Friday, October 30, 2009

Risk communications resource

I'm currently listening to a podcast from the CDC on risk communications and its life cycle.

It's from Dr. Barbara Reynolds and is quite interesting and offers many tips for PIOs and people who deal with risk communications ...

Most of the tips are very common sense... I'd highlight one: when you have the information at your disposal and you're the natural originator of that information ... then get it out ... be the first to do so ... don't hold back because it could undermine your organization's credibility.

Again, you've got to make your voice heard among the many conversations going on simultaneously on the web and social media platforms.

Here's the link to the CDC podcast:

H1N1 communications re-visited

Another quick piece on H1N1 communications ... Heard Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health on the radio this morning. She did a great job putting things into perspective re: priority lists for vaccinations, supply issues and the such. That went great.

But listening to her and after weeks, if not months, of warnings and preparations by public health officials, I still can't fathom why they were not ready for the great lineups experienced at all vaccination clinics across Ontario this week.

It seems that they were totally unprepared for the scope of the public's response to the pandemic, especially after the reported deaths of teens who succumbed from the flu. Seems pretty evident that they committed the sin of putting too much stock into their own risk analysis and did not pay enough attention to public perception.

We should never forget this mantra as emergency management professionals: what we think of as risks and how we quantify them could be, and very often is, very different from what the public perceives as risks or the severity of that perceived risk.

Is there a better way for public health officials to get a more accurate feel (or pulse !!!) of what the public is thinking? How nimble does our public health infrastructure need to be to face changing expectations from the public?

I think a lot of lessons will be learned from the current H1N1 vaccination campaign. One is: don't underestimate the capacity of media coverage and social media buzz to greatly increase the number of people that might show up to get shots. And if they do show up in droves, you should be prepared.

Seems even now that hundreds of people are waiting in line ... and still no plan to make flu clinics work 24/7 for a couple of weeks ... a bit short-sighted perhaps ?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Presentation on emergency information and crisis communications

I was invited earlier this week to give a presentation on emergency information planning and delivery and crisis communications practices in the Ontario government. The audience was a delegation of communicators from the Jiangsu provincial government in China and some municipal officials.

Although I was fairly sick, I thought I shouldn't disappoint our Cabinet Office and create an international incident by cancelling at the last minute (just kidding ... but I did feel I had to go).

I kept my presentation short and focused ... with only as much info as necessary on my powerpoint. That was helpful since we had to wait for the translator to relay our comments to the audience.

But before I developed my presentation I had to think hard about the differences in the social and political environment between Jiangsu and Ontario. Those differences really change the perceptions on communications especially when dealing with social media and the internet.

However, despite the current political system in China, the fact is the same general principles apply: social media is changing the game and expectations from citizens are increasing.

Goes back to my mantra: we (as PIOs) need to occupy the public space and take part in the many conversations that begin soon (very soon in fact) after any incident or crisis. If we don't ... our organizations and messaging become irrelevant ...

To be able to do so effectively, you need a sound crisis comms plan structured along the four Ps: procedures, people, preparation, practice.

Here's a link to my presentation on slideshare (free):

H1N1 and risk communications

Well ... It's been a while ... but now i have some time because I'm sitting home recovery from a pneumonia probably brought about by the H1N1 flu.

Now, no worries ... I'm doing fine ... but I've been reflecting on the risk communications aspects of the current pandemic. Now, my focus is primarily in Ontario and Canada, but I think that this observation applies to our US friends too.

That is, have you noticed the discrepancy between the often urgent if not alarmist nature of the messages sent by public health officials and their actual level of preparations?

I'm thinking that if you're going to scare the population into getting the flu shot ... you should be prepared for a great influx of people at the vaccination clinics ... and not have situations where people wait 4, 6 or even 8 hours in line ... some event wait longer and then are sent home without getting the shot when the clinic closes ...

And the messaging itself has sometimes been confusing ... now, should i get the seasonal flu shot if i get the H1N1 shot ? Who's really at risk?
Aren't young and healthy people actually getting sicker? Why not go to schools for vaccination clinics?

I think things will sort themselves out ... it's still a very moderate pandemic ...but I shudder to think if it had morphed into something more lethal ... how unprepared we would have been ...