The Message Map

November 5, 2010 3 comments

We’ve talked about why we need to keep our emergency key messages simple and limited (3 maximum), and that first and last messages delivered are likely to be the messages most remembered by people under stress.

Now, we can look at a method of delivering those messages. The MESSAGE MAP organizes those key messages into a simple format and allows for supporting messages to follow once the key messages have been presented.

The MESSAGE MAP can be used to outline a speech at a news conference, a news release, a preparation for a media interview or, any other fact sheet or handout as an emergency event unfolds.

Here’s what a message map looks like:

Message Map
Topic: What is this about? type of incident or emergency.
Audience: External or internal, media and public, stakeholder?
Concern: What question s from public/stakeholders are we addressing?
User: Who will use this message map? Spokesperson, public inquiry line staff?  Or will it be included in release/speech? 

Timing: is this messaging at the onset of the crisis? In the recovery phase?

Key Message 1 Key Message 2
Key Message 3
Supporting message/fact 1 Supporting message/ fact 1 Supporting message/act 1
Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2
Supporting message/fact 3 Supporting message/fact 2 Supporting message/fact 2

Remember: Deliver the messages with (CCO) compassion, confidently and give people some optimism as to the outcome of the events unfolding.

For more details on MESSAGE MAPPING, I’ve provided a link to the US Environmental Protection Agency webpage on this subject and a video explaining how it works by Dr Vincent Covello, who developed this message deliver method.


Let’s get Visual!

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

handle the media’?

Mitch Miller, MNR Information Officer, Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services

Mitch Miller, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services, knows the answer. Being trained and experienced in forest fire fighting, Mitch armed with video and digital cameras  heads to the source of the action, to capture images of fire fighters ‘on the line’ in both Ontario and out-of-province events for the past few years. Knowing that the traditional emergency information responses of media interviews and writing forest fire bulletins, no longer cuts it; Mitch captures images of forest fire fighting as it is happening both on the fire line and from the air.  His video images have been used by national media and specialty channels such as the Weather Network in recent events.

What makes Mitch’s images so newsworthy?

Well, Mitch can go where most media can’t! He gets out on the fire line, and then posts the images on an internet service for news media to download. All this can happen before the next traditional news cycle is due. Note: You can visit Mitch’s BoxNet account to see some of his current video footage (select low-res version to view on screen  for internet use).

The issue now is that the traditional news cycle is superseded by the demands of the social media users.  The challenge is getting the visual images out as evidence of emergency response,  to support the work being done by the operations side of emergency management. These time sensitive images are essential so that rumours or speculation by bloggers and tweeters can quickly be set straight.

“These days, you can use the visuals to drive people to your message ” says Mitch.

Emergency operations deal with ‘reality’.

Emergency communications deals with the ‘perception of reality’…trying to ensure that the ‘perception’ reflects what is actually happening on the ground.

What is the payoff for having timely information out in the public domain?

  • For the public, it means that they can make better informed decisions about an emergency situation.
  • For the Incident Manager, it means that they can get on with dealing with the actual operations rather than having to deal with public concerns based upon rumour.

    Mitch Miller captures waterbomber preparations at Kamloops BC

An investment in training and equipping of emergency information officers beyond the traditional media interview skills, is well spent. Workshops in using the social media tools effectively and exercising those skills on a regular basis, is really the most effective use of these people’s skills.

Well, do you have an interest in becoming a qualified emergency information officer?

Categories: Emergency Management

Compassion, Competence and Optimism

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

“When people are stressed and upset, they want to know that you care before they care what you know”- Will Rogers

How you deliver your messages will determine their effectiveness on an already stressed audience.
As we discussed in the previous posting – It’s not necessarily what you say, rather it’s how you say it that counts. 


Incident Commander talks with a community in crisis

Convey caring and empathy – Before you launch into your key messages, regardless of the interviewers first question, establish that you and your responding agency empathize with those folks who are taking the hit from the emergency event.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources understands the stress that the community is currently facing as this event unfolds.”

Demonstrate competence – When delivering you messages, ensure that you express conviction, commitment and competence in the tasks that you are bringing to aid the community. Remember you are being judged by both those most directly impacted by the event and, by those people who care about the them.

“… our emergency response staff  will do everything possible to assist the community. Our response plan is already activated …”

Offer hope and optimism – People need to see light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of the initial and/or continuing impacts of the hazard unfolding, you audience needs your optimism on better day.

“We have faced similar events before and know that this will end. We can work with you to start the recovery and restoration …”

Being effective as an emergency information officer requires; skills training, exercising the skill and, being prepared to respond when called.  It does require your commitment, to ensure that you are prepared!

27/9/3 Model for Emergency Messaging

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

When it comes time to create and deliver emergency messages, it is best to maximize the opportunity that news media offers an emergency information officer.  Remember, your audience…they are limited by the stress they are under, so make every word count!

27/9/3 model: a critical tool

Here’s some fundamental facts about how news media operate:

Barry Radford, Chairs Trillium Response News Conference, Thunder Bay

  • The average length of a sound bite in print media is 27 words. Your message should be short and clear. There is no room to make your sentences complicated,
  • The average duration of a sound bite in broadcast media is nine seconds. Make certain you deliver your key messages in as few words as possible or you will find much of your message on the editing room floor!
  • The average number of messages reported in both print and broadcast media is three. Just when you thought you had so much to say, you really only have three key messages to deliver.

These media limitations can work in your favor. It just happens that people in stressful situations can only comprehend about three key messages, so let the 27/9/3 model be your guide. Even the order in which these messages is delivered is important. People are apt to retain the first and third message in an emergency, so pick your order with care!

There’s only one more model that I need to share regarding emergency messaging…that will be the topic of our next blog posting. See you then!

People in Crisis

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The problem is that people behave differently during an emergency!

What people really want to know about in an emergency?

1. What is really happening?

2. How will this affect me?

3. What are you doing?

4. What do I need to do?

5. When will things get back to normal?

6. Specific and detailed instructions

7. Reassurance

8. Voices of authority they can trust

Fact #1

Under conditions of high stress, people have diminished ability hear, understand what is being said them.

Communications implication: You must keep your messages simple. A maximum of three key messages is all your audience can absorb and retain.

Fact #2

For people in high stress situations, as much as 75% of information comes from non-verbal clues…it’s what you look like and what you sound like when you say it that’s important. In normal circumstances, only 25% of what people absorb is non-verbal.

Communications implication: Make certain you present yourself as someone in authority with poise and confidence. Dress the part! Practice your messages!

Fact #3

95% of the questions people ask during an emergency can be predicted in advance.

Communications implication: You can prepare responses in advance particularly for the early stages of an emergency event; be it a forest fire, flood or any predictable crisis.

There are communications planning techniques such as ‘Message Mapping’ that can be employed to create these responses. That is the subject of another blog!

Categories: Emergency Management

Tools for the Emergency Information Officer!

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s only one choice when it comes to emergency communications in the social media environment: to participate or not … Occupy the space – Remember, you can’t head off crisis once it reaches the Net …

So, what does your information officer tool box contain when you are deployed to an emergency?

Traditionally, you head out the door with sufficient clothes to last 14-16 days and your laptop (corporate news release templates on board). You may even have a handy checklist of your emergency information officer duties.

Is this good enough these days?

If you think it is sufficient…you’d better go back to my previous postings and think again.

The instantaneous timelines presented by users of social media, demand some new tools.


Twitter gets the word out quickly during an emergency. You can follow the network chatter and step in to set the record straight when necessary. Twitter also allows you an immediate option to post key messages when our traditional websites are unable to post quickly enough to changing events.  But you need to get into the game early and develop followers (including media) or tag onto an existing conversation. The thing is, have you established yourself and/or agency as a ‘credible source’?  See MNRCentral on Twitter.

YouTube, Twitpic

If you have the means to capture video or photos, you can post visual proof that the first responders are operational, on the scene. Link from your Twitter message to the visuals. Keep these video clips short and relevant!


Now here’s a tool that desires more attention than we currently give it. Check out BC Fire’s first season (2010) using Facebook. They have made a commitment to resourcing this social media tool and I think the payoff will serve them well. The popular site allows you to easily post text, visuals and see your audience’s responses. See BC Forest Fire Info 0n Facebook.


Got to get a media interview out quickly? Just having this software onboard your computer will let you get emergency messages across even from remote locations. I called the CBC National news editor to confirm that Skype is their software of choice for capturing interviews when they can’t get a crew out to your location. I know that there are restrictions at this time to uploading these types of software…so lets put a business case together now, so that Skype can be in the tool kit in the future. We are playing ‘catch up’ here!

Hardware you should consider!

Smart Phones: Blackberries and iPhones with appropriate apps can be on your hip at all times. No need for delays getting a message out!

Video Cams/cameras: Capturing the action where reporters and camera crews are not able to go! That’s the name of the game!

The bottom line to all this is: are we ready…if not, how do we get there?

Categories: Emergency Management