margaret St. . . .”

These examples are micro-blogs from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (Example 1), the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security in Baton Rouge (LA) (Example 2), and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (Example 3).

A micro-blog is a type of blog where the message is shorter. As demonstrated by the examples, micro-blogging has become an important source of information in preparation of, during, and after crisis situations.

Note: Often micro-blogs will provide links to Web sites or social networking sites for more information.


Using Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites are online communities that connect people. They can be used for personal networking, professional networking, and sharing public information.

A social networking site is a great tool for:

  • Announcing events
    A message on a social networking site for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency: Recovery specialists from FEMA will help answer your questions & offer tips to make homes stronger and safer during free consultations at local home improvement and building supply stores. Specialists are currently in Madison, Walker, Jefferson and Etowah counties. Check a store near you.
  • Sharing information externally
    From the Red Stick Ready social networking site: A citizen called us today on behalf of one of her elderly neighbors who had concern about the river level. This is a perfect example of the buddy system and we encourage everyone to use it. Especially now, with the crest still more than ten days out, check on your family and neighbors.
  • Obtaining information
    The city of San Francisco, CA, added micro-blogging as a way for citizens to make 311 customer service requests or complaints. Citizens can submit a micro-blog to report problems, like a pothole, or to request information about city services.


Other Considerations When Using Evolving Media

Now you know about the many tools available to get your message out. Some important considerations to effectively use evolving media include developing:

  • A strategy to effectively use all the tools (traditional media and evolving media) together and determine the best mix of tools for what you want to communicate.
  • Policies for evolving media (e.g., who can post, what can be posted, how to respond to negative comments, etc.).
  • A directory of your organization’s Internet presence.


Image of the Web site for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with arrows indicating the ability to access their blog, photo sharing site, video library, email sign-up, social network, micro-blog, video sharing site, widgets, RSS feed, and an overview of FEMA’s internet presence from the main page.

Image of the Web site for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency with arrows indicating the ability to access their RSS feeds, photo sharing site, micro blog, and social network from the main page.

Image of the Web site for the Johnson County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Web site with arrows indicating the ability to access their email sign-up, social network, micro-blog, video sharing, blog (audio), photo sharing, radio, RSS feed, and podcasts from the main page.


Comparing Traditional and Evolving Media Tools

Now you have an understanding of the advantages and limitations of traditional and evolving media. It is important to note that traditional media sources are not being replaced by social media; instead, traditional media are using social media to connect with their audiences and expand their reach. Some examples include traditional media using:

  • Micro-blogs to announce stories,
  • Video sharing sites to expand or market a story, and
  • Blogs to cover events as they are happening.
You want to . . . Use . . .
not selected Traditional Media Evolving Media
Print Radio TV Web site Email Blog Micro-Blog Social Network
Provide detail selected not selected not selected selected selected selected not selected not selected
Include background information selected not selected not selected selected selected selected not selected not selected
Be able to return to it selected not selected not selected selected selected not selected not selected not selected
Build relationships not selected not selected not selected not selected selected selected selected selected
Provide information immediately not selected selected selected selected selected selected selected selected
Easily get information out not selected not selected not selected selected selected selected selected selected
Reach segments of the population not selected selected selected selected selected selected selected selected
Announce events and activities not selected selected selected selected selected not selected selected selected
Get feedback not selected not selected not selected selected not selected selected selected selected
Promote discussion not selected not selected not selected selected not selected selected selected selected
Share information on your mission, goals, and policies selected not selected not selected selected not selected selected not selected selected
Increase transparency not selected not selected not selected selected selected selected selected selected
React quickly not selected not selected selected selected selected selected selected selected
Share information within your organization selected not selected not selected selected not selected selected selected selected


Monitoring the Media

An important step when communicating is to continually evaluate and adjust your message by monitoring the media. Check Web sites and social media sites, read newspapers, watch TV, and listen to radio to know how your message is getting out. Monitor to determine if the media coverage is:

  • Accurate.
  • Balanced and fair.
  • Effective.

Whether or not your organization is using social media, you should still monitor it. To help you in monitoring conversations on social media sites, you may want to use a social media monitoring tool or social media dashboard. These tools allow you to use key word searches and provide you with updates in your email or through an RSS feed or through the tool’s Web site.

Many different social media monitoring tools are available. Conduct research to determine which tool is best to meet your agency’s needs.


Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to different tools you can use to communicate your message as a PIO, including:

  • Television,
  • Radio,
  • Newspapers/magazines,
  • News briefings/conferences, and
  • Evolving media.

In the next lesson you will learn how to prepare quality written products for these tools and how to speak effectively with the media and to the public.



Lesson 3: Communicating Effectively

Lesson Overview

This lesson presents information on how to effectively communicate with the media and the whole community. At the completion of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe how to effectively communicate orally and through written products.
  • Describe how to have a successful relationship with the news media.


Written Products

The previous lesson introduced tools the PIO can use to communicate with the community. For each of these tools—television, newspaper, radio, news briefings, and evolving media—you need written products. Different types of written products include the following:

  • News releases to report facts of an activity or incident of news value. News releases are disseminated to the public through the news media.
  • Statements in lieu of a news release, but with less detail. It may be helpful to issue a statement when you’ve received multiple media calls on the same topic.
  • Fact sheets to provide more detail than is provided in a news release. These can be handouts used during news conferences and briefings.
  • Media advisories to invite the media to an event or news conference. They provide basic information, like time, place, topic, and directions.
  • Talking points to prepare yourself or someone else for a telephone interview, broadcast interview, news conference, or news briefing.
  • Public service announcements—or PSAs—to enlist the cooperation of the electronic media in promoting an important message. They are typically all caps, double spaced, and no more than 5-10 seconds long.
  • Newsletter articles or articles for your Web site to provide details on events and activities.
  • Brochures, fliers, and other handouts to provide background information. They may be used to supplement a news release; to provide photos or graphics; or as a part of a public awareness campaign.
  • Blogs, micro-blogs, and entries on social networking sites to provide comment on a topic, details for an event, or information on an emergency incident.

View actual news releases, statements, and fact sheets on the InciWeb site [].


General Writing Tips

When preparing written products, it is important that your message is understood. Below are some tips for writing in a clear, concise, and organized manner:

Write for your identified audience.
You need to write to your audience. Determine who your audience is, what they need to know, and what they already know. For different audiences, you may need to write different products.
Start with the main point.
Identify the purpose of what you are writing and start with the main message. Grab the attention of your readers so that they will continue reading. Do not be afraid to put bad news first if that is the message.
Use the fewest words that will effectively convey your message.
Instead of saying . . .

  • At the present time
  • Due to the fact
  • Has the ability to
  • In the event of
  • Is a justification for
  • In the process of making plans
Say . . .

  • Now
  • Because
  • Can
  • If
  • Justifies
  • Planning
Use easy-to-understand language.
  • Write to express, not impress.
  • Avoid acronyms. If you use an acronym, make sure your audience understands it. Write out the full term on first usage, as appropriate.
  • Use examples and comparisons to help convey unfamiliar information, to paint a picture, or to help the reader relate to the information. (For example: The suspicious package was the size of a laptop computer.)
Use parallel construction.
In other words, express parallel ideas in parallel grammatical forms. For example:

  • John enjoys boating, swimming, and to fish. (Incorrect)
  • John enjoys boating, swimming, and fishing. (Correct)
Use active voice.
Active voice is clear, direct, and concise. The subject is the doer of the action.

Although active voice is preferred and is more interesting, passive voice may be appropriate when the doer is unknown or you want to focus on the receiver of the action. With passive voice, the subject is the receiver of the action.

Consider the following:

  • The officer wrote the report. (Active)
  • The report was written by the officer. (Passive)
Use short paragraphs and sentences.
  • Each sentence should have just one idea.
  • Simplify complex ideas by using short sentences.
  • Break your ideas into one subject per sentence.
  • Keep the subject and verb close together.
  • Avoid double negatives.
  • Have only one topic per paragraph.
  • Use headings for your paragraphs.
Use the right resources.
Even the best writer can make mistakes, particularly when under pressure or in a time crunch.
Advanced writing courses can help you hone your skills. Other resources for writers include:

  • Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (also known as AP Stylebook)
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (rules of basic English usage and composition)
  • Spelling- and grammar-checking tools (printed and computer software)
  • Plain language Web site:
Check your grammar.
Poor grammar and misspelled words can confuse the audience and hurt your credibility, but the most important goal is to communicate.

In a crisis, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is more important than catching a dangling participle!


Writing News Releases

Now that you have some tips for better writing, let’s look at how to write a news release. News releases are one of the most commonly used tools for PIOs. A news release should be used when an activity or incident is newsworthy based on:

  • Timeliness: When the event happened determines its newsworthiness. News is what is happening now!
  • Proximity: Events that happen near us—in our community or State—have more significance and are more newsworthy to us.
  • Conflict: Controversy or struggle between opposing sides makes news. The struggle doesn’t have to be between people; it can be between people and the elements.
  • Impact: People will ask, “How will this affect me and to what degree?” The greater the impact, the more newsworthy the event.
  • Prominence: Who is involved? The more “known” they are, the more newsworthy the story.
  • Human interest: Human interest stories can be of interest even if they don’t exemplify some of these other characteristics of newsworthiness. Human interest stories appeal to emotion and enable the audience to identify with the subject.


News Release Format

News releases should be printed on your organization’s letterhead and include a header with contact information (name and number), date, and a news release number. Your organization may have other format preferences, such as single-spaced and one-page only.

Image of sample news release showing organizational letterhead, contact and personal information, headline, news release number, and dateline

News releases should adhere to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Many organizations follow stylebooks that establish how they will communicate with the public in terms of titles, capitalization, punctuation, and so on. The AP Stylebook is used by most of the news media.

For more information on AP style, go to


Inverted Pyramid

News releases should provide accurate, factual information that is attributed to its source. The news release should use the inverted pyramid as illustrated below.

Inverted pyramid with: Top portion – most important information (who, what, when, where, why, how), Middle portion – sentence supporting the lead (e.g., quote by key official), Bottom portion – less important information

Example: Press Release Using Inverted Pyramid Format

Most important information Governor James Smith today declared a state of emergency in the Great A&P fire that is rapidly spreading west.
Sentence supporting the lead “Once again, we see a fire threatening our citizens and their homes. I know our superb team of firefighters will do all they can, but the conditions on the railroad are particularly difficult,” Smith said.
Less important information The fire started near Harvest Junction on the railroad and the fumes from the burning hazardous materials in the cars threaten a number of nearby communities, according to local authorities.

Smith activated the State Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates State firefighting efforts in these situations. The Governor is continuing to monitor the situation.

The Governor repeated his request that everyone use caution and heed warning messages on TV and radio, or in their newspapers.

“Unfortunately, these hazardous materials are creating a dangerous situation for all of us. I would urge you to be careful whenever you travel,” Smith said.

The Governor declared the emergency following a similar declaration by Liberty County. The Governor’s declaration allows the use of State resources in paying the costs of fighting the fire.


Social Media News Release

With the advent of social media, another type of news release you may want to use is the Social Media Release (SMR). This is a release that you post online. It includes features and characteristics that are not available in a traditional news release, such as:

  • Photographs.
  • Videos.
  • Podcasts.
  • RSS feeds.
  • Social bookmarking.
  • Comment fields.
  • Searchable key words.
  • 140-character stand-alone micro-blog statements.


Oral Communication

In addition to having good written communication skills, a successful PIO also needs to be able to speak effectively. News briefings or conferences and interviews are times when you will need to know how to (or prepare a speaker to) present information and respond to questions. Some tips for speaking publicly and improving your responses (or assisting and preparing a speaker) are:

  • Apply good verbal communication skills.
    • Use easy-to-understand language.
    • Avoid acronyms.
    • Give short, concise answers.
    • Use short, quotable statements.
    • Avoid unnecessary details.
    • Avoid “fillers” (um, er, uh); don’t be afraid to pause while formulating an answer.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication.
    • Look at the audience, but don’t lock eyes with any one person and don’t look into the camera.
    • Appear attentive.
    • Show emotion as appropriate, but don’t use big gestures.
    • Always assume that the camera is on.
    • Use natural gestures, but don’t cross your arms, raise your eyebrows, shrug your shoulders, sway, or bounce.
    • Keep your hands away from your face.
    • Sit on your coat tail to keep your jacket from riding up.
    • Wear your uniform or neat, conservative attire if not in uniform.
    • Remove dark glasses/sunglasses.
  • Stick to your main point. Know your main point and stick to it. Too many messages will be confusing to the reporters and the public. Do not comment on what others have said, particularly if you haven’t heard or read it yourself. It may cause you to verify something that might not be true. Do not answer hypothetical questions. Hypothetical questions often begin: “What if …”  Do not answer questions that require you to make assumptions.
  • Keep positive. Keep positive, yet realistic. Turn a negative question around and answer it in the positive. For example, someone may ask: “Why didn’t the police department use search dogs immediately?” Instead of saying, “We didn’t use search dogs earlier because …,” say: “We have used a full range of search strategies, including search dogs.”
  • Know when to stop. Stop talking when you’ve made your point. Don’t speculate and don’t feel that you have to fill empty air space. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Don’t offer your opinion. When possible, summarize your key points at the end of the briefing or interview.
  • Talk about your organization. Do not talk about other organizations, except to thank them for their efforts. Do not respond to questions best answered by another agency.
  • Stay “on the record.” Keep your comments official. Some PIOs will argue that you can give “off the record” information to a reporter with whom you have a long-standing relationship of trust. One thing to consider: By giving this trusted reporter “off the record” information, you may be doing a disservice. If the information gets out from another source, other media outlets will run with it, while the reporter you trusted may hold back.


Working With the News Media

When distributing written products or speaking to the media, you will often need to work with a person to get your information out. It is important to build relationships with your media contacts.

Some tips for building relationships with your media contacts are:

  • Be accessible and return calls and emails promptly.
  • Coordinate access to policymakers and others (e.g., first responders and disaster survivors).
  • Treat all media fairly—do not play favorites with reporters.
  • Learn and respect your media contacts’ deadlines.
  • Provide information and updates in a timely manner.


Creating a Media List

It is important to prepare a list of media outlets and contacts, for everyday activities and to act quickly in an emergency. Your media list should be current, complete, and tailored to your organization. When creating your media list:

  • Contact local, tribal, territorial, and State press associations to obtain media lists.
  • Contact commercial vendors to identify contacts and the process for news releases.
  • Identify local specialty media.
  • Identify contacts and sources that are relevant to your organization.
  • Include email addresses and Internet sites for the media contact.
  • Include information on evolving media contacts, instructions, and resources.

Media information is constantly changing; make sure you have a process to keep your media list up-to-date.


Lesson Summary

This lesson focused on how to communicate effectively, which involves:

  • Preparing quality written products including news releases.
  • Knowing how to effectively speak to media representatives using both verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Establishing relationships with news media representatives by being accessible and prepared.

In the next lesson you will learn how to use your tools and skills to communicate information about being prepared to your community.



Lesson 4: Preparing the Community

Lesson Overview

This lesson presents information on how to effectively communicate with the whole community regarding the importance of being prepared for an incident. At the completion of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Define a public awareness campaign.
  • Describe how to develop and execute a public awareness campaign.


Creating Public Awareness Campaigns

Public awareness campaigns are ongoing public education programs that PIOs use to inform, educate, and increase organizational visibility.

Campaigns are usually multifaceted, combining events and various media to get the message out. They focus on specific issues or programs to move the public to take action. They heighten awareness of community hazards and encourage the public to take steps to become more prepared.

Campaign topics can range from recruiting volunteers to fire safety.

They can be seasonal—like hurricane preparedness week.

They can be timeless—like encouraging children to be active.

In all cases, the campaign will include a compelling message and a clear link to the organization’s overall goals and priorities.

Public awareness campaigns can run for weeks, months, or even sporadically throughout several years.

In this lesson you’ll learn more about creating public awareness campaigns.


Creating a Public Awareness Campaign

An important part of your role as a PIO is to communicate with your community before something happens. A public awareness campaign is a vehicle you can use to get your message out about being prepared. This lesson reviews the four steps in creating a public awareness campaign.

  1. Research
  2. Analyze Your Audience
  3. Develop and Implement
  4. Evaluate

Researching the Issue

Step 1: Research

The first step in developing a public awareness campaign is to research issues to identify relevant topics for your campaign. Consider information about the whole community when identifying topics, including:

Your organization

  • What is your organization’s mission?
  • What are priorities within your organization?

Community hazards

  • What are your community’s:
    • Natural hazards?
    • Technological hazards?
    • Human-caused hazards?

There is no point in conducting a hurricane preparedness campaign if your area is not subject to hurricanes.

Probability of hazard or threat

  • What is the probability of an emergency or disaster occurring related to the hazard?

Community problems

  • What problems are you having in your community?
  • Were people prepared for previous incidents?
  • Did people resist evacuating?

Community concerns

  • What are people in your community concerned about?
  • What is happening in other areas? Tornadoes or wildfires in neighboring States may increase your community’s interest in preparedness.

Vulnerable populations

  • Who is likely to be affected by the hazard or threat? Determining hazard impact is a crucial component in emergency planning. It also helps identify the target audience for a particular public awareness campaign.

National/Global events.

  • What events nationally and globally are in the news?
  • How or what can your community learn from these events?

Analyzing Your Audience

Step 2: Analyze the Audience

As part of conducting research, you have identified populations in the community who are vulnerable and need the information from your campaign. These people are your target audience. Develop a picture of who you want to reach with your message by asking:

Who are they?

  • What is their age and gender?
  • Are they single or married?
  • Do they have children?
  • Where do they live and work?
  • What are their interests?
  • Do they have special communication needs (e.g., visual or hearing impairments, or limited English proficiency)?


Where do they live?

  • Do they live near public transportation?
  • Do they live in high-risk areas?
  • Do they live in rural or urban areas?


What is the best way to reach them?

  • What news media do they rely upon?
  • Do they own computers?
  • Do they use social media?
  • Where do they go and how do they get there (e.g., do they spend time on public transportation, do they visit the library, do they go to sporting events, etc.)?


What words will have meaning for them?

  • What do they already know about the topic?
  • What is their level of education?
  • What is in it for them? (What will motivate them?)
  • Are there cultural differences to take into consideration?

Developing and Implementing Your Campaign

Step 3: Develop and Implement

Now that you know what you want to communicate and to whom you will communicate, next you need to develop and implement your campaign. This process includes:

  • Developing a Goal Statement
  • Creating a Message
  • Choosing the Medium
  • Identifying Timing

Developing a Goal Statement

Your goal statement expresses what you hope to achieve through your campaign. Having clear goals is the foundation for your campaign. Your goals should be:

S = Specific
  • Goals should be stated in clear, concise terms that have meaning for those working on the campaign and other key stakeholders.
  • “Increase community preparedness” is not specific. “Distribute family emergency preparedness kits through community elementary schools” is both clearer and more meaningful.
M = Measurable
  • Measurement is how you evaluate success, but make sure your numbers reflect significant achievement.
  • It may be a good idea to record how many news releases you sent out, but the amount of media coverage you receive (e.g., column inches, mentions on news programs, and number of radio interviews) is more indicative of success. Better yet is the number of people who call and request preparedness kits!
A = Attainable
  • A goal that makes you stretch is good. One that is completely out of reach is de-motivating.
  • When considering whether a goal is attainable, ask yourself: Do I have the skills and resources—or can I get them—to achieve this goal?
R = Recorded
  • Once you have identified your goal, write it down! It will keep you focused and is the foundation for evaluating your campaign’s success.
T = Time Bound
  • All goals should have a target date for completion. You should set a realistic deadline and interim benchmarks, as needed.

The following is an example of a SMART goal:

“The Hurricane Ready campaign will present information about local hurricane hazards and the steps to take to be prepared by securing by April 5 media placement on three television stations, two newspapers, one social network, and a micro-blog, each week in May.”


Creating a Message

Now that you’ve got a goal statement, the next step is to create messages in support of the goal that are suited to your target audience. The message should be:

  • Relevant: Focused on issues the audience can understand and are affected by.
  • Clear and concise: Easily understood; not wordy.
  • Memorable: Has an appealing catch phrase or tag line (for example, “Click It or Ticket,” a campaign to promote seatbelt use).


Choosing the Medium

How will you get the message to your audience? In Lesson 2 you learned about the many different media options you have, including:

  • Print media: Newspapers, newsletters, magazines, brochures, posters, billboards, etc.
  • Electronic Media: Television, radio, Web sites, social networks, blogs, apps, etc.
  • In-Person Events: Audiovisual presentations, news briefings, news conferences, special events, etc.

Select the right medium or right mix of media for a strategy to get your message to your target audience. Campaigns that combine a mix of media are more likely to be effective in influencing people.


Identifying Timing

When will you implement your campaign? Time is a crucial element in any public awareness campaign.

  • First, timing will have an impact on the campaign’s success.
    • A campaign on hurricane awareness won’t get much play in December.
    • If you hope to work with schools, plan well in advance to coordinate with their schedules and curriculum. The best approach is to meet with school officials early to determine when your program best fits their schedule.
  • Second, production and dissemination of materials can require significant amounts of time, depending upon the complexity of the campaign materials.

“Time” will also impact the shelf-life of your campaign. Don’t “date” your materials by using the year or referring to news events that will become out-of-date quickly.


Evaluating Your Campaign

Step 4: Evaluate

Once your campaign is implemented, the last step is to determine its success. Evaluation is crucial for judging the effectiveness of a public awareness campaign. Questions to answer when evaluating a public awareness campaign include the following:

  • Did the message reach the targeted audience?
  • Did the message call people to action?
  • Was the action significant?
  • What will you change in future campaigns?

You can collect data about your campaign in different ways. Some evaluation data can be collected without contact with the audience—for example, number of Web page hits or increase in the quantity of smoke alarms purchased. Other data requires that you reach out to the target audience—for example, to conduct focus group sessions or implement random telephone, email, or print surveys.


Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to the steps to create a preparedness campaign:

  • Research topics for your campaign.
  • Analyze your target audience.
  • Develop and implement your campaign by setting a goal, creating a message, choosing your medium, and identifying timing.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your campaign.

These steps will help you develop a campaign that will inform the whole community about the importance of being ready and preparedness steps to take.

In the next lesson you will learn how to communicate effectively when an incident happens.



Lesson 5: Communicating in an Incident

Lesson Overview

This lesson presents information on how to use your tools and relationships to communicate information to the community when something happens. At the completion of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe the role of the Public Information Officer (PIO) in an emergency.
  • Describe how to manage the news media at the scene of an incident.


How To Be Effective in an Emergency

Key to being an effective PIO in an emergency is the ability to:

  • Work within the emergency management system
  • Manage the media

Let’s start by looking at what you need to know about emergency management.


Emergency Management Knowledge

This lesson introduces you to some emergency management principles contained in the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

NIMS provides a consistent, systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment.

Let’s start by reviewing the Incident Command System (ICS) and the PIO’s role in ICS.


ICS Structure

The Incident Command System is a fundamental element of emergency management.

Incident Command System organization chart with Incident Commander at the top level. Public Information Officer, Liaison Officer, and Safety Officer at the middle level comprise the Command Staff. Operations Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Finance/Admin Section Chief at the lower level comprise the General Staff.

Responsibilities of the Components of the ICS Organization

In an incident, the Incident Commander manages the entire incident and:

  • Assesses the situation.
  • Establishes objectives.
  • Ensures overall safety.
  • Communicates with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Organizes resources.
  • Develops a strategy or plan for handling the incident, monitors it in process, and adjusts the plan as needed.
  • Ensures proper documentation.
  • Appoints additional staff as necessary.


The Command Staff provides information, safety, and liaison services:

  • The Public Information Officer is the conduit for information to internal and external stakeholders, including the media.
  • The Safety Officer is responsible for the systems and procedures necessary to ensure assessment of hazardous environments, coordination of multiagency safety efforts, and the promotion of emergency responder and general safety.
  • The Liaison Officer coordinates efforts with other agencies assisting at an incident and monitors for any problems between the organization and other agencies.


The General Staff performs functional activities:

  • The Operations Section is responsible for all tactical activities focused on reducing the hazard, saving lives and property, establishing control, and restoring normal operations.
  • The Planning Section supports the incident action planning process by tracking resources, collecting/analyzing information, and maintaining documentation.
  • The Logistics Section manages resources including supplies, personnel, and equipment.
  • The Finance/Administration Section monitors costs related to the incident, and provides accounting, procurement, time recording, and cost analyses.


PIO Role in ICS

As part of the ICS structure, the PIO is part of the Command Staff and advises the Incident Commander on all public information matters relating to the management of the incident.


Making Contact at the Scene

When an emergency happens, ICS is implemented. As a PIO, when you get to the scene, you will first make contact with the Incident Commander to gather information and assess the situation. Always connect with the Incident Commander before making any statement to the media.


  • What is the current situation?
  • What are the incident objectives?
  • What actions and resources are being used to achieve the objectives?
  • Are there warnings or other critical messages to be communicated to the public?
  • Is there any restriction on the information to be released?
  • Have the media arrived at the scene?
  • Are there any other instructions?


Key Functions

During an incident the PIO:

  • Assesses the situation.
  • Manages the situation.
  • Determines what the public needs to know.
  • Serves as an advisor to the Incident Commander.
  • Selects the right tools for the messages.
  • Coordinates messages.
  • Responds to the media while respecting restrictions on the release of sensitive information.

NIMS Description of the PIO’s Responsibilities

The Public Information Officer is responsible for interfacing with the public and media and/or with other agencies with incident-related information requirements. The Public Information Officer gathers, verifies, coordinates, and disseminates accurate, accessible, and timely information on the incident’s cause, size, and current situation; resources committed; and other matters of general interest for both internal and external audiences. The Public Information Officer may also perform a key public information-monitoring role.


Joint Information System (JIS)

Managing public information is another fundamental element of emergency management. NIMS describes the use of the Joint Information System (JIS) to complete the critical tasks of information sharing and coordination. The JIS is a system that ensures coordination and integration of information across jurisdictions, organizations, and agencies during an incident.

The PIO uses the JIS to:

  • Determine information to be communicated to the public.
  • Create clear and easily understood messages.
  • Ensure information is accurate.
  • Identify how messages should be conveyed.
  • Coordinate information being distributed to ensure consistency with other agencies’ messages.


JIS Configurations

As with ICS, the JIS is as simple or complex as the needs of the situation. The role of the PIO is the same regardless of the type or size of the event. Examples of JIS configurations are:

  • One PIO talking by phone to an “on-scene” PIO to confirm the number of responders at the scene prior to an initial news release.
  • Two PIOs talking to each other on the phone about a news story that involves both of their agencies.
  • Three PIOs on the scene of a crisis “huddling” prior to making a statement to the media.
  • Over 150 PIOs working a major disaster, often from different locations—all to ensure clear and accurate information is being delivered amid the confusion of a disaster response.


Joint Information Center (JIC)

The previous examples of JIS configurations demonstrate that sometimes a location is needed to facilitate the operation of the JIS. This physical site is called the Joint Information Center (JIC), and is the location where:

  • Tools to enhance the flow of public information are housed.
  • PIOs can gather centrally.
  • Increased information needs can be handled.
  • Media can go for “one-stop shopping.”


A JIC Case Study: The Very Best Thing We Could Have Done

Narrator: When the State of Utah began to accept evacuees from the Gulf States as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, they implemented a Joint Information Center.

Lieutenant Doug McCleve: One of the reasons why we felt it was so important to put together a Joint Information in the first, Center in the first place is because we knew that there would be all aspects of State government involved in this process from providing basic food and clothing and shelter for these people who have had nothing for up to a week.

Angie Welling: Pretty much every State agency was involved, and that’s when we found out pretty early on that the Governor had involved every aspect of State government.

Lieutenant Doug McCleve: So what we felt like it would be best to do is provide a one-stop calling center for the news media to be able to access whoever they needed to in this process.

Verdi White: The way that we set this particular operation up is we took the Incident Command System and made it an overlay onto the National Guard that had the infrastructure to be able to do all the functions that we needed to accomplish to do this, and of course one of the central components of, of an incident command system is the public information piece.

Tammy Kikuchi: The response was overwhelming. It was four, five, and six teams from every news, particularly the TV stations sending out that many cameras with that many reporters from each station and it just was incredible, not to mention the newspapers, the radio stations, the smaller papers in the area plus national media.

Angie Welling: Reporters understand change really well because our days are always changing, but just have that plan in place, know basically what you want to do, who’s going to staff it, what will be available, what hours you will be available for the media.

Tammy Kikuchi: The Joint Information Center and the Command Staff out there would hold daily briefings for the media, and quite honestly that took much of the heat, if you will, off the Governor’s office.

Lieutenant Doug McCleve: The feedback that I’m getting, at least from my local news media, is that they’ve been very pleased with the access they’ve had. It’s not complicated; it’s very easy for them, which makes for better reporting.

Tammy Kikuchi: I would say it, whatever expense it takes for your Public Information Officers to get the training, spend it. Because it’s money well spent in the end and if your PIOs can learn from other areas of the Nation that are doing things well, send them there, let them learn from the people who have done it before, so that when they come back they can build a system that works for you.

Verdi White: The two functions and people that I need to have with me when I’m out here doing anything is I need to have a finance person and I need to have the Joint Information Center.

Brian Hyer: We had all kinds of questions. We wanted questions answered, we wanted stories to be able to do, and we had one place to go to and that was great.

Derrick Jensen: The feedback we received from them, from the local media that we work with on a regular basis and have a pretty good relationship from them . . . the feedback has been, you know, we appreciate this.

Verdi White: And I believe that that has helped in our relationship with the media.

Tammy Kikuchi: Having the Joint Information Center for this event was critical. It was absolutely the very best thing we could have done.


Media Relations

Lesson 3 introduced the importance of establishing relationships with the media. When something happens, the PIO needs the media to get information to the public but also needs to manage the scene and guide the story. An important part of the PIO’s relationship with the media is knowing what they want. During an incident, the media wants:

  • Access to the scene for information and images.
  • Access to you and the newsmakers or persons in charge.
  • An explanation of the big picture.
  • Prompt answers to queries.
  • Timely updates and corrections to information in evolving incidents.


Making Contact With the Media

At an incident scene, after you have conferred with the Incident Commander to assess the situation, you can begin to manage the situation by making contact with the media. When a newsworthy incident occurs, the media will be there, whether you’ve invited them or not! You can’t manage who shows up but you can and should manage contact with the site. Tell the media representatives:

  • Who you are,
  • How they can contact you, and
  • That you will get them information and be back to brief them—and then do so.

Follow-through goes a long way to establishing good relations with the news media.


Working With Amateur Journalists

Technology has a great impact on your ability to manage the message. Technology allows anyone to be a “journalist.” Images, sound, and information captured by the public can be used by traditional news organizations, or posted to social media sites, and broadcast globally.

Remember to treat amateur journalists the same as you would any other journalist—with courtesy and respect.


Coordinating Media Access at the Scene

For some incidents, implementing a media area may be an important way to manage the situation. The media area is a place where media congregate to help enhance the flow of information. If you determine the need for a media area:

  • Establish one that doesn’t hinder operations but affords the media reasonable, legitimate access.
  • Select it carefully and choose your background wisely. If you do not want something recorded by the media, cover it up or shield it with a vehicle. Use the media area for all media releases and conferences.
  • Coordinate access to persons in charge.

Tips For Managing Media Areas

At the scene of an incident, the news media’s most basic needs are access to information and images. If you anticipate what they will want, you will have a better chance to manage the scene and help guide the story.

Many times at the scene of an incident a media area can be set up to facilitate the enhanced flow of information between the PIO and the media. Prior to establishing the location for this media area, ask yourself the following questions:

Does the media area infringe on the scene?
  • Many times the site of a crisis or disaster may be considered a crime scene and needs to be processed by forensic units. In order to maintain the “integrity” of the scene and enhance the possibility for a successful investigation and subsequent prosecution, the scene must be kept clear of all nonessential personnel.
Does the news media presence interfere with the work being done (e.g., rescue, cleanup, etc.)?
  • The ultimate goal of all public safety endeavors is to save lives, protect property, and preserve the environment—and almost all reporters would agree that their needs will come after these important tasks. Members of the media do not want to interfere with these tasks, but if they can get close enough to observe and/or photograph they will be happy.
Does the location of the media area place the media representatives in danger or will they be in a position to endanger others?
  • In their zeal to “get the story” reporters may not always recognize the potential for danger to themselves. Work to keep them out of danger as you would any member of the public. Also, it may be necessary to explain to them the danger, and how if they fail to heed the warnings and become injured, they may endanger others who would have to then go in to rescue them (e.g., passing into the plume of a Hazmat area, traveling over an unsafe structure that may collapse, or moving into the line of fire of an armed suspect).
Is the media area convenient for you and policymakers?
  • In order to keep a consistent two-way flow of information with the media representatives at the scene, it is important to make it relatively easy to communicate with them face to face.
Will the reporters be too close—will they have access to sensitive/protected information?
  • Zoom lenses, parabolic microphones, and just plain observant reporters may be able to discover sensitive or protected information from your incident command post (e.g., zoom shots of maps, recorded conversations, etc.). Make sure the media area is far enough away and/or your workspaces are shielded from prying cameras, microphones, and eyes.
Will the media area give reporters a clear line of sight to satellite or microwave towers?
  • Depending on where the media area is, the media representatives will need to be able to connect with their microwave towers or uplink with a satellite. Check with them to see if the location selected for a media area will allow them to accomplish this connection.
Can the media get images they want?
  • The media will want to get as close as possible to get pictures/audio/interviews. If there is a reason that the media cannot be allowed access to the scene, consider using a media pool to restrict access while allowing them to get the images and interviews they desire. (A media pool refers to a group of news-gathering organizations pooling their resources in the collection of news.) If a media pool is not an option, consider providing professional-quality images to the media in the form of video and stills.
Are there “convenience” facilities available for media (restrooms, food, electrical outlets, etc.)?
  • While it is not the responsibility of the PIO to provide food or facilities for the media, a little kindness in this area can go far in building a positive relationship with the media—especially if the incident occurs in a remote area where few if any comfort facilities exist (e.g., if the incident is in a remote field, a porta-john will go a long way in making friends!).
How can you keep them at the media area?
  • You can’t—and don’t expect them to stay there all of the time. They will go other places to get other information (local citizen reactions, sidebar stories, etc.).
  • You can entice them to stay by giving them regular “official” updates and letting them know that if they are absent they may miss something important or interesting.


Establishing Media Pools

Another method you may need to employ to manage the situation is a media pool. Media pools are used to restrict access to an area due to space limitations or safety issues. A media pool:

  • Allows access to one media representative from television, radio, print, and Internet to a restricted area.
  • Operates with the understanding that any video, audio, or interviews acquired will be shared with the rest of the media.
  • May allow access to more than one person from each media type when necessary (e.g., television reporter and a camera operator, or newspaper reporter and photographer).
  • Leaves the decision as to who will be in the pool to the media.

Note: Media pools can cause disagreements among the media. Avoid getting involved in these media disputes.


Putting It All Together

You have many resources available to ensure that the information reported about an event and your organization is true and accurate. Some tips to contribute to your success when managing information during an emergency are:

  • Consider your resources and your role in ICS.
  • Keep the Incident Commander informed.
  • Concentrate on the most crucial things.
  • Establish contact with other agency PIOs.
  • Keep leadership apprised.
  • Keep your cool.
  • Prepare a “Go Kit” filled with your tools, contact information, and other vital documents.


Go Kit Checklist

A Go Kit is a mobile response kit that allows PIOs to function in the event that they are working outside of their normal place of operation. Refer to the list below. Check off the things you would plan to include in your Go Kit and add other items as you see fit.

  • Computer(s) with wireless capability
  • Cell phone(s) with email capability or satellite phone(s)
  • Pager(s)
  • Digital camera and batteries
  • Other:


  • Flash drives and CDs* containing the elements of the crisis communication plan (including news media contact lists, PIO team contact lists, information materials, etc.)

    * Redundancy is important in case the computer you are using doesn’t have an available or operating USB port or CD drive.

  • Manuals and background information necessary to provide needed information to the public and media
  • Topic-specific fact sheets, backgrounders, talking points, and news release templates (hard copy and electronic)
  • Other:


Other Resources
  • Business cards with 24/7 contact information
  • Funding mechanism (i.e., credit card, etc.) that can be used to purchase operational resources as needed
  • Paper forms, in case there is no electronic access (i.e., no Internet access, power outage, etc.)
  • Other


Personal Care and Comfort Items
  • Glasses/contacts (spares)
  • Prescription medications; basic first-aid supplies
  • Weather gear (e.g., rain poncho, gloves, sunscreen)
  • Hand sanitizer, “wipes,” paper towels
  • Energy bars, water
  • Other:



Lesson Summary

This lesson covered the knowledge and skills you need to effectively manage emergency public information during an incident:

  • Emergency management knowledge including an understanding of NIMS, ICS, the JIS, and the JIC.
  • Media management skills including knowing what the media wants, managing amateur journalists, and using media pools and media areas.

The next lesson summarizes your role as a PIO and how to use all the tools available to you to help your community be prepared and to share critical information when an incident happens.


Lesson 6: Course Summary

Bringing It Together

This course has presented you with tools that PIOs can use to communicate, the steps to develop a campaign to prepare your community, and ways to effectively provide critical information during an emergency.

Now let’s take a look at how one mayor, Mayor Kip Holden, ensures his community, the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in East Baton Rouge Parish, is prepared.

Narrator: While responding to disasters, Mayor Holden and his staff began to realize that many of the issues they faced repeatedly could be eliminated if the public was better prepared. With an eye on public safety, the mayor began looking for a way to educate people about disaster preparation and response. The Mayor’s Office developed an outreach campaign known as Red Stick Ready.

Mayor Holden: We need to get in advance of different things that could happen, and begin to put a television show together to talk about the things that people should be aware of and what they can do.

Narrator: Red Stick Ready targets every segment of the community.

Joanne H. Moreau: Working with the children, and with such an emphasis on the children, we wanted a tool that could reach them.

Mayor Holden: We have what they call Mayor Mouse, and Mayor Mouse basically is operated to go to various schools. In a span of, I think, 2 months, we took in roughly about almost three thousand kids at various sites to talk to them about different safety things.

Joanne H. Moreau: So Mayor Mouse, our mayor, along with the real mayor actually goes to that event and interacts with the people that are present. You’ll be quite surprised at how the elected official mouse makes all the difference with the children. It’s community preparedness.

Narrator: In addition to a preparedness television show and Mayor Mouse, Red Stick Ready also communicates preparedness information through a Web site, the use of social media, and events like Red Stick Ready Day. But it’s not just preparedness information that the mayor and his team also have a plan for, they also have focused on how to provide critical and accurate information during an emergency by including every emergency response agency in the Emergency Operations Center – the EOC – and embedding the media in the communication process.

Joanne H. Moreau: We focus a lot on making sure that we have a very accurate and timely information process of information dissemination.

Jeff Leduff: We are the first line of information for the rest of the team because we’re out there all the time.

Joanne H. Moreau: We are able to work with all agencies and give a real solid unified message.

Mayor Holden: Sometimes you have to get your story out very quickly.

Joanne H. Moreau: The media is embedded in our Emergency Operations Center. They have access to the officials.

Walter Monsour: So, the message was managed extremely well. The press saw it. They knew that they weren’t being led down another road, that they were hearing things unfiltered.

Mayor Holden: By having that access it really helped us to quell the various rumors that were out there and we were able to keep the situation calm.

Narrator: “Red Stick Ready” demonstrates how you can develop a strategy that prepares your community for a disaster and effectively provides critical information when an incident happens.