Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The other role of the PIOs

Hello Everyone! It's been a little while since my last post. Getting very busy at work preparing for the G8 and G20 summits in June.

But the recent events in Haiti have prompted me to do a lot of thinking on the many aspects of the functions of a Public Information Officer during a disaster. We all know the basics of emergency information: providing the public with what they need to know to protect themselves, their property, the environment ... and the other aspect, providing info that will help ensure that audiences adopt the behaviour emergency management professionals wish them to adopt: prepare, shelter, evacuate etc., ...

But there's also another critical function of a PIO ... put your organization's response under the best light possible. To sum up ... it's the PR aspect of the job. How many examples of bad PR associated with not-so-disastrous responses have we seen? Katrina and FEMA come to mind.

Now, with the international disaster response in Haiti, I've been doing a lot of thinking about that. Seems everything is magnified. Lots of good work is being accomplished, and despite some criticism (nothing is ever perfect!) ... the relief efforts are finally achieving results.

We see the outcome on TV, in news stories and on social media platforms .... I bet you that there are many PIOs at work in Haiti helping project their country's or their organization's response on the global scene. Fairfax County HUSAR has been referred to many times ... and the same applies for the Israeli Defense Force deployment ...

I'm sure there are all kinds of motivation for publicizing your response in international deployment to many audiences: external and internal ... I believe that it's an essential part of our jobs as PIOs. What better way to prepare to respond in your own jurisdiction, than going out and doing the real thing somewhere else ... beats every training scenario I know!

It's all about perception ... if the public and other key constituents perceive the response as flawed or ineffective, the way out of that particular problem might be a difficult one.

So I ask the question: are there ethical issues associated with that aspect of our work? Particularly in large-scale disasters such as the one we're dealing wih now, with unfathomable loss of life and suffering?

I await comments ....