By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission, and Chair, IAEM-Global Communications Work Group
Last month we took a short break from our discussion on the topic area of Implementation to discuss the concept of the Whole Community. Questions on the Whole Community will appear in the examination. This month we will continue our discussion of Implementation, with a focus on Crisis Communications and Public Information.
The term Crisis Communications and Public Information is sometimes confused with Warning, Notifications, and Communications Systems. Though they appear to be similar, they are quite different. Crisis Communications and Public Information is gathering and disseminating emergency or crisis information to both internal and external stakeholders, while Warning, Notifications, and Communications Systems has to do with “the capabilities required to execute response, crisis communications, continuity, and recovery plans, procedures, and public education/emergency information programs.” That is equipment, processes, and procedures.
NFPA 1600 version 2013 states entities need two components of their Crisis Communications and Public Information System – a communications plan and a flexible communications structure. The communications plan identifies key stakeholders as well as who “is responsible for tailoring and communicating appropriate information to each stakeholder group before, during, and after an incident.” The plan also must include “a means of collecting inquiries and responding to concerns from the public to ensure a two-way dialogue.” You will also find these two elements discussed in FEMA Independent Study Course IS-230d.
The entity’s communications structure needs to be “coordinated among the various communications functions that have been activated as well as with the site team and response organization.” In the United States, this structure often is referred to as the Joint Information System (JIS). In addition, the standard recommends “a joint information center (JIC) be established during incident operations to support the coordination and dissemination of critical emergency as well as public affairs information from all communications operations related to the incident, including federal, state, local, and tribal public information officers (PIOs) including private entity or corporate communications staff.”
In other words, the Whole Community’s emergency communications needs should be addressed through the JIC. Finally, the standard states that the JIC may be a physical or a virtual structure.
Public safety relies on effective communications with the Whole Community. Because communities are diverse, you must know your audience and their specific information needs. Then you tailor your message delivery to the needs of the community. Be sure you provide information in multiple formats, as this is critical for your community members with sensory disabilities, language limitations, different reading levels, and other shortcomings. Be sensitive to cultural differences too in the way you communicate. Team up with various community organizations to enhance the likelihood of your message being received well by specific populations. Finally, always communicate with respect to all members of the Whole Community.
Emergency managers have many tools to choose from when communicating with the Whole Community. Know the advantages and limitations of each one. Also, know how to create effective alerts and warnings. Clarity, specificity, and consistency in the messages are critical.
Effective alerts and warnings will encourage members of the Whole Community to take recommended actions to protect themselves. In addition to issuing timely messages, each one should contain the following components: specific hazard; location; time frames; warning source; magnitude; likelihood of occurrence; and protective behavior. Ensure your alerts and warning messages include all pertinent information and that they are disseminated using multiple tools, so the Whole Community will receive and understand making their willing compliance more likely.
FEMA offers a few supporting Independent Study (IS) courses you may want to review for your own program development and implementation. They include:
U.S. candidates may want to review these IS courses:
The application process for both the CEM® and the AEM® does not require the candidate to address Crisis Communications and Public Information as one of the required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) components for the emergency management essay. However, some candidates choose to address it as a problem. If it is chosen, do not forget to address both the communications plan and structure.
Here is one core-type question and one USA-specific question for our analysis in this article.
1. Which of the following is NOT a recommended emergency communication action?
a. Coordinate emergency messages with those of other authorities and across the various media.
b. Create message templates based on your local threats and hazards that you can use when an emergency arises.
c. Include in warning messages the protective behavior expected of the public.
d. When issuing an urgent warning message, include as much detailed background information as possible.
This question is asking you how to create an effective emergency communication message. The first response of coordinating your message with other authorities and media is critical for ensuring a consistent message is delivered to the Whole Community. The second response of creating message templates based on the community’s risk saves time and ensures all required information is included in the message.
The third response of including the protective behavior expected of the public is critical so people will know what actions to take following the warning message. The fourth response of including as much background information as possible in a warning message is not recommended because it tends to hide and confuse the emergency message. Therefore, the correct response of which action is not recommended is d. See IS 242.b.
2. Which system is the method of operating during an incident that allows multiple public information officers (PIOs) to coordinate information and integrate messages to avoid confusing the public?
a. Incident Command System.
b. Joint Information System.
c. National Incident Management System.
d. Warning, Notification, and Communications System.
In this question, we are asking you to recognize the system that allows for the dissemination of public information to the Whole Community. The first response is the Incident Command System, which is used to direct operations at an incident. A PIO may be included in the command group, but ICS does not define the system used by the PIOs. Therefore, response a. is incorrect. The second response is the Joint Information System. This defines a system under which the Joint Information Center operates and is used by multiple PIOs to coordinate and disseminate consistent messages to the public.
The third response is the National Incident Management System. NIMS provides a comprehensive, standardized system that allows us to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from incidents. It includes the Joint Information System but NIMS is not the system the question is referring to. Therefore, this response is incorrect. The fourth response is the Warning, Notification, and Communications System. Though this system will provide some information (warnings) to the public, it is not a system used by multiple PIOs. Therefore, the only correct response is b. See IS 702.a.
When reading the questions and responses, be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking of you and read each response before selecting the correct one.
Next month we continue our discussion of Implementation with a focus on Warning, Notifications, and Communications. We also will analyze some practice exam questions. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the certification process to me at email@example.com, and I will address them in future articles.
IAEM Bulletin, October 2016
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