PIO Training in my own backyard

Welcome to a somewhat Special Edition of my blog.  When I posted my previous blog I forgot to mention that this week my role is being reversed in that this week I get to be a “student” in a class being offered by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (MO-SEMA).  Today, and for the next two days, I’m a student in the “Basic Public Information Officer Training” course.

The “Basic Public Information Officer Training” course is intended for the new or less experienced Public Information Officer (PIO), or for those whose emergency management responsibilities include public information and/or interaction with the media. In the private sector (corporate) world, this function would be similar to External Affairs, Corporate Communications, Public Affairs, or something similar.  Its emphasis is on the basic skills and knowledge needed for emergency management public information activities. Topics include the role of the PIO in emergency management, conducting awareness campaigns, news release writing, public speaking, and media interviews. Additionally, this course is one of the FEMA Advanced Professional Series elective courses. (APS).

Our class this week is taking place at our MO-SEMA headquarters which is co-located at the Ike Skelton National Guard Training Center in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Jefferson City is our state capital and is located roughly in the center of the state.  We are actually having class in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  This EOC is the last state EOC that was built to the former “Cold War” standards.  Briefly, it’s built underground and has its own air filtration and water purification systems.  As they say, if an atom bomb were detonated in Jefferson City, EOC occupants would be safe sheltering in place.

Today in class we discussed characteristics of an effective PIO including knowledgeable, credible, being a good communicator (both orally and in written form), strategic, and proactive.  Understanding that the PIO function is a vital component of the Command Staff within the Incident Command System (ICS) we can better appreciate why these characteristics are an important makeup of the PIO.

We also spent time talking about the communications tools that PIO’s use to perform their jobs before, during, and after an incident or disaster.  Examples of those tools include news releases, fact sheets, advisories, public service announcements (PSA), and brochures, fliers, and handouts.  And of course, social media certainly plays into the mix and strategy of a PIO.  I’m glad I have some experience with social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, webinars, and BLOGGING!

What PIO class would be complete without addressing News Interviews?  We spent time discussing how important it is to understand 1) why you are communicating, 2) who you are trying to reach, and 3) what you are going to say and how you will say it.  Preparation is key!  One handout that we were given that I think will prove quite valuable is “Risk and Crisis Communication:  77 Questions Commonly Asked by Journalists During a Crisis”.  It’s a list developed by V.T. Covello in his book “Keeping Your Head In a Crisis:  Responding To Communication Challenges Posted by Bio-Terrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases”.  We also learned effective ways in which to create talking points to be used during an interview.

We ended up the day talking about on-camera interviews and writing news releases.  Yup, since we ended the day with this, our homework assignment was to write a news release based on a scenario we were given.

Being someone who enjoys public speaking, I think there is a synergy with this course.  The information we are getting is relevant and very interesting.  The three instructors we have teaching the class are very knowledgeable and effective.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from today.  I hope you’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll share more about the class as well as a visit to the Missouri National Guard Museum here on the same campus.  Until then, stay safe!

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2 Responses to PIO Training in my own backyard

  1. Chanda says:

    Hi Tim! Sounds like a great learning experience, I appreciate reading your blog about the interesting things that you do. The pics are awesome! I was unaware that Jefferson had such a facility. Will have to look into adding a class like this to my bucket list of classes to attend. Looking forward to reading more about your classroom experience!

    Best wishes,

  2. Elaine Bode-Oliver says:

    Tim – It’s great working with you this week as participants in the PIO Training! Here’s to your continued success in the training/professional development business! -Elaine

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