The Elliott Lake Public Inquiry is getting it correct. Much of the frustration both Elliott Lake community members and the broader Ontario audience experienced, resulted from lack of implementing an up-to-date emergency communications strategy.
As the preliminary findings of the public inquiry indicate, there was not skilled communications personnel on site or on the emergency response team in the Elliott Lake community when needed most…at the onset, during the response, and in the recovery of this disaster.
Both municipal governments and emergency managers need to take note of these findings. Your reputation is at stake when you fail to meet the fast paced demands by the community when such incidents occur.
Gone are the days of ‘issuing a news release’ and all will be well. The convergence of social media and smart phone technology has thrown the media cycle timetable out the door with yesterday’s trash. Sadly, local government, emergency managers and much of the broader emergency response community have still to learn this simple truth.
I’m posting the following CBC North news clip for your reference…it’s well worth a listen!
The Elliot Lake public inquiry is back in session. It was hearing suggestions on how to improve emergency response in Ontario. The CBC’s Megan Thomas has been following developments and joined us in studio for an update. Listen (runs 7:12)
What do you do when you live in an area where pagers won’t work?
That’s what the newly formed Canadian Red Cross Muskoka-West Parry Sound Disaster Management team faced as we geared up operations.
Beautiful lakes, small towns, rock and trees makes this area desirable but not the best for traditional emergency call out systems for the Red Cross. Stephen Dubois, Disaster Management volunteer came up with up with a creative solution of ‘iamresponding.com‘, a response communications system designed specifically for first responders.
With IamResponding.com, you are able to:
- Know immediately if you have volunteers on the way, or if you need to contact additional personnel;
- Know who is responding to the callout, to the scene or any other location; and
- Reduce response times.
The web based system works across most communications devices including computers, land line telephones, mobile phones and smart phones.
This is the ‘social media age’ and more proactive agencies such as the Canadian Red Cross look for ways to harness this new media’s potential.
The Canadian Red Cross Muskoka Disaster Management team turned to the services of Partnerships Towards Safer Communities (PTSC-Online) where Bill MacKay offered to create a “space” or mini community within PTSC-Online to support our team. Public and restricted blog/calendar and wiki services will permit the disaster management team to have two-way links to its volunteers for non-emergency communications.
This is similar to other spaces such as is used by the National Fire Protection Association. See the Networking Partnerships area which highlights other organizations PTSC-Online is working with. I’m certain as time passes, other emergency response agencies will adopt similar means to communicate. It really is interesting times!
Patrice Cloutier in his Crisis Comm Command Post blog Hurricane Irene’s social media aftermath identifies the very point that irked me as I followed media coverage of Hurricane Irene…the media’s approach to the mayor of New York’s emergency preparedness initiatives. He would have been dammed if the storm had N.Y City with its full force; as not having done enough to ‘save the city’. As you rightly note, this was no “dud” of a storm.
News outlets seem to follow some common rule book for reporting natural disaster events…reporter bares the storm to get the word out…with little innovation or insight.
Media need to reassess their approaches and their fundamental role in society. To continue to only play to the lowest common denominator ‘sensationalism’ does the public no service, for it only distorts the reality of human efforts to mitigate a natural disaster.
I look forward to results of your post event investigation.
There’s a distinct role for the public information officer when writing and/or reviewing the hazard inventory and risk assessment (HIRA) of an organization. In this posting (#CAEC009) on PTSC-Online, Patrice Cloutier and I are paying particular attention to that distinct role.
A PIO views the HIRA through the lens of the people at risk. Understanding the state of mind of those people, allows the PIO to enhance the effectiveness of the overall emergency response, by providing key messages and using communications tools that will assist people to make informed decisions.
We hope you explore ‘Risk analysis and its impact on crisis communications planning‘ and share you thoughts and experiences with us.
Patrice Cloutier, Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Barry Radford, Barry Radford & Associates Communications Planners, have completed a collaborative project with Partnerships Toward Safer Communities – Online (PTSC-Online).
We presented information and invited emergency management practitioners to comment on a document intended to advance crisis and emergency communications practices.
The end results are two-fold:
- PTSC-Online members and readers will have a clear understanding of the absolute necessity for organizations to have a crisis communications plan and be prepared to deal with increased expectations for a prompt and effective response.
- The PTSC-Online community will have a better understanding of the knowledge, training, preparation and other facets of an effective crisis communications plan.
Here is an outline of the content we covered:
Project introduction: project to advance crisis and emergency communications practice
Current trends and challenges
- Current trends in crisis communications planning and the provision and dissemination of emergency information
- How social media is changing the expectations of audiences/public
Crisis Communications Planning
- Basic overview of the main components of a crisis communications plan (plans/procedures, people, preparation, practice)
- How to build one
Plans and Procedures
- Hazards and risks identification and how they apply to audiences
- Monitoring traditional and social media
- Procedures and checklists
- Logistics and equipment
- Skill set and characteristics of effective communicators during a crisis
- Media relations training
- IMS, business continuity and other training
- Social media as crisis communications tools
- Key messages: their importance and how they relate to expectations from your audiences
- Message mapping … a crisis communications technique
- Key message delivery
- Social media integration
- Other crisis communications techniques
- Public Information Officer toolkit
- Communications and emergency information exercises
- Broader exercises and communication team’s involvement
Best practices and case studies
- In delivering emergency information
- In crisis communications and reputation management
- Crisis communications planning and NGOs/not-for profit
- In communications related to BCP and COOP
- Setting up and running an Emergency Information Centre or Joint Information Centre
- The public alerting and emergency information continuum
- Public alerting and technological developments
Time out to pay my respects to Ontario’s FireRangers on the occasion of their 125th anniversary.
Here’s a singular example of a resource management tradition in Ontario, that illustrates the ‘hands on’ and ‘get the job
done’ attitude I’ve found so appealing in the Ministry of Natural Resources. I was fortunate enough to be working in this ministry at at time when you could be trained and be called upon to be a FireRanger while still maintaining another career path (in my case communications). Fighting forest fires, preparing communities for potential evacuation while under threat of fire, and working with some of the most dedicated and skilled FireRangers I have ever met, has given me the experiences of a lifetime.
Perhaps it’s because of this personal history, I focussed upon emergency communications. Effective communications during an emergency event is the ‘left arm’ of emergency response if the firefighting operations are the ‘right arm’. The two functions must work as a team to make it all work. After all, it’s life, property and resources that are at stake!
We tend to understate our heritage as Ontarians however once you’ve watched our FireRangers in action particularly when they are taking on the smoke, heat and flames in another province such as British Columbia, or cutting out the debris in the aftermath of a tornado, you can’t help but want to mark the 125th anniversary as something significant in Ontario’s history.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty has captured the essence of what the Ontario FireRangers role has meant in his message to all FireRangers.
Someone made the decision to enter the world of social media, ensuring that their emergency response agency is not behind the eight ball when an incident occurs. They see that the real risk is in ‘not being there’ and you are faced with a stressed community full of rumours on Twitter.
Congratulations…you took the risk…you’re ahead of the game…you are part of the conversation!
Taking a risk to enter the social media world, is an emerging theme these days. That means someone has jumped ahead of protocol and said this is too important a situation to await the arrival of a corporate social media policy.
Within the past month, I have heard directly from at least two agencies that made this decision. In British Columia, the government has come out with a pro-social media policy. They encourage employees to be engaged in the conversation. BC government just asks that their employees apply common sense when using these tools.
During the G8-G20 Summit in Ontario (June 2010) international governments were given access to security protected wikis and other web 2.0 tools in order to develop better policy papers. Prior this, governments only had face-to-face meetings and conference calls to use, to create materials. This service was an initiative created and now maintained by Canada. Someone took the risk and decided to make these social media tools available. The services were available not only for the political forum; it was also used by the business and youth forums. The current G20 Summit in Korea continued using Canada’s services.
These are examples of the current situation. Now, social media policies are quick to follow. Perhaps, the policies will be that much better because they are written by ‘practitioners’ not just ‘theorists’ and ‘policy wonks’!