I believe (along with others ... such as Frank Cowan) that information needs are as important as planning, logistics, operations and fin/admin. In other words, emergency info needs its own box in the IMS/ICS and should not just be a part of the command staff.
I want to also make the distinction that i'm not talking about Joint Information Centres (JICs) here but a stand alone major component of the incident management structure.
Here's some of the reasons that motivate my thinking:
- social networks + mobile technologies have astronomically added to the complexity of communications needs during any incident. Social convergence puts information at the forefront of any response ... practically on a par with operations ...
- Most incidents now involve a few, if not many, agencies ... each with their own comms channels, priorities and audiences ... each must have the resources in place to handle a multitude of info requests and provide continuous information/updates. Almost immediately, the single PIO becomes overwhelmed ... hence the need for a broader comms cell. And that's before we even start talking about the standing up of any JIC.
- The absolute imperative of monitoring social networks creates the need for more resources and staff devoted to the PIO function ... why not build it into the structure itself? Correcting misinformation, dispelling rumours and identifying reputational threats are among key considerations here.
- The PIO job is important enough to be taken away from under the umbrella of command. That would encourage the development of proper crisis communications plans to accompany any response plan and which would include pre-approved messaging (bypassing the need for command to approve a tweet for example), the proper delegation of authority to get the communications response started and allow the incident commander to focus on coordination (although he/she would still be needed for the odd media briefing and the such ....)
- Finally, if you're organization is ready for this step, the comms group could be the entryway for all sorts of data pulled from the public ... crowdsourced information that can be collated, analysed and shared with plans/ops/logistics, or presented for info purposes and even put on a map.