What I Learned at Advanced PIO

The full Advanced PIO class of April 28-May 4, 2019. Lisa Miller photo
By Lisa Miller
Traveler information manager

If you haven’t already attended the FEMA Advanced Public Information Officer (PIO) course… do it. The training, held at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is well worth the effort.

This five-day course refreshes the fundamentals that every PIO should have in their toolbox and covers a wealth of advanced information that will improve your perspective and reach as a PIO. Instructions for how to apply are at the end of this post.

Here’s a snapshot of what I learned:


The attendees of this class speak your language. They have had similar situations. There is a wealth of knowledge to transfer just by having lunch and dinner together. This class had nearly 50 participants from all over the nation representing fire, police, National Guard, FEMA and public agencies. We’re all keeping in touch via a Facebook page specifically for our class.

The state JIC during the exercise portion of the class. Lisa Miller photo.

Exercises are critically important

We already know this, but finding time can be difficult. The class schedule blocked 1½ days for a functional exercise focused on Joint Information Center (JIC) coordination. There was a state JIC for the first time in the class as well as local JICs for each fictitious municipality. The injects were phenomenal and encouraged us to build on our institutional knowledge as well as struggle a bit with the things that were less familiar to us.

Leave your ego at the door

For those of you who have been to the training, “don’t be Pam.” Working in a JIC can be a stressful environment without adding inflated egos to the dynamic.

Everyone has the same goal… get the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decisions.

Overall emergency goals of protecting life and preserving property are much better facilitated when everyone checks their ego at the door.

PIOs from around the nation attend the course. It’s a great chance to learn. Lisa Miller photo

There are no bad ideas

During the first day or so of the class, everyone is still in the mode of familiarizing themselves with their classmates. Nobody wants to be the person who brings up an idea that elicits an eye roll! The instructors of the training quickly established the idea that there are no bad ideas. We were all learning and growing together and everyone was encouraged to participate.

Don’t only rely on social media

We are so engrained in social media as a way to reach our constituents. However, in an emergency situation, it’s not the only channel that needs attention. One of the presentations at the Utah PIO Association conference last year stressed this. Wildfires, rural populations, different languages and rapidly changing information can cause confusion and panic among citizens. During times of non-emergency, hone your skills on how to communicate with your audiences through all channels so you’re ready to go when an emergency strikes.

Write for a lower reading level

Every agency is full of acronyms that sometimes do not translate well outside of the agency. Remember that your audience may have language barriers or may read at a lower grade level. According to the Utah Department of Health, nearly 8% of adults in Utah operate at below a high school level. Nationally, this number is around 12%.

PIOs love karaoke

You haven’t truly lived until you’ve heard someone from the St. Louis Division of Water Quality sing Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” at karaoke night. #nailedit

Have you attended APIO 0388? What were your thoughts and takeaways?

Lisa Miller
APIO Graduate
April 28-May 4, 2019

Editor’s note:

How to apply for Advanced PIO

The course prerequisites list is lengthy and the application process can take quite a while. Classes fill up quickly so plan ahead.

Course description and prerequisites
Download the application form here
When all prerequisites are complete, fill out and sign the application, have your boss sign in the appropriate place and then send your course certificates and application to Kris Repp at krepp@utah.gov. She is the State Training Officer and forwards your application to FEMA.

Conducting your local PIO meetings

The “Liberty County JIC” during the Feb. 2018 APIO Course at EMI.

You’ve suddenly found yourself as the chair of your local PIO group! Congratulations! What a great opportunity to lead the enhancement of public information in your area.

It can seem daunting to have to wrangle PIOs to get them to attend a meeting, but if you provide valuable content, and someone can help with the occasional snacks or lunch, you can have a robust local PIO group. Below are some topic ideas to get you started with the content for your first meetings. Don’t forget to ask local participants what they would like to learn.

Topic ideas:

  • Ask for a status update.
  • Ask about any upcoming issues.
  • Hold a tabletop exercise to discuss emergency response or mutual aid plans for PIOs.
  • Conduct a JIC callout exercise.
  • Conduct a workshop where planning or operational documents are researched or created.
  • Provide training on various topics
    • Social media best practices
    • Social media monitoring
    • Live video considerations
    • Graphic design
    • Photography principles
  • Speaker ideas:
    • Invite media members for a discussion .
    • Lessons learned from a recent incident.
    • Find a State PIO to discuss their role in assisting your efforts during emergencies.
    • Discussion with local elected officials.

What other ideas are out there? What has worked well for you?

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