Case Study in Crisis communications – Pink Overdose Deaths in Park City

Pink, or Pinky, is a illicit synthetic opioid that is blamed for deaths of two boys in Park City in 2016.

A few months ago, the PIO Quarterly Meeting included a presentation by Molly Miller, from the Park City School District, Linda Jager, from Park City Municipal, and Wade Carpenter, Park City Police Chief.

On Tuesday, Linda and Molly presented on the same topic at the Governor’s Public Safety Summit on communications surrounding the Pink deaths in Park City.

Molly Miller and Linda Jager present on their crisis communications response to the Pink deaths in Park City

2016 Timeline:
Sept. 11 – First death reported
Sept. 12 – SIAC alert, internal notification
Sept. 13 – Second death reported
Sept. 14 – Attempted suicide reported
Sept. 15-16 – High media interest
Sept. 16 – Memorial service for first victim
Oct. 4 – Media obtains unsealed search warrant
Oct. 19 – Charges filed against 15-year-old suspect
Nov. 3 – Toxicology report released
Nov. 4 – Initial hearing for juvenile suspect
Now – New synthetic drugs making their way into the market.

Challenges:

Information release was limited because the victims were juveniles.
Timing: Police were on scene when word started to leak.
Deaths of youth can trigger unrelated at-risk children to have suicidal thoughts.
Had to get information out quickly but needed to be prudent by checking social posts with Park City Police first.
Balancing media and public’s need to know vs. active and ongoing investigation.
Needed to get information translated into Spanish.

Lessons learned:

Reach out for help with partners as soon as possible.
Notification and involvement of leadership.
Additional media relations preparation for spokesperson team and organization leadership.
Be adamant that students are not interviewed without explicit on-camera permission from parents.
Communicate to stakeholders (employees, parents, leadership) first.
Managing media inquiries and coverage requests. It’s overwhelming, so have a team to help with this.

Best practices:

Created partnerships throughout government in advance.
Priority: Get information out to parents and families.
Working with the media was great because they helped publish warnings and ways parents can protect their families.
Set expectation/battle rhythm with the news media so they know when to expect updated information.
Clear and consistent messaging.
Use multiple communication platforms, including active social media accounts.
Assign someone you trust to keep social media flowing.
Afterward, hold lunch and learn sessions to help people prepare to respond.
Keep the outreach events going.


Joe Dougherty is the PIO for the Utah Division of Emergency Management
and is the secretary of the PIO Association. 
Twitter: @PIO_Joe

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