PIO lessons learned from the Uintah Fire

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Click the image to play a recap video of the Uintah Fire produced by Weber County

We were fortunate to hear from three PIOs who worked on the 2017 Uintah Fire during the Jan. 17, 2018, Quarterly Meeting. Their presentations are embedded after the notes on each section and are posted on Issuu here.

Holin Wilbanks, Weber County

We had to make sure all of the social media accounts were saying the same thing.

Wins:

  • As we were sending out critical information, we were also telling them about what we were doing well and why we were ready. Residents began to share that information and the Governor shared that information, as well.
  • We established the hashtag #UintahFire early on and that allowed us to track our data, as well.
  • Weber County became the accurate source of  information for residents and the press.
  • We briefed the families first and the press second.

Lessons:

  • It’s not over when the fire is out
    • Community recovery included putting out 10 Dumpsters for green waste, involving USU extension horticulturalist for training for homeowners, taking recovery documentation to homeowners in neighborhoods and posting all info to the county site.
  • Keep a PIO in incident command
    • We had a bunch of PIOs all working in different directions. We finally got together partway through the first day.
  • Keep a PIO assigned as an evacuee advocate
  • Now we have a communication plan with the Wildland Urban Interface Plan.
  • All info should have gone through a single channel.
  • Share your social media passwords.
  • Have your communications form up and ACTIVE for press and constituents
  • Maximize your team members and coordinate.
  • Know your role!
  • Engage with your GIS department. I wish I had a map.

Lane Findlay, Weber School District

  • Initially had no contact from law enforcement or fire
  • So, decision to evacuate Uintah Elementary happened at 11 a.m., more than three hours after the fire started.
  • Parents were picking up students and once we received notification from dispatch, started to evacuate. We got 13 buses to take children to Dee Events Center.

Win:

  • Reunification was complete by 1 p.m.
  • Great leadership team

Lessons:

  • Have a plan in place
  • Build partnerships
  • Be flexible
  • Media were able to get inside the Dee Events Center and take photos of children.

Chris Williams, Davis School District

  • Fire was 500 yards from South Weber Elementary and kids were already there.
  • We have 89 schools, 72,000 kids and we have the ability to change any school website, so we did for South Weber.
  • We moved students to Clearfield High School, huge challenge with geography for evacuating students.

Win:

  • Most parents picked up their kids.
  • Have someone embedded with command post.
  • Contact other agency PIOs – For Davis Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. DeeAnn Servey
  • Stay within my lane.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your insights and a huge shout out to University of Utah Health for hosting us!


Compiled by Joe Dougherty, PIO Association Secretary and
PIO for the Utah Division of Emergency Management
jdougherty@utah.gov | Twitter: @PIO_Joe

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When you need digital/social media support

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Today, Cheryl Bledsoe (Twitter.com/CherylBle), from Virtual EMA one of the pioneers of the VOST movement, held a webinar to discuss the Virtual Operations Support Team and how the team works.

In 2010, emergency managers were talking about how to harness the power of social media. They came up with the concept of the VOST to use social media “trusted agents” in diverse locations to help incident leaders have better information and complete web-based missions for emergency response.

As we know, social media helps you be more dynamic, listen to the public, share information and help incident command get intelligence.

Some web-based teams you may have heard of include Humanity Road or the American Red Cross’s digital engagement teams. But VOST is different.

The goal: Provide a snapshot of what is happening on social media as a member of the EOC or incident command. VOSTs can look for rumors and misinformation, threats and copycats, unsolicited volunteers, etc.

They curate and bring that information together and prepare narrative listening reports, filtering out the noise and clutter of social media.

Missions can be long (during a wildfire) or short.

Case study: Umpqua Community College shooting, October 2015

  • 10-member VOST, but only used 2-3 people per day. Mission was active for 17 days.
  • Evaluated spontaneous volunteers and fundraisers.
  • Presidential visit

VOST training available

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Where we would like to go in Utah:

  • Conduct training: Virtual EMA does training on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Build our team to be capable identifying rumors and misinformation.
  • Become skilled at curating social media messages and images.
  • Understand and become proficient at the tools that are available.
  • PIOs should consider becoming VOST team members.

If you would like to be part of UtahVOST1, contact Joe Dougherty, jdougherty@utah.gov.


Joe Dougherty, @PIO_Joe

Crisis Comms 101

This is an abridged version of a blog post that originally appeared on Ragan’s PR Daily today. Subscribe to PR Daily here if you want more good stuff like this.


5 crisis comms tips from the FBI

 FBISeal
By Russell Working | Posted: June 13, 2017

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

1. Address the public’s three main concerns.

Jeff Lanza’s most important case as an FBI agent, he says, came in 1998 when a Missouri couple kidnapped a newborn from her room in the maternity ward while her mother dozed nearby. The ending was a happy one—FBI got the baby back—but Lanza, who now works as a communication consultant, recalls the shock of the hospital’s CEO and board members when he first met with them.

They asked what they should do.

The advice he offers holds for crises in general. He told them that people would want to know:

  • What happened
  • How you will fix it so it doesn’t happen again
  • That you care about the harm your crisis had caused in their lives—empathy, in other words

“If you do that,” he says, “you’re going to be able to recover from almost any crisis.”

Other tips include the following items explored in more detail:

2. Be the first and most credible source of info.

3. Don’t ask your mother how you looked on TV. Do this instead.

4. Remember the adage, ‘An ounce of prevention…’

5. Build relationships with journalists.

Read the rest of the blog post at PR Daily here.


Posted by Joe Dougherty, PIO
Utah Division of Emergency Management
Twitter: @PIO_Joe

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

How to not mess up your social media

First, huge thanks to Cottonwood Heights and Dan Metcalf for hosting the PIOs for the quarterly training luncheon on Wednesday. To show we mean the thanks, Dan gets free entry into the PIO Conference in September, as does anyone who hosts one of these meetings.

Now, onto the stuff: Social media tips from Dan Metcalf. Tomorrow, we’ll have notes from Ben Horsley’s presentation.

Watch for social media pitfalls

  • You still work for and represent your agency, even when you are off duty. What you say on your personal social media accounts still reflects on you and your agency.
  • Watch the context. Basically, make sure to research hashtags before jumping on and tweeting with them.
  • Be careful with humor. It can personalize your agency, but can go dreadfully wrong when misused.
  • Before you tweet, make certain you are logged into the appropriate social profile. It’s hard to make a worse mistake than tweeting a personal opinion via an agency account. Don’t do it! Two examples below.
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Click above to read the story on this one.
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Click above to read the story.

Social policies

You need an internal policy that addresses employees’ use of official channels, including social media training and monitoring, best practices and the number of people with access to those channels.

You also need an external policy that addresses your community standards and how you can justify the removal of posts on your pages while upholding free speech. Some of those justifications may include: off-topic posts, political endorsements, discrimination or personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, spam, advertising, copyright infringement, security or safety issues.

Think before you tweet, Dan says.
Tune in tomorrow for a recap from Ben Horsley’s presentation on the Clown Hoax.

Joe Dougherty is the secretary for the PIO Association. On Twitter at @PIO_Joe.