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

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