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.


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.

How to help your communities prepare for disasters

September is a special month in the emergency management/preparedness world. It’s National Preparedness Month, a chance to help your communities take steps to prepare. We’ve learned that preparedness saves lives, time and money.

Lives: When people have first-aid training, they may be able to prevent infection and prevent emergency situations from getting worse. When they know to drop, cover and hold on in an earthquake, they increase their chances of survival.

Time: Having preparedness under your belt means you can take care of yourself and then move on to helping others. First responders, also, can then take care of just those with the most serious needs. Your recovery is faster and so is your neighborhood’s.

Money: Rather than having to pay lots of money during disaster recovery, it’s better to spend it on preparedness and mitigation. We find that every dollar spent in mitigation saves four in recovery.

Here’s the theme for this year’s National Preparedness Month:



The Utah Division of Emergency Management has compiled a list of useful links where you can get messaging, including, sample tweets, links and graphics, to promote preparedness in your communities. Check it out here. Happy preparing!

5 New Year’s resolutions for Utah PIOs

2016 is coming soon. What are your plans?

With the new year swiftly approaching, I hope you can look back on 2015 with a fondness for any personal growth you’ve achieved. We tend to grow the most and in unexpected ways from difficult situations, but we’re not always going to be confronted by personal or public tragedies. So there are things we can do to always ensure we are growing and preparing.

During this time when people may sing about brown paper packages tied up with strings, a prepared PIO is one of my favorite things. Here is a list of five things you can do (start preparing now) to be even more ready than you currently are. Don’t feel overwhelmed to do them all. Just pick one and see what happens as your awesomeness increases.

1. Take (or host) a class
We’re going to see some great training take place in Utah this year. The Basic PIO (G290) and JIS/JIC Planning course (G291) are scheduled out through the middle of the year. We’re always looking for ways to bring the course to other areas of the state. Let us know if you are interested in hosting one.

But we’ll also have the All Hazards IMT PIO course (L952) to help PIOs prepare to work on an Incident Management Team in February. We’ll also have an All Hazards Task Force/Strike Team unit leader course for PIOs to build your capability of leading a PIO strike team if necessary. That course will be in April. See the training calendar here.

2. Check out your go kit
What happens if you need to respond to a JIC, a long-term incident or an incident scene? What tools do you have at the ready? What items will you wish you had?

During the Hildale response in September, the PIO team was relieved to find that one member of the JIC not only brought an extension cord reel that allowed four devices to plug in, but also a portable printer and a fly swatter. Another member brought a mobile hot spot that allowed up to five devices to connect to a separate cell network. A few people brought candy. What can you add to your go kit this year?

Here’s one example:

3. Hold a meeting
Do the PIOs in your county or region get together either in person or virtually? If your county doesn’t have a person listed on this page, your PIOs probably aren’t getting together very often. Make this the year that you spearhead efforts to get local PIOs together. The stronger our local networks are, the better we will be able to respond together in any crisis, public safety or otherwise. Check your training budget to see if it can accommodate some doughnuts and milk. Remember, if you feed them, they will come.

4. Meet someone new
Our relationships will get us through the good and the bad times. Think about who you would like to know. Then just call that person to say hi. You don’t have to start working on contingency plans or save the world. Just talk for a minute and be glad you are meeting now instead of during a disaster.

5. Attend a conference
Opportunities abound for learning in large groups and for trading ideas with people you rarely see in person.

Here are some options:

April – Government Social Media Conference (Reno)
May – Governor’s Public Safety Summit (St. George)
September – Utah PIO Association Conference (St. George)
October – NIOA annual conference (Nashville)

So, what are your PIO New Year’s resolutions? Feel free to share below.

Joe Dougherty, @PIO_Joe
Utah Division of Emergency Management

Good bye, #UTPIO15! Thanks for playing!

Well, another wonderful conference has come to an end. Thanks to everyone who helped plan the conference, to those who presented and of course, to those who attended. We hope you were able to take away something that will benefit you in your job. Feel free to check out the tweets from the conference here.

Mark your calendars for next year’s conference:

Sept. 27-28, 2016
Courtyard by Marriott, St. George
Hashtag: #UTPIO16

Thank you for your feedback on the evaluation forms. We are processing those and look forward to bringing you another wonderful conference next year.

Cheers to our leadership team for 2016:

Justin Hoyal, president
Joe Dougherty, Vice President
Wade Mathews, secretary
Roxeanne Vainuku, officer at large
Robin Heiden, officer at large
Charla Haley, officer at large
Steve Sautter, past president


and to those who received awards at the conference:

Tina Brown, South Jordan City, Communicator of the Year
Todd Royce, Utah Highway Patrol, Media Relations
Kim Wells, West Jordan City, Team Player

What was your favorite session of the conference?