Quarterly meeting recap: Cultural considerations and PIO Lessons from the Nurse Wubbels incident

Thank you to Salt Lake City Emergency Management, who hosted the May 9 meeting.

img_5956.jpgKenya Rene, SLC EM’s PIO, opened our meeting with these words of advice for communicators:

“I hope as we train and evolve with our communication skills, we include and become aware of uncomfortable subjects, like white privilege, cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions and equity vs. equality.

Our state is becoming more diverse as we welcome people from all backgrounds, Let’s connect with everybody, making sure we include them in event decisions and think of them when writing a press release, an invite or social media post.

If you don’t know, ask. Get informed about the culture or community you want to approach.”

Thanks, Kenya! For hosting the meeting, Kenya gets in free to the annual PIO Conference in September.


Moving on to our keynote presentation:

How do PIOs respond when their agencies are on opposite side of public sentiment?

IMG_5960Our many thanks to Kathy Wilets from University of Utah Health, Chris Nelson from the University of Utah and Christi Judd from Salt Lake City Police Department for presenting on the Nurse Wubbels incident.

No doubt, you have seen this video:

Here are the lessons Kathy, Christi and Chris shared during their presentation:

  • This was a crisis decades in the making. Agencies need to figure out now who is in charge and who has jurisdiction.
  • It’s important to sit down with players as soon as possible during an incident and in the aftermath. Lots of communication has happened between Nurse Wubbels and the SLCPD, between SLCPD and the hospital and to other groups, such as the nursing association, as well.
  • People will call 911 to report what they see on YouTube. Salt Lake City’s 911 dispatchers were beset with 911 calls for days because people were calling to report the Nurse Wubbels incident.
  • The incident affected the morale for officers at SLCPD and the university. They were all taking verbal punches for the decisions of one man. Remember your people who are still out working in the public eye in the aftermath of a crisis.
  • Have your talking points ready to go ASAP. Kathy received a call at the end of one day that started like this: “You are live on the BBC in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
    Because she was prepared, this encounter didn’t faze her.
  • Get your war room together. Prepare to pull in every resource (human and non-human) so you can get your strategy built and develop your messaging.
  • If you can, designate one person to field all media inquiries. Christi Judd called back every media person, which made messaging consistent to all media outlets.
  • PIOs, even on opposing sides of an issue, can be friends. Christi and Kathy talked often following the incident and continue to maintain a good relationship.
  • Be prepared to talk internally, as well.Don’t leave co-workers in the dark. They are part of your team. Your co-workers will also go home at the end of the day and neighbors, family members and friends will ask them what is going on. Help them be effective spokespeople.
  • What is your ongoing strategy to regularly communicate with the community? It’s not just about messaging the community during the crisis, but what are you doing now to serve the community and tell your story to build good will?

Thanks again to our hosts and to our speakers. The next quarterly meeting will be August 15 in Eagle Mountain City. Come ready to learn what we took away from the Government Social Media Conference, which took place in Denver in April.


Joe Dougherty is the PIO for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.
Find him on Twitter at @PIO_Joe

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