Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Post-crisis communications

Thanks for my good friend Gerald Baron for raising the issue of what to do when a crisis dies down (in terms of traditional media interest) but lingers on, even flourishes, on social media platforms.

So, a crisis occurs bringing with it the usual public scrutiny, hyper-increased media attention, and more and more often, a huge spike in the number of conversations about the incident and your organization on social media platforms. You react according to your plans, perhaps set up a JIC ... A few days later, the media attention dies down ... you think: I've survived! ... but wait, the online world is echoing with the many voices discussing the incident and your response ... how do you react to what's being said ... do you stop caring because the TV cameras have gone.

Certainly not! I dare say that all organizations should have as a starting point a monitoring program that allows them to hear/see what's been said about them online and by traditional media. That way (as I've said before) you can effect a prompt and effective response if you have a good crisis comms plan in place ...

The key if flexibility and scalability. The monitoring program can be the work of one person ... let's call that routine monitoring ... when your situational awareness is tweaked by an emerging situation ... you bring more people along: one does media monitoring, another does social media ... you handle the review of existing messaging ... let's call this enhanced monitoring ...

Or maybe, right out of the blue, you're in the middle of it and you have to fully implement your plan. Full activation of a JIC ... all hands on deck. While this lasts, you concentrate on the key elements of your mandate: making yourself heard with the right info for your audiences, ensuring you get the right behaviour out of the people you need to reach, and also, putting the best face on your organization's response.

I'd suggest that once the "activation" phase has passed ... you pay real close attention to the demobilization phase ... in terms of crisis comms, that probably means staying at enhanced monitoring for a few days and weeks ... to be able to react immediately to unfavourable comments posted by "influencers" ... whether they be misguided, misinformed or even have an agenda that differs from yours.

Eventually, monitoring reverts to a routine nature ... with you integrating newly identified blogs, twitter lists and the such in the areas you keep track.

What I'm saying is that it never really stops ... you adapt, become flexible and learn for the next one.

Because while you're now keeping a close eye on what's just happened ... there's another potential issue looming on the horizon. We need to mirror the situational awareness that our operations colleague maintain every day ...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A few observations

Lot's of stuff in the recent days that's caught my attention ... how a "tiger" has been declawed ... a very good post from Steve Rubel's posterous page about engagement in the social media age, a very good analysis on the political class and emergency management/information from Gerald Baron ... a piece by Christa Miller from Cops 2.o ... and finally another good analysis from Gerald Baron on how "old" media is using social media ...

1- Tiger ... enough's been said ... you waited ... you lost the opportunity to get your story out in time ... you didn't drive the agenda ... now you're puttering about ... lesson: act quickly, decisively when your reputation's at risk ... no other way ... no sense in burying your head in the sand...trap

2- a link to a fantastic resource from a leading PR agency on engagement in the social media age ... a must read in my opinion ... you can find it here:
What makes our job so different now ... in one word: listening ... to engage in conversations ... to get your message across, you first need to listen ... so monitor social media platforms ... and watch your tone!
You don't enter a room at a party to deliver a message ... you mingle and have conversations where you deliver the info you need to convey in the appropriate context ...otherwise people won't listen to you if you "preach" ... the same applies in social media outreach ...

3- How do you engage and educate the political class on emergency management and emergency information? When is it proper and necessary for a political leader to be the face of your response to an incident? when should that be done by emergency managers/experts?
The key is in preparing the political class (or your CEO) and involving them in training and exercises ... so they understand the process and the need for operational requirements and latitude ... the post here:

4- what kind of social media policies should law enforcement agencies adopt? Is it necessary, or wise, to separate the professional and the personal, where officers identify themselves as cops and their duties/assignments? In my modest opinion, the two go together ... if you keep your posts professional in tone, even if you're talking about personal experiences, that should be ok ... people want to know their dealing with humans ... showing a private side is not necessary a bad think for LEOs.

5- finally, does old media see the light ... maybe some do ... if you make your readers, (or viewers, listeners) part of your team ... you're more present, more involved and more deeply rooted in the life of your audiences ... they'll want to share ... and you'll have a platform where people experience "news" ... live it ... share it ... generate content and make YOU relevant ...

Looking forward to your comments on these ...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toronto Emergency Management Symposium, Day Two

Another interesting day at the Old Mill Inn ...

Started with a keynote from Peter Power, a major player in emergency management and biz continuity planning from the UK ... ex-copper ...with lots of experience in crisis management (he co-invented the gold - silver - bronze command structure ) ... very entertaining speaker ... lots of jokes and anecdotes ... a big hit with the crowd ... perhaps a bit light on actual concrete learning ... but not the best forum for that ...

As surprising (and refreshing ... see post from yesterday) outlook on the use of social media from a member of the Toronto Police Service. Tim Burrows is at the forefront of the effective use of new tools to reach new audiences by police routine communications as well as in time of crisis. He's got a good degree of latitude from his superiors on how to do that ... find him on LinkedIn ... and here's his blog:

Speaking right after lunch was Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr David McKeown. He reflected, among other things, on the communications challenges around H1N1 ... first, how you communicate about risks ... and obviously, the difficulties in putting out uniform messaging when many levels of government are involved (municipal, provincial and federal) ... his observations on the fight against the current flu pandemic somewhat restored my faith in the ability of public health officials and agencies to communicate effectively. He also gave a pretty thorough update on the pandemic situation and the efforts to immunize the population.

Some highlights:
  1. herd immunity concept ... don't need to force everyone to get immunized
  2. Toronto public health has had more than 800 meetings with groups of stakeholders since the pandemic began ... that's great outreach
  3. they undertook largest immunization campaign in their history
  4. talked about revising pandemic planning ... always had been focused on "worst case scenario" and what that entails re: school closures,workplace issues ... critical infrastructure ... but what do you do when you deal with the "best case scenario" in a not-so-virulent pandemic such as the current one? how do you revise your plans on the fly ? Jimmy Jazz has blogged on this ...
  5. it was hard to calibrate messaging ... one day ... lukewarm interest in immunization but after the deaths of two teens in Ontario ... sudden outpouring of concern and stress resulting in huge lineups to get the flu shots ... how do you adjust your messaging ?

Finally, a very illuminating presentation by a Toronto Police Service officer specializing in intel and anti/counter-terrorism. Lots of experience across the planet ... including with the NYPD ...

Some scary stuff out there ... really drove home the point about not being too complacent here in Canada about the risk/threat of terrorism ... it's here and some groups are very active ... with the G8 and G20 summits coming to Ontario next year ... that's a challenge for us at the Integrated Security Unit.

He noted some particular challenges in interoperability and cooperation between different agencies ...

It was informative and somewhat comforting to see that police and security agenc`ies are "on the ball" ! A big thanks to all of you guys and girls !

Teaching in Second Life Part I: Emergency Management

Teaching in Second Life Part I: Emergency Management

Posted using ShareThis

Here's a very good resource ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Toronto Emergency Management Symposium, Take 2

In the afternoon, there was a session on the impact of new tools (social media among them) on the media ... We had reporters/editors from key media outlets in Toronto ... one each from print, radio and TV.

I found it very interesting that they were a bit dismissive of the news gathering and informative aspects of social media ... they even suggested that emergency management and first responders organizations only accredit members of traditional media and not bloggers and the such ... stating lack of professional standards and ethics ...

They obviously overlook the major impact that some bloggers and online writers have in very specific domains, some of them have thousands and tens of thousands readers ... some of them are acknowledged as very credible and are sought after by traditional media and corporations about whose products they write about ...

I thought I was hearing the last roars of dinosaurs !!!

As a former reporter (nearly 10 years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada) ... I can tell you that there is generally a high level of ethical conduct in most Canadian media outlets but by the same token, everyone these days is subject to the "Get it First" ... mentality where "getting it right" is often a secondary consideration in tough media markets ... where conglomerates squeeze the last ounce out of any newsroom.

So as far as ethics go ... mainstream media don't have that solid a leg to stand on ... I found their position very surprising because more and more traditional media themselves are using social media platforms as KEY sources of information and news gathering elements... more than a few report what's being posted on social media sites WITHOUT verification ...

Again ... that kind of exchange made this first day of the symposium a very interesting and successful proposition ... I'll write about the second day tomorrow evening ... until then, your comments and opinions are welcome!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Very nice conference today

Really a small meeting of about 20 communicators from the federal and provincial government who'd play a role during an emergency. It was a very valuable initiative from a colleague of mine and his counterpart at the federal level.

We had a presentation on critical infrastructure and interdependencies among all sectors ... the whole "system of systems" approach. Another one on crisis communications from a former Canadian naval public affairs officer ... punctuated with lots of anecdotes and examples. A very entertaining and instructive affair ...

And I gave an update on G8 security and communications planning for the 2010 meeting in Huntsville, Ontario. Overall, a very good get-together.

a couple of observations:
1- these kinds of meetings are essential building blocks for good cooperation during emergencies ... after all, what we do is all based on relationships ... a crisis is not the time to start exchanging business cards ... you need to be able to pick up the phone, talk to a connection and say: we need this or that ... can you help ? can you run this by your people real quick?

2- it's critical to get people from different levels of government used to each other's way of doing things ... goes a long way in managing expectations and establishing solid liaison protocols ...

Now a question: how often do you hold these meetings? do you involve people from other jurisdictions or levels of government? other agencies? and even the private sector (if you're dealing with critical infrastructure. their presence is essential ...)

Let me know !

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Challenges for PIOs

I've responded to a post by Jimmy Jazz ... raises some interesting points about emergency plans and the need for flexibility.

I also enjoyed reading Ike Piggot's response:
Coming from a background in TV news, this is familiar territory. You plan for 45 minutes in an editorial meeting, and 15 minutes into the day you scrap it.
The proper mindset is to never assume your plan will actually execute. In fact, I started a tradition of leaving the conference room loudly pronouncing “There goes Plan C.” Because if nothing else happens, we’ll have a plan to fill the newscasts — and once new events start chipping away at the Plan C resources, Plan B and Plan A start to reveal themselves.
Fortunately, the exercise of building Plan C means you’ve already accounted for resources, and weighted the risks and rewards of the coming demands. The prioritization is done, and Plan B and Plan A don’t require as much deliberation. What they DO require is someone to take responsibility for making a judgment and living with it, instead of safely hiding behind that plan.

Here was my own response to the post:

Hello Jimmy … a good analysis … I think that something that emergency management professionals and even public health officials tend to overlook or underestimate, is the extent of “political considerations” that come into play. Not only in terms of electoral issues but also in terms of the understanding by elected officials and senior civil servants of the emerging issue.
At the highest levels, plans are often a mere guide and are overlooked in favour of current considerations that may vary: public perception, key among them. In the end, public health officials often get caught up in these considerations as well, especially in situations where many jurisdictions are involved.
To conclude, plans are essential but not the end-all … there’s an absolute need for public health officials and emergency managers to clearly understand the expectations of the political class and clearly communicate scientific and technical objectives. These are not always easy tasks.

To expand on Ike's and my own response ... I totally agree with Ike (and coming from a similar background in broadcasting) ... some very good plans don't survive "contact with the enemy" to employ a military phrase ... hence the need for flexibility and scalability in our actual response to the crisis or incident, including on the communications side ... too many emergency managers and senior officials are "married" to plans and are reluctant to adapt ...

Now, if you read my own reply to the original post, you'll see that i practically say the opposite: that in times of crisis ... decision-makers often disregard planning and put too much weight on "political considerations" ...

two faces of the same coin really ... when do you follow your plan ? when do you need to deviate from it? when does public perception and communication necessities play a role in the process ?

From my point of view, perception (from stakeholders, the public, media) IS reality ... to ignore that and stick to a planned position or response is plain silly ... might have worked in autocratic regimes decades ago ... but doesn't in a world where sources of information abound ...

Comes down to built-in flexibility in your plan with gradual comms responses and scenario-based messaging ... you need a playbook but sometimes you need to call an "audible" ...

Thoughts ?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

competing trends?

When I'm short of time and have just a few seconds to describe what emergency information is, I use the following: first, it's communicating to our audiences what they need to know to protect themselves, family, property and the environment ... and second, what the authorities need to communicate to help ensure these audiences adopt the right behaviour (shelter, evacuate, prepare ...) ... that's pretty easy ... two parallel streams ... more often then not converging ...

There are trends that come and muddy the waters a bit though ... with the growing use of social media ... PIOs and organizations now engage in multiple, simultaneous "online conversations" with diverse audiences ... you have to prepare to be heard (see previous posts) but that's the broad picture ... and there's a second current trend that might appear to be in opposition to the pluralistic nature of emergency information in the social media age ...

Our friend Gerald Baron has recently reflected on this:
... sometimes you need to be very direct and adopt a "command voice" ... telling precisely (if not ordering) your audiences what to do ...

The Hurricane Ike example in Galveston is telling .... the famous "leave/evacuate or you will die" message that came from local/state and federal officials ... what impact did it have?

Are there better ways to ensure your audiences hear you?

Can those two trends ... the social media conversations ... and the more direct command ... be reconciled ?

I'd say ... use both approaches ... talk to people who'll listen to you because of an existing relationship or your organization's credibility ... but that can only get you so far ... we still can't ignore the 10 per cent of die hards who won't abide by your suggestions ...

if more direct, authoritative messaging is necessary ... use it ! ... and this type of messaging particularly plays well in traditional media (take it from a former reporter ... )

in the end, it probably won't change much ... but our collective conscience might be a bit better off !

As always, comments are welcome !

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How soon is now?

I'm the son and the heir ... of a fast changing world (sorry Morrissey !) where the need for immediate communications responses to emerging incidents and crises is overtaking many other considerations.

But how soon is too soon? In a world where an airline gets criticized (in some corners) for taking 13 minutes to respond to one of its planes landing in the Hudson River, do you still have time to take a breath and analyze things before reacting?

First, you need to be able to find yourself in that position and that means a robust social and web monitoring program ... that's just the start though. Once info starts flowing in at the onset of a crisis or incident, what guides your response? How do you determine the when and the how, or even the if?

I think all crisis communications plans should have a couple of elements built in that will help you avoid a misguided or too early of a response. The first is a quick analytical tool that will help you determine if you should respond at all.

I'm a big fan of the US Air Force's blog and social media engagement matrix

I've adapted it for our own purposes on the project I'm currently working on and it's very useful tool ... one can use it pretty quickly ... but i believe that the result of its analysis can be interpreted in many ways ...

I think the second "check" in your response scheme should be someone in your organization, either in your comms team or your executive, that can quickly validate your thinking before you go ahead and effectuate your response.

Not in an approval sense but more like a sounding board. Now, i believe that these two measures would not add much time to your response but would help ensure your organization's reaction was measured, on-target (right messages for right audiences) and effective.

I'll come back to a point I've made a few times in this blog. Social media are one set of tools for a crisis response ... they are not an end in themselves and should not overtake your capacity for a thoughtful approach despite the requirement for an immediate response.

Look forward to your comments ... thanks

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is it time to review how PIOs work and JIC structure?

I've just finished reading a couple of very interesting blog posts by some very influential bloggers:
Jonathan Bernstein
and Gerald Baron

The main takeaway: social media is creating new imperatives for crisis communications specialists, PIOs and emergency managers. In a world of instantaneous information where you audiences know as much as you do ... where there's an abundance of information (often misleading or inaccurate) ... the main function of a Joint Information Centre or PIO no longer has a long-term strategic framework behind it.

Fact is, with so much information floating around in the social media universe, being heard and recognized as a source of authoritative information becomes the primary concern. At the speed the information flows, that cannot be done through traditional media ... certainly not only through them ...

Our plans have to include capability to respond immediately to emerging incidents ... the only way to do that is with pre-approved, very specific messaging ... and the ability to get it out quickly on all sorts of platform.

Which begs the question? how do you know what's going on in the social media universe during an incident? How robust is your monitoring cell?

Do you still need as many strategists? or should you have more social media and web monitors/contributors?

As someone who's currently planning communications related to security for a huge event in June 2010 ... the largest security event next year ... those questions are very relevant to me ...

Any insights out there ?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's going on?

Now, I'll not make it a habit of bashing public health officials ... well, not too much ... but what's going on?

Just yesterday, the province was saying that it will have immunized 2.2 million Ontarians by the week-end ... wow ! great numbers ... probably all the priority people ... right ?

Wrong, now today ... it seems we're out of the H1N1 vaccine ... and our public health officials can't even tell us how many have been or will be immunized.

Can't the messaging be consistent from day to day?
Are they listening to any risk communications experts?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

H1N1 communications ... take three

Here we go again! Years after SARS, the public perception is that of a totally unprepared, unfocused and confusing public health system in this province.

It's not so much the shortage of H1N1 vaccine that is bothering Ontarians but the confusion in the messaging still going on. For example, we now know that the shortage of the vaccine will mean that people not in priority categories won't get vaccinated for a while. Yet, there was a one-page ad in Saturday's paper from the provincial government saying that people should get the vaccine as soon as possible.

It's true that it also said that certain people would get it first but the message was clearly laid out to tout vaccination for everyone ... meanwhile, clinics are closing, people are left stranded ... and now we've run out.

Not a great confidence builder. I'm asking: where are the communication advisers to the public health experts? Are these experts listening?

Scientific and medical evidence is nice ... yes, we need to be vaccinated ... it'd be even better if the logistics were in place to make it happen a bit more smoothly ... and if messaging was adapted to reflect the current situation.

Seems to me there needs to be better coordination in messaging between the federal, provincial and local public health officials. It's been sorely lacking so far.

Thoughts anyone?

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 ...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's not just about tools ... twitter, facebook or others.

I'm usually on the side of proponents of the use of social media platforms during emergencies. It makes a lot of sense: engaging your audiences directly, quickly and effectively. I've modestly tried to push things along in my (limited !!!) sphere of influence.

In most cases, i hear the usual objections on the use of social media: not enough context, not enough info, need more facts ... can't respond too quickly ... they're gimmicky ... and the other chapters in a long litany of incomprehension, lack of knowledge or just plain stubbornness.

Well, that's fine! I can put forward great arguments on the use of social media as emergency info tools ... and I usually do.

Now, what I find as concerning, is the tendency by disciples of social media ... to confuse the tools (the actual platforms themselves: twitter and others) with the objectives: to inform the public and present your emergency response in the best possible light.

More important than an organization's ability to tweet ... is the foundation behind its desire to communicate quickly during emerging situations or incidents. It's grand and fine to be able to tweet, inbed social media platforms on your website and all that ... BUT ... are you prepared? What are you going to say?

Do you have a crisis communications plan? does it have a series of protocols that determine who will respond to an incident ... and how soon? does it include delegation of authority to do so?
we're now in world where a delay of 15 minutes ( as in the airline whose plane landed in the Hudson River) in responding to an incident brings you criticism ...

Let's not forget the basics: good sound crisis comms planning, prepared messaging (message mapping anyone ???), trained crisis communicators ... an experienced team that trains often ... significant executive support (that's when you get that delegation of authority) ... effective follow up and measurements ... http://

Some of you might think that we're going overboard ... it doesn't matter ... if your audiences demand a quick response of your organization ... and you stick to your existing practices ... you'll end up with egg on your faces ...

the top down strategy doesn't work ... in messaging (we now engage in conversations ... on line, thru social media ... we're not preaching from up high ...) nor does it work in the org chart sense either ...

the more of your people are empowered to respond to incidents ... with proper tools, training and support ... the better the outcomes will be ...

can we still afford to wait 6 hours to respond to media and public calls on a train quarantined in Northern Ontario on suspicions of some exotic disease ... i gather not ...

can we wait four hours to issue a basis media statement after a huge explosion in an industrial site in Toronto ... while images of conflagration and rocket-like tanks flying through the air flood social media sites?

the world is changing ... expectations are too ... it's up to all of us to keep up ... here's a useful link:http://http//

by the way ... are your media people available 24/7 ? ... your web folks ?
or do incidents only happen on business hours ...

As always I await comments

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When to counter false allegations and dispel rumours.

OK ... it's been a while ...busy in the new job ... working on communications related to the security around next year's G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario.

Which brings me to today's topic ... when is it relevant to engage in online activities to counter false allegations or help dispel rumours?

Should it be automatic? or are there other channels you can use? ... Is a combination of both approaches the best choice?

In the huge project I'm currently associated with (in my secondment to the Ontario Provincial Police) ... we face the situation where we need to spend a lot of efforts countering false rumours about the nature and extent of security measures for the 2010 G8 summit.

Some of these rumours are absolutely outlandish and grounded in nothing more than a very broad extrapolation of a TV show like 24. Those can be dealt with more easily than the rumours based on reality ... but that are just the products of wrong interpretations.

To counter these myths and rumours ... we're taking a dual approach: a web presence (which is so far limited to a website ... but don't despair, we're trying to bring it into the 21st century with a broad social media strategy attached to it ... more on that in the coming weeks) and some effective ground work done by our community relations folks.

Frankly, i would not discount the fantastic work done by the people on the ground ... whether they're meeting with 400 people ... or just 25 ... their local presence has helped establish our whole organization's credibility ... better than any electronic medium ever could ...

now ... what our web and social media strategy must do ... is support them with the right products and messaging ... the right channels for the right conversations to occur ... no matter where they're hosting or happen to take place ... in a way, we must re-create the town hall meetings that have been successful for us ... on the web/social media ...

it's that sense of conversation and personal engagement that we need to foster ... we (the communications team) face some corporate challenges in our ability to do that ... but we're making headway ...

As I keep saying ... our messages must not appear to come down from the mountain ... etched in stone ... yes, we have valuable and relevant info to communicate ... but we have to do it in a spirit of participation in a broad conversation with our many audiences ...

the fact is that we deal with sophisticated people ... who for the most part can anticipate some of the measures that security forces will put in place and that may impact their daily lives over the week of the G8 summit ... we have to respect that intelligence and engage them with relevant, up-to-date info ... from a broad array of channels ...

you can see how we've started to do this (modestly ...) at our website

I welcome your comments and suggestions on how we can inform residents, visitors and other stakeholders ...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Occupying the public space

Is there such a thing as a "prime directive" (hello trekkies!) for crisis communications practitioners?

Well, I'd venture to say that in the social media world, there is an absolute need to occupy the public space soon after an incident or crisis occurs. I want to be very careful in how I position my rationale for this ...

First, the old model of uni-directional communications is really out the window ... despite an organization's ability to broadcast a message targeted to a large audience or many audiences, I think that's not just good enough anymore.

With the advent of social media platforms ... the audience can now interact amongst themselves ... so when an incident occurs ... they'll start those dialogues ... I make the argument that you need to join in that conversation or conversations ...

your ability to be heard is critical ... but do it in a participative way... you're not supplanting the information already out there ... rather, you should complement it ...

that's where credibility comes in ... by having a sound crisis comms plan, good social media practices and ongoing web/social media outreach'll already have established your organization's credibility ...

by joining in the fray at the onset of an incident or crisis ... by occupying the public space ... you may provide a necessary counterbalance or element of veracity to the conversation ...

I believe the secret lies in the approach ... a collaborative one ... based on the sharing of information ... of integrating the ongoing dialogue into your crisis response ... that makes the use of an array of channels/social media platforms necessary ...

I'm trying to integrate these principles in my new position ... so far, so good ... lots of understanding and agreement on adopting crisis comms practices, social media outreach, open dialogue from the leadership ... without forgetting more traditional ways of getting our messages out ...

I'd be interested to hear from you on those principles ...

Monday, June 1, 2009

crisis communications approach

I'm a big fan of the message mapping technique developed by Dr Covello of the Center for Risk Communications in New York. I especially likes its science-based approach to crafting key messages that the audience can actually retain during a crisis or emergency ...

I've spoken to people who've used this approach during big events/crisis (9-11) and they told me that message mapping (and in particular, the ability it gave them to anticipate, prepare and practice) was a real key to their successful crisis communications practices ...

Here's a link to an EPA web page on message mapping which itself leads to a fantastic learning tool (a video of Doctor Covello speaking on message mapping and the differences between how our brains function during normal times and emergencies/crises) ... an absolute must read for all communicators ...

Now, I'm wondering what kind of techniques are being used out there ... and might be as efficient.

Comments anyone?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

First visit to Huntsville

Had my first visit to Huntsville ... site of next year's G8 Summit ... a townhall was put together by the federal Summits Management Office with key participation from the Integrated Security Unit ... (my new employer through the OPP )

As expected, most questions dealt with security issues: impact on traffic, local commerce and residents ...

the event went well ... the presenters were solid and well briefed and questions and concerns raised by audience members were relevant and illustrative ...

But I found my visits to the shops of downtowm Huntsville the next day as illuminating ... talking to commerce owners and shop workers, waiters and young people ... there a lots of misconceptions about the security impacts for the Summit ...

We have our work cut out for us in stemming the tide of false rumours ...

Having had a first-hand look and many discussions with the locals ... I'll have a better understanding of what's needed and how to go about it ...

Any other communicator having had to spend a lot of time controlling/dispelling rumours ...your input is welcome !

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Start of a new adventure

It had to happen ... I'm taking on a new challenge ... and it's a big one ... I'm going to help coordinate the communications activities around the security arrangements for next year's G8 Summit in Huntsville ...

Sounds like fascinating work ... team approach ... joint operation between the OPP, RCMP and the Canadian Forces ... lots of people on the ground ... and more importantly for us communicators ... lots of issues and public concerns to deal with ...

I'll be able to bring together my experience in project and issues management, strategic and crisis comms planning into a community outreach approach ... the main thing will be to learn how to manage different organizational styles (OPP, RCMP, DND) and how to help a team of communicators mesh together ... so far so good in that regard ... we all value each other's experiences and expertise ...

I'll keep posting tidbits about the work ... without going into too many details related to actual security measures ....

a question though for all of you out there ... how have been your experiences working with many partners and joint forces ops for big projects ?

let me know !

Friday, May 22, 2009

let's get started

Okay ... we can't escape it ... H1N1 ... the swine flu ... how do you think it's been handled so far from a crisis or risk communications perspective ...

DISCLOSURE: I work for the Ontario government ... however, I want to indicate that my views and opinions do NOT reflect official edicts or positions of my ministry (Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services) or EMO (Emergency Management Ontario) or any other provincial ministry or agency ...

Having said that ... what's my take on how the government has dealt with the H1N1 issue?

Let's just say: mixed results ... Lessons from SARS have been learned the hard way ... but still not completely ...

The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care did a good job communicating with the public and stakeholder in the health sectors ... a good job ... not fabulous ... certainly not very inventive and with very little attention to new media ... Now, that might have been enough a few years back when SARS hit ... but can't we do better now ... 6 years later ? with all the tools and social media platforms we have at our disposal ... Still ... they get a passing grade for me ... they did what they had to do ...

Now, the other shoe drops (and I might get some push back on this from people inside the Ontario Public Service ... some highly-placed people !!!) ... we did a DISMAL job on internat comms ...

it took us days ... a week even ... to get the most basic info to our most valuable group of stakeholders ... our own employees across the Ontario Public Service ... things bogged down ...

Question: what's the point of having plans of all sorts to deal with a pandemic, including plans to communicate with every group of stakeholders ... if those plan go out the window at the onset of an emergency ?

There has to be enough trust and buy in into the solidity of our planning for professionals to be able to do their job ... without levels of scrutiny and infighting that slow things down to a crawl ...

Opinions out there ?

Now, there's a way to get started ... I'll let you know next week if I still have a job !!!
OK ... after many months of "mooching" other people's blogs and web work ... I've decided to finally join the fray ...

My blog will focus on best practices on crisis communications, emergency information (EI) and emergency management (EM) in general.

I will also pay close attention to leaders in the field of social media integration into EI and EM. I particularly look forward to hearing from anyone with sensible comments and suggestion ( an open exchange of ideas ) on crisis communications, especially within governmental organizations.