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Effectively Communicating in Emergency Management

Effectively Communicating in Emergency Management. Dr. Joe Saviak, Associate Professor, Flagler College Haddow, Bullock, &Coppola, Introduction to Emergency Management, 3rd Edition (2008) Lindell, Prater, Perry, & Nicholson, Fundamentals of Emergency Management (2006)

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Effectively Communicating in Emergency Management

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  1. Effectively Communicating in Emergency Management Dr. Joe Saviak, Associate Professor, Flagler College Haddow, Bullock, &Coppola, Introduction to Emergency Management, 3rd Edition (2008) Lindell, Prater, Perry, & Nicholson, Fundamentals of Emergency Management (2006) Visuals from CDC Photo Library, Robert A. Eplett/OES CA, & Google Images

  2. Communications Topics of Study: • Mission of EM communications • 4 assumptions involving effective disaster communications • Who are our target audiences? • Designing, implementing, & evaluating communications strategies to advance the 4 major EM functions – mitigation, preparedness, response, & recovery • Potential obstacles to risk communications – identifying and overcoming these possible barriers • Communications strategies and tactics • Working with the News Media • Chapter 119 – Public Records Law • Case Studies • Best Practices/Lessons Learned

  3. Communications • The mission of an effective disaster communications strategy is to provide timely and accurate information to the public in all four phases of emergency management: • Mitigation – to promote implementation of strategies, technologies and actions that will reduce the loss of lives and property in future disasters. • Preparedness – to communicate preparedness messages that encourages and educates the public in anticipation of disaster events. • Response – to provide to the pubic notification, warning, evacuation and situation reports on an ongoing disaster. • Recovery – to provide individuals and communities impacted by a disaster with information on how to register for and receive disaster relief. • Different communications strategies and tactics will be selected to achieve communications objectives related to each EM function Laswell – the classic persuasive communications model • By whom (source) saying what (message) via what medium (channel) to whom (receiver) directed to producing change (effect) • Any break in this sequence of steps (a failure at any point in the process – you picked the wrong channel or audience) and the entire communication will be compromised!

  4. Communications • Effective communication can save lives & reduce property damage – ineffective communication can do the opposite • Communicating with both the public and system participants - external and internal system stakeholders • Communicating preparedness, prevention and mitigation information promotes actions that reduce the risk of future disasters. • Communicating policies, goals and priorities to staff, partners and participants enhances support and promotes a more efficient disaster management operation. • Multiple messages – multiple audiences • Reliance on the news media – media partnership is key

  5. Communications – Challenges & Priorities Communications Challenges during Response/Recovery: • Conflicting reports/inaccurate information • High level of expectations among public that they will continuously receive accurate information • Reduce rumors/decrease disinformation • Constant demand of 24 hour news culture • Event-related confusion increasing odds of miscommunication & misinformation – communications mistakes & information gaps occur under normal conditions but this is a crisis Communications Priorities During Response & Recovery • Need to provide authoritative information • Need to continuously monitor communications/media coverage and immediately correct misinformation • Need to instill confidence • Need to manage expectations

  6. 4 Key Principles for Success • Customer Focus • Leadership Commitment • Inclusion of Communications in Planning & Operations • Media Partnership

  7. Communications Customer Focus: • Identify the information needs & interests of individuals and communities, make those needs your priority, be responsive, & manage expectations • Managing expectations – what the public should & should not expect during emergency • Builds public confidence – lets citizens know their government is responding to their needs – “disaster victims need to know their government is working.” (p. 228) – they also need to know that multiple govt. agencies are working together • Directs citizens to aid & relief resources – inform them where & how to get help • Should be timely, accurate, consistent, & easy to understand • Wide range of informational customers – internal & external • Internal information customers – staff members, other agencies, all disaster partners • External communications customers – general public, elected officials at all levels, community & business leaders, the news media • Each of these communications customers has special needs/interests - may need to tailor general message to specific customer groups

  8. Communications Leadership Commitment: • Leader must set the example (live the message) & establish model of open communications both internally & externally • Leaders must send the message that “communications is a valued function of the organization “ • Leaders must instill the organization-wide belief that “it is your job to effectively & continuously communicate!” FEMA Director James Lee Witt: • Accessibility to the media - daily or multiple media briefings each day during a disaster • Constant communications with elected officials at all levels • Pro-active speaking schedule to reach communities & constituencies in person across the nation • Multiple communications vehicles to keep FEMA staff continually informed (i.e. meetings, newsletters – Director’s Weekly Update) • Regular meetings with state EM Directors (key constituency – troubled relationship with previous FEMA administrations) • Special meetings with victims & their families *Note continuous use of specific communications tactics to cover all key audiences **Effective communications helped build public & policymaker support for important FEMA initiatives

  9. Communications Inclusion of Communications in Planning & Operations: • Communications Director/PIO on senior mgt. team for decision-making & decision implementation – ensures that communications issues are considered in all mgt. & policy decisions - a best practice in EM communications (they tend to see issues that others might not – others may be thinking of the managerial/operational aspects & not considering communications/media perspectives) • Communications challenges & resources must be integrated into all policy decisions & operational details • Must have a communications strategy developed & implemented for all major policies, programs, & initiatives • Good policies & programs don’t self execute or sell themselves - good policies cannot produce the best results in the absence of a strong communications effort – it takes effective communications

  10. Communications Media Partnership: • They are your EM communications network for addressing the public • There is NO alternative with same scope/reach • They depend on you – you depend on them • Not bad or good – just diff. needs – they need access to latest information, disaster site, ability to interview key EM personnel while EM mgrs. need to communicate important information to the public to manage expectations, assist in response & recovery, & maintain morale among relief workers & disaster victims – all needs of both parties can be met thru an effective partnership • In general, the more the media knows about EM & how it works in advance of the event, the better their ability to cover these stories (although there is the warning from the British poet Alexander Pope that a little learning can be a dangerous thing – make sure they learn as much as they need to learn & can learn assuming you can engage them on this in advance of the event)

  11. Communications Audiences/Customers: • General Public – many different publics within the general population • Disaster Victims • Business Community • Media • Elected Officials • State/local govt. officials • First responders • Volunteer Organizations • Develop, fund, staff, & implement communications strategies designed to meet the informational needs of each of these audiences, stakeholders, partners

  12. Communications Communications Tools/Assets/Resources: • Selection of tools depend on research, objective, audience, resources, & timing • Media partnership – earned media • PIOs – ensure timely release of accurate info. – continuous coordination among PIOs from multiple responding agencies for consistent & valid information - need to speak in one voice! • Community relations staff provide a good resource to communicate with key constituencies/audiences like community leaders & neighborhood groups • Public Awareness Campaigns – earned and paid media – broadcast, Internet, print, & face to face – partnerships (cable/outdoor advertising - PSAs) – impt. for mitigation & preparedness • Pay attention to radio – it’s battery-operated so it may become the dominant medium during a power outage • FEMA tools include: use of toll-free 1-800 number, FEMA website constantly posting new information (real time situation reports, graphics, & links to other sites – 3M visitors a week), & email network- FEMA’s The Recovery Channel beamed into shelters & added to cable TV systems offering televised coverage of FEMA news briefings & interviews with experts – also accessible to news outlets - FEMA’s Recovery Radio Network produces live broadcasts of emergency public information - The Recovery Channel, The Recovery Times, FEMAFAX, FEMA Radio Network, Recovery Radio Network, and FEMA Automated Internet Emergency News and Situation Report Distribution Service have now been used in more than 200 disasters and are credited with improving FEMA’s ability to get vital information out to the public, rebuild their credibility, and establish the nation’s trust in emergency management. • You can see these FEMA communications tools at http://www.fema.gov/index.shtm • Reverse 9-11 is also a valuable community crisis communications tool – assuming phone service is in operation

  13. New Media/Social Media Effective emergency managers employ both traditional and new media Need to understand and include the full range of tools & outlets of new media and social media in your communications plan - Internet, on-line news sites, cell phones, text messaging, blogs, websites, message boards, digital cameras, YouTube, Twitter, Google Maps, Google Earth, Facebook, etc. First Informers – individuals at the disaster site – very often citizens – who collect and disseminate information and images via cell phone, hand held device, or laptop – citizen journalists who report from the scene & may be feeding information & images to the news media – this can present both opportunities & challenges – it can mean greater accountability for govt. User generated content represents a change from the traditional one way flow of information to citizens from the govt. & media (Haddow et al, 2011) – the audience now participates in the coverage of the event & generates communication about the event Your agencies should start using these communications tools before the next disaster and then be prepared to effectively employ them during the next event

  14. Communications – Risk Communication Communications objective of risk communication is to persuade people to initiate & undertake protective action (i.e. evacuate, shelter, etc.) For preparedness/mitigation messages to be understood & acted upon by citizens, the public must agree to all 3: • A hazard exists • The hazard can be and should be reduced • The proposed preparedness/mitigation measure will work

  15. Risk Communication Theory (Mileti, 1999) • If public is uninformed or unconvinced of consequences, people will leave themselves vulnerable – this is the governing premise of Risk Communication Theory • Major obstacles to communicating risk/changing behavior:competing demands for attention, complacency, denial, & conflicts with currently held beliefs • 3 primary sources for hazard awareness/reduction messages: authorities, news media, & peers • Messages most effective when they utilize a combination of communications techniques & information sources

  16. Principles of Risk Communication (Lindell et al, 2006) • Awareness is no guarantee of behavioral change (i.e. they took the protective action) - simply providing information will not successfully push the public through all 3 communications steps from awareness-attitude-behavior) - simple awareness does not generally result in widespread successful attitude adoption and behavioral change (being aware does not result in action taken - people ignore good information all the time to their own detriment – factor this reality into your communications planning and strategies) • To successfully move people through all 3 steps requires research requires a well designed & skillfully executed communications program, & evaluation/feedback (measure success of intended communications objectives) • Your communications strategy must be designed to successfully move the target audience from awareness (I now know about the threat) to attitude adoption (I will adopt a pro-protective action attitude) to behavioral outcome (I have adopted the recommended protective action) – although an impending emergency can potentially accelerate this communications process, it generally takes 6-7 effective communications from credible sources using multiple methods to move someone from initial awareness to behavioral change (I’ll buy the product) • Think like your audience thinks – what issues or obstacles could prevent them from understanding or acting upon my message? • EM managers must understand how citizens perceive threats & recommended protective actions and how they cognitively process risk information (how they think about these issues) in designing & implementing successful risk communications programs

  17. Principles of Risk Communication (Lindell et al, 2006) When officials violate proven principles of effective communications, they should not be surprised when their risk communication program fails (i.e. selected wrong channel or ineffective content to reach this audience What variables influence the effectiveness of risk communications? 1) Source 2) Channel of communication 3) Individual differences among message receivers 4) Environmental influences (social/cultural) 5) Competing demands for attention 6) Conflicts with established beliefs/perceptions 7) Intrusiveness of communications

  18. Risk Communication Theory (Mileti, 1999) • Message content should be tailored to: 1) communications objective (is it build awareness or produce attitudinal or behavioral change?) 2) target audience • Message content can consist of: 1) scientific or technical info. on nature of hazard 2) protective response (less about hazard – more about reaction – “prompts” are single contingency actions like “in case of fire, pull lever”) 3) “fear appeal” if risk-reduction recommendation is not followed (utilize fear) 4) “attribute portrayal strategy” which explains advantages received by recommend risk-reduction (sell benefits)

  19. Risk Communication (Lindell et al, 2006) Variables that influence the protective action decision-making process of individuals: Belief - do I believe this is a real threat? Personalization of risk - am I actually threatened? Immediacy of threat Exposure path - what do I perceive as the path that this hazard must travel to get to me? Unrealistic optimism Observation of others – do I see others taking the recommended protective action? Evaluation of trade-offs – efficacy, safety, time requirements, perceived implementation barriers, cost, choice among alternatives not clear, attributes of each protective action If all previous questions answered satisfactorily, individual arrives at protective action implementation

  20. Risk Communication Concerns • Goal is to provide “a steady stream of consistent and accurate information from responsible authorities” (p. 237) Which communications questions must be resolved? • When to warn the public? • How much information to give to the public? • How to educate without causing a panic and undercutting effective emergency management? • Could too many false warnings contribute to denial & complacency? • To what extent will this warning disrupt normal life – shut down businesses & incur economic losses – and is it justified? • How specific should we be with sources and information? In the case of a terror threat, general & unspecified warnings can protect intelligence gathering & channels but may not sufficiently aid the public in preparing for the potential event (succeed in not revealing the source but fail to effectively warn the public – the first homeland security color coded warning system) • The hurricane scenario offers us the classic model to successfully address these questions but many threats/events do not perfectly conform to this model: forecasters identify the storm, watches & warnings are issued, time frames & probabilities are provided, & the public receives clear instructions on which protective actions to take

  21. Working with the Media in EM • You both need each other • “The object is to tell your story before someone else tells it for you, and good media relationships make this more likely.” • During the year and during an event, the media partnership is important – they “can help educate, inform, reassure, and the rally the public” (p. 241) – can motivate the public to act • An effective media partnership can aid in preparedness, mitigation, response, & recovery – help enable you to achieve your communications objectives for each major EM priority • More likely to cover the short term crisis but if the story is packaged correctly & a relationship has been built, they can cover mitigation and preparedness stories apart from emergency events • “Managing information means developing a coordinated, consistent message in order to prevent confusion and maintain credibility. The release of information should be coordinated with responding partners, such as emergency management officials from other levels of government, law enforcement officials, or public health officials. The distribution of perfect, accurate, and coordinated information must be balanced with the need to get information out quickly.” (p. 240)

  22. Working with the Media in EM Rules for Success: • Know their deadlines & needs (i.e. TV – live shot, interviews with officials) • Promptly respond to all media inquiries • Be honest & open – it’s OK to say you don’t know but get back to them with the information as soon as possible • Listen to the entire question before responding – enables you to better answer the question which was actually asked instead of the one you thought was asked • Comment on what you know – not what you don’t – don’t speculate & avoid hypotheticals – don’t accept false or misleading premises to questions or react to erroneous conclusions • Answer the question thoroughly & accurately – don’t need to answer more than was asked – stay on message (moving off message is what can get officials in trouble – when you have answered the question, stop talking or else you could step on your own message & open up issues that were not on the table) • Handle multiple questions carefully (i.e. the reporter who gets 1 question and proceeds to load it up with “a”, “b” & “c” within that single question) • Let other agencies speak for themselves – don’t answer questions about the policies, procedures, or personnel of other agencies • Coordinate information release with all EM partners – speak in one voice – public needs to hear a clear & consistent message and you don’t want the story to become “agencies at odds” (giving conflicting information)

  23. Working with the Media in EM Rules for Success: • Make their job easier & you are more likely to get your message out (i.e. FEMA provided flyover photos of disasters the local newspaper might not otherwise have immediate access to, local EOCs provide an on-site media room, get them the information & interviews they need) • Keep the media fed or they will feed on you • Select a single spokesperson – reduces potential for error, enhances credibility (establishes/strengthens relationship with media & audience during event) • BUT the single spokesperson ideal may not work at all times – ensure that all key personnel are media trained – your personnel in the field may be interviewed by reporters in the field (reporters don’t stay put in the EOC) – make sure your field personnel are media trained and understand what they can and cannot answer (i.e. policy questions, actions of other agencies) • Quickly correct inaccuracies during an event or they may be accepted as fact • Statistics + human element = good story • Repetition – stay on message – make sure you talk about what you need to talk about (i.e. critical safety messages to the public) – repetition is required for understanding – needed to reinforce key message points • Look for opportunities to partner year round - collaborate with newspapers on emergency information inserts (it’s hurricane season special publication stuffed inside the Sunday paper) or with local cable/radio on EM preparedness PSAs

  24. Working with the Media in EM Rules for Success: • Generally, the more they know about the EM business, the better they can cover EM issues – take time during the year to have them tour the EOC & receive a briefing – reporters may not have a specific background in EM and reporters rotate so you are constantly educating them • Build & keep current your media directory • Know how to write effective press releases & conduct successful press conferences • Keep your website current – key source for information for reporters – create an on-line press room for them (stores all releases & background info they might need so they can go exactly where they need to go to get what they need to get) • Have good information resources available for needs of reporters - use situation reports – FEMA produces these – good source of basic information & statistics – summarizes key data - example on p. 245 • Know that national reporters will behave differently than local reporters • Speak in ordinary English – avoid jargon (Lindell, 2006) • Utilize exercises/drills to test your communications plan, personnel, & functions (Lindell, 2006)

  25. Chapter 119 Unlike other states, Florida has a strong commitment to public access to public records – that commitment is expressed in our State Constitution (Article I, Section 24) and Florida Statutes Chapter 119 - to read both, please visit http://www.leg.state.fl.us Unless there is a specific statutory exemption (which will be narrowly construed), it is public record – know these exemptions! If you have a question or potential issue, seek counsel and closely coordinate with the county/city attorney’s office – for example, don‘t make a decision on your own to deny access to a record Under 119, agencies can charge a reasonable rate for production of public records (copying, staff time) although charging for all requests may not be needed Under Florida case-law, if it is something you would reasonably be expected to keep within the normal course of business (e.g. the department budget), you have 48 hours to produce it Do you get to ask a citizen why they are requesting a record or who they are? NO! Sunshine Sunday If it is a record you can easily provide to a reporter, do it as quickly and professionally as possible (and if you have to charge, be very reasonable) – delays (even when explainable) don’t look good & create questions

  26. Communications – Case Studies Project Impact • How to sell mitigation to the public • Public must understand the program and accept its value to them • Developed slogan - “Put FEMA Out Of Business” • Language matters! Mitigation became “Disaster-resistant”, then “Prevention” & finally “Risk Reduction” Project Impact – incorporated several key principles of effective communications: • Keep the message simple and understandable • Message discipline – stick to key messages – limit messaging to 3 key points • Obtain public “buy in” by quickly identifying for them how this program meets their needs • Teach the media about mitigation – if they don’t understand/appreciate it, they won’t report it • Create communications partners – Red Cross delivers same message • You are the message – wear the logo – be an example – when you speak, Project Impact should be readily identifiable to the public – there’s that “Project Impact Guy” Obtained national and local news coverage – Today show & USA Today

  27. Communications – Case Studies Anthrax Crisis in October 2001 What created communications obstacles for authorities? 1. Officials lacked a solid understanding of the threat so they were unprepared for this specific event & lacked a communications plan for the public 2. Failure to speak in one voice – with EM events, multiple agencies will be involved – communications to the public must be coordinated – multiple agencies delivered conflicting messages – no clear spokesman – no message control or discipline – need clear & consistent message from single spokesperson

  28. Communications – Case Studies Anthrax Crisis in October 2001 Lessons learned: 1.Have a single spokesperson delivering clear & consistent information to the public 2. Must balance the need to reassure the public (avoid unnecessary alarm) with being specific, credible, & accurate in information to public 3. Assume all events are possible & plan/prepare for them (including developing your communications plan for each type of threat) How should public officials resolve the competing challenges of reassuring the public while also providing meaningful warnings to the public consistent with government ‘s actual ability to truly protect them? The Giuliani Model– government cannot completely protect everyone from anthrax threat so individuals should exercise due diligence – it may not have been the 100% assurance that people would prefer to hear but it was practical, accurate, & actually enhanced public trust - nothing damages public trust more than a false promise of complete protection – honesty works!

  29. Communications – Case Studies Redefining Readiness Study - conducted by NY Academy of Medicine in 2004 – first of its kind study – test the validity of the fundamental assumptions underlying the emergency management plans for two types of threats (but these findings should be generalizable to other events) – interviewed officials/planners, conducted focus groups of citizens, & survey research with 2,545 Americans Examined how Americans would react & use protective responses under two terror scenarios – bioterrorism & RDD exploded If planners’ assumptions about public attitudes & responses are wrong, casualties could dramatically escalate – did the experts get it right and will people actually behave according to our plans? • For smallpox outbreak, only 40% would go to a govt. vaccination site – why? Lack of trust in govt., fear of catching smallpox at site from others, & fear of potential harm from vaccine – 60% would not comply. • For dirty bomb, only 60% would shelter in place – concern for aiding family members off site – more likely to cooperate if able to communicate with family & understand advantages of shelter in place at this location – 40% would not comply Planners need to identify & address the obstacles to compliance and “develop more behaviorally realistic approaches” – identify & defeat obstacles to citizen compliance Research must precede planning – do not assume that the public will perform according to your plan – if there is a major conflict between your plan & reality, then change your plan!

  30. Risk Communication Best Practice/Lessons Learned • Differences in communications strategies & tactics depending on whether you are communicating protective actions for an immediate threat (response) versus hazard adjustments to a long term threat (mitigation) • Most risk communication based upon on near term & high probability threats - how do we effectively communicate when threat is long term & lower probability? • The communications irony of natural versus man made disasters – research shows that people tend to overestimate risk when provided information about a man made threat and underestimate their risk when given information about a natural disaster • Set goals for your risk communications program (both long term & short term – for response & mitigation) • Foster a sense of personal responsibility in your communications – like Mayor Guiliani emphasized – manage expectations – people must know what govt. will do & what they must do – could be on your own for up to 72 hours • Avoid information overload – tell ‘em what you need to tell ‘em and no more – less can be more

  31. Risk Communication Best Practice/Lessons Learned • Adoption of desired attitudes & behaviors is higher when communications programs recognize & effectively address popular perceptions/prevailing attitudes about risk & risk reduction tools & effectively deal with them in their communications • Awareness precedes attitudinal & behavioral change (AAB Model) – People require a base or foundation of knowledge about the threat before inducing them to take protective actions • Warnings require information source, nature of the hazard, impact location and time, guidance on protective action, & sources of further information (next briefing at…) – all frequently repeated – specificity, certainty, clarity, sufficiency are impt. elements – know that people are not statisticians and probability may mean something different to them than it does to you • Use all available communications resources & channels – you want both formal & informal communications networks driving home your message – news media plus community leaders • Tailor messages to specific audiences – know their specific information needs & any obstacles to effective communication that need to be addressed • Recruit communications partners – community leaders, non-profit agencies, neighborhood groups – they can bring resources, access to & trust of target audiences, & may know the proven methods for reaching certain audiences

  32. Risk Communication Best Practice/Lessons Learned • Meet informational needs of all audiences • Manage public expectations • Inspire public confidence • Monitor for message distortion – correct inaccuracies which matter immediately! • Avoid message conflicts with other agencies • Recognize that the news media have multiple sources – anticipate what other sources might be saying too & factor that into your messaging • Be the one to break your own bad news – don’t let others break it for you • Conduct communications/media training for all staff and test your communications plan during an exercise – remediate any gaps identified by the exercise before the next event • Evaluate the effectiveness of your communications program!

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