Teaching with a PowerPoint built by someone else (especially a committee) is a great opportunity to inspire student and instructor boredom. In the incident response world, we are usually bound by NWCG and FEMA developed presentations. Not only can they be dry, but they are often out of date and not aligned with the frequent changes in incident management and crisis communications/public information. So what's an instructor to do?
Communications plans are essential to any crisis. You have to understand the incident, identify your audiences, select the principal messages, and determine the best ways to deliver and spread your information. Then you have to make sure a lot of other folks understand the plan. For a primary crisis communicator or PIO, you should always have a plan and it should constantly be evolving based on the reality of the incident. However, unlike public affairs people, we often don't have time to write it all down.
Wandering around camps and offices, you often hear hear murmurings about how Type I IMT members have large egos.
Well, yes, that's mostly true. But it's only half of the story. That Type I self-assuredness is not necessarily a personality flaw. Instead, it emanates from two elements of Type I work:
Way back when I was a PIO2(T), I was dutifully making my stops on a trapline for a big fire when I was contacted by the Lead PIO with new instructions. The agency administrator had relayed reports of panic in a nearby neighborhood and I was told to go quell that panic. We certainly could not afford any panic on this incident, no sir. In those days, the word panic scared me as I envisioned having to crawl on top of my government-provided Ford Ranger and shout down an angry mob. The reality was quite a bit different.
When I got to the neighborhood, there were a few people packing up, but nothing crazy. I stopped by a house where a man was loading stuff into the back of a pickup. After a little conversation, I learned he and some others were bugging out because the fire was on the nearest ridge and would be into the neighborhood in no time. Indeed, the column looked formidable and close. However, I knew it was several miles away and not a near-term threat to the neighborhood. Once that was explained to the homeowner and a few neighbors who had wandered over, everyone relaxed, I reported my success at stopping the great panic and subsequently got a few things signed off in my task book. The praise I received seemed a bit excessive for just chatting with a few folks about what was going on, but the experience did spur me to start thinking about panic and how we use it on incidents.
Chaos Theory originated in the math and physics world, but has increasingly been used in the social sciences to help explain large, dynamic systems. A number of scholars have applied the ideas to crisis communication. In a paper available through Google Scholar titled Chaos Theory, Informational Needs, and Natural Disasters, authors Sellnow, Seeger, and Ulmer describe the theory this way:
Every media training I've ever been to advocated doing away with um and uh. However, this principle is based on what is best for media personalities, not crisis communicators. If you read the advice post, you won't be surprised to know I care little about ums and uhs. They are a natural part of speech and can actually lend credibility in a time of crisis. When you use those fillers it is a sign to everyone listening that you are thinking out loud. You are verbalizing your thoughts.
Occasional thoughts on incident response, crisis communications, wildland fire, and other topics.
Docendo disco, scribendo cogito.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2019.