What I learned at Advanced PIO, part 1

Note: This is a multipart series discussing some of the lessons learned from attending the Advanced PIO Course at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, MD. I attended the course in February 2018.

Strategic communications is a thing.

I would never call myself a planner. I am someone who loves to dream up a fun idea and then just go do it. There is so much satisfaction in seeing creativity come to life rapidly.

I always had a sense that planning is important, but that it is so easy to plan yourself to death and never get anything done.

The first time I felt that I could be an advocate for planning came during an emergency management exercise a few years ago. During the exercise, I received a request for a certain type of news release. And lo and behold, I had a pre-scripted version of that news release ready to go. I just had to change a few details. The amount of time that one pre-scripted news saved woke me up to the possibilities.

Fast forward to 2018 in Emmitsburg.

In the new E388 – Advanced PIO Course (see upcoming offerings here), the instructors really hammer home the need for strategic communications planning. They take you through the process step-by-step so that you can fully assess the situation, and set SMART goals, identify your audiences and tailor specific messages to them.

8 steps of communications

During the week, I saw strategic planning work. And I began finding myself making a strategic plan for certain things that I could do once I returned to work. Here’s a picture of a strategic plan I started drafting for conducting outreach to our Spanish-speaking community in my state:

draft strategic communications plan

We have a way to go with this plan, but identifying our audiences is a great first step. Next step is to work on specific messages and channels for each segment for each audience.

When I returned to work, I met with a co-worker who is struggling with a project and asked for help. And I found myself suddenly taking her through the strategic planning cycle. We identified a mission, set goals, identified the audiences, and identified the messages those audiences would need. So now, the next step is to develop the materials for those audiences. And the stuff we are working on… it’s pretty exciting.

Hearing the strategic planning guidance come out of my mouth made me realize that I am now converting to someone who plans and who relishes a good plan. And if I can be someone who uses that plan as a map to accomplish great things, so can you.

How about you? What has strategic planning done for you? If you have plans you are willing to share, we can make them available here and give you a nice shoutout.

Joe Dougherty is the founder of ArtOfPIO and works full time as PIO of the Utah Division of Emergency Management. He tweets from @PIO_Joe


Update: a basic twitter geocode search how-to

think disaster: a blog by Scott Reuter (@sct_r)

I just re-wrote and simplified my instructions for creating a fast, simple twitter geocode search, as my previous blog post has links in the instructions that don’t work anymore.

1-  Go to a latitude/longitude finder such as https://itouchmap.com/latlong.html and enter the place or address that you need a lat/long for in the search bar. If you have an address, include it, but you can also use a town name and state, or a town name and country. (NOTE: It is sometimes worth verifying a lat/long search result. For instance, you might want to try running the same search in google maps and compare lat/long results.)

An alternative way to obtain the latitude longitude is to do a google search, then copy the lat/long straight out of the web address. Here’s an example:


Notice that in the above web address, the lat/long is already formatted and ready to copy out. Below…

View original post 491 more words

How do you control chaos during a false alarm?

This Los Angeles Times story, posted earlier today, highlights the panic that comes when people think they are in danger.

Patrons at LAX stormed onto the tarmac to escape what appeared to be shots fired in the airport. Those sounds may have been suitcases dropping as people fled, only adding to more panic.

No active shooter was found. But the incident marked the second time in two weeks that a major international airport was paralyzed by false reports of gunfire.

Airport officials and security experts said the LAX incident and a shutdown at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport this month show how difficult it can be to control mass panic.

For all the investments in post-9/11 security improvements and training, the confusion and chaos stemming from a false report of violence can actually be harder to handle than dealing with a gunman, officials say. The hunt for a gunman takes much longer when there is no one to find. (LA Times)

Now, it will be time for the after-action review to see if recommendations from a previous incident at LAX in 2013, in which a gunman in Terminal 3 killed a Transportation Security Administration officer, are working.

Officials at the time cited poor communication between law enforcement and the public and recommended getting better radio equipment and establishing teams to help stranded passengers.

So, let’s armchair quarterback this…

What would you do? What would your agency do? How quickly do you have the ability to get intel that can be passed onto the public? How quickly can operations understand what is going on to effectively inform the public? What prescripted messages would help?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


“I hate surprises”

You gotta  hate surprises

At least, you have to hate the wrong kind of surprises.

When an incident happens that might affect your agency or its response, the sooner you know, the better. While it might not always be possible to be first, you might be one of the first if you follow a few simple guidelines:

1. Build a network

When a fire erupted at a former processing plant south of Salt Lake City, the city PIO and social media manager was in touch briefly with the city’s fire department and was told everything was under control. As the fire progressed, the fire department decided that some local evacuations would be necessary but didn’t inform the city PIO. It was a county PIO, who had been following the incident on local news, who called the city PIO and had the following conversation:

County PIO: What’s going on with your fire?

City PIO: Everything is under control.

County PIO: I don’t think so. They are evacuating the neighborhoods around the fire.

Fortunately, the city and county PIO had a great relationship or the city PIO may have found out too late about evacuations happening in her own city.

Take the time to build a network of PIOs. Meet someone new. 

2. Share

It takes some getting used to, but sharing important information with  your network will help create a culture of sharing.

Others will remember to loop you in because they appreciated the times you remembered to include them. Great things will happen. 

And you never have to be concerned about being over informed. You always have that delete button. 

3. Have a meeting

Someone needs to wave the banner to rally PIOs in your area. Is it you? Can you support, really support, another PIO’s efforts. 

It usually starts with a meeting. Do you have an exercise coming up? A major sporting event? The potential of severe weather? 

Call a few people and start the first meeting. Asking the following question at your first meeting will make having the next one is easy: “Who should be here with us?”

We hope these tips help you avoid surprises. Question for you now: How do you avoid surprises?



This is a touching blog post related to the shooting deaths of two journalists yesterday in Virginia. If you worked in the media before becoming a PIO, you can relate. If you never worked in the media, here’s some insight into that world. In the end, we’re all the same.


I imagine I am Alison Parker, doing a live shot, yet another live shot, one of a dozen that will fill the work week. I imagine how the sun rises behind her in the moments before it happens, how her photographer Adam has to adjust his camera to accommodate the encroaching fingers of light. Maybe…

Source: Roanoke

Cautionary tale, shared from NIOA

This post appeared today on the National Information Officers Association blog, which can be found here:


NIOA member Dani Moschella, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Ft. Lauderdale, recently shared this word of caution to other public information officers and their leadership team. When scheduling interviews, always know the intent of the interview and use your time and your agency name wisely.

Here’s her story:

We had a request from a producer at In View hosted by Larry King who asked to talk to Sheriff Israel for a 20-30 minute off-the-record chat as they prepare a show on diversity in America.

image of In View program logoShe said they were in their preliminary phase and want[ed] to speak to the sheriff to see if he would be a suitable contributor for the program. Of course, she would talk to him specifically about diversity in law enforcement.

…the sheriff spoke to her at length on that topic, and then when he went to hang up, she read him a lengthy, prepared statement explaining that if he paid $25,000, they would book him on the show. You can’t tell from the website, but it’s basically an infomercial. Huge waste of time. The woman’s name is Randi Gardner [Randi@inviewseries.com, 561-279-3550 ext. 119]

Editor Note: Some programming references on the In View web site include the reference “paid educational programming.”

This information was shared for the benefit and resource of NIOA members and other interested parties. It is an experience shared by a member of NIOA and may not reflect the position or policies of the Board of Directors or the opinions of the general membership.

Summer site updates

We’ve been hard at work this summer making progress at building out the resources on this site.

Remember, this site is for PIOs from PIOs. So if there’s something you need or want, let us know.

Updates for July include:

  • A new page with links to professional associations, both nationally and in the states. If your state’s PIO association (formal or informal) is missing, let us know here:

  • We’ve also added a page that includes links to online and classroom training information for PIOs and conferences around the nation. Again, if yours is missing, let us know using the form above.

Well, that’s it for now! Thanks for all you do in service to your communities.


Know what you know and what you don’t know

You are an expert.
At least, everyone thinks so.

That’s why you are the go-to person for all sorts of inquiries, including what is happening with an incident, what is happening in your agency, and all of the crazy inquiries from the general public, conspiracy theorists and sometimes elected officials. The long and short of it is that because you deal in information, and know where to get it, everyone assumes that you will know anything.

The public information officer has to be knowledgeable.

Here are some things you need to know or be able to get quickly when an emergency happens:

  • Information about your agency — Number of employees, agency history and programs, your subject-matter experts, website and social media accounts, a phone number for updated information.
  • Leadership, policies, plans, procedures
  • Information about the incident — Who, what, where, when, why and how.
  • Applicable laws
  • Your community — The counties in your state, the cities in your county, general demographics, political situations
  • The news media — History of media relations, any hot topics about your agency, hot topics in other agencies

Be willing to ask questions and continue to strive to learn as much as you can. The more you know, the more comfortable you can be on camera and in representing your agency.

How to not blow it with the news media

FEMA PIO with TV Reporter at Community Meeting

Tuscaloosa, Ala., May 12, 2011 — FEMA Public Information Officer Art Alejandre speaks with a Fox 6 WBRC reporter prior to today’s Hispanic community meeting and press conference. FEMA provides multilingual staff and printed materials so that all community members can receive timely and appropriate information to help recover from the deadly April tornado. George Armstrong/FEMA – Location: Tuscaloosa, AL

I’m lucky

I studied journalism in college.
I worked in the news media for a number of years.
I know tons of journalists.
My agency follows them on social media and they follow us back. The relationship in Utah between public information officers and the news media is mostly a cordial one.

The public information officers here understand that communicating effectively to the media is a critical way to get information to the public. And the news media understand the agency PIOs are mostly a great source of information for them to be able to inform and educate the public through their storytelling.

There are so many barriers to communication. Don’t let your relationship with the news media be one of them.

Do we have issues? Do personalities sometimes get in the way? Of course… this happens everywhere.

Here are some ways to help build your relationships with news media:

  • Don’t work under the assumption that people are out to get you.
  • Do a media tour. Take time with your boss or director or chief and make a visit to your local news stations and newspapers during those visits ask if there’s anything your agency can be doing better to communicate effectively with them.
  • Be available and accessible. Remember, you work for the public. The news media represent that public it’s much better to have a few reporters calling and sharing your message with your residence than having every resident call you. Make sure you have plans for news reporters to reach you after hours. And if it’s not you make sure someone is available.
  • Empower your dispatchers:often dispatchers receive the first phone calls about an incident from the reporters, especially if reporters don’t have a public information officer contact after hours. Establish a system for dispatchers to be able to give out key information. This helps the news me to decide if they are going to mobilize their resources to come to an incident. There is nothing worse than wasted time and money. We can make plans to help reporters do their jobs.
  • Remember, you are not the only source of information. The news media have a duty to seek out information from various sources. So please don’t be offended that they go somewhere else for another side of the story.
  • Be a good person. I know, this sounds like an infantile statement. But, if you are a truly good person you can be comfortable respecting the opinions of others. You won’t take questions about your agency personally, and you can deal patiently even in high-stress situations.

Remember, many reporters want to like you and they expect to work with you again in the future. Be the best you can be, and the experience does not have to be painful, even in high-stress interactions.

Joe Dougherty is the founder of ArtOfPIO and works full time as PIO of the Utah Division of Emergency Management. He tweets from @PIO_Joe

What Would You Do? News roundup for August 12, 2014

Just a sample of news happening around the continent that could, maybe,  just maybe, perhaps, involve a PIO.

It’s a chance for you to think about how you would respond given a similar event.


 1. Robin Williams’ passing has saddened many as the world mourns the loss of a funny man and a talented actor.

At some point there will be a funeral, which has the potential to be a very public event.

  • How will such an event affect the public?
  • What information will they need to know, such as road closures?
  • Where will you get information?
  • If you were the local PIO, who would you reach out to first?

2. Ebola patients are being treated in the United States. It is unlikely that the disease will spread, but …

If an outbreak of Ebola or some other communicable disease occurs, how prepared are you?

  • Where are your sources of information?
  • What relationships do you have with your local or state health department or the CDC for getting info?
  • What tools do you have for getting information out to the public?

That should be enough to freak you out for now. What can you do to get better today?

 — @PIO_Joe