Guest Blogger:  Deb Hileman, CMP, President and CEO, Institute for Crisis Management

The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season forecast calls for the number of named storms and hurricanes to be near historical averages, with a total of 12 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes are expected this season.   Pacific hurricane season forecasts also call for a near average season with 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes.

As a former PIO for a large emergency medical services organization myself, I know that the PIO, or public information officer, is a critical link between the organization we work for and the communities we serve.  In a hurricane, the PIO’s role is to provide the public with timely information needed to make informed decisions regarding their personal safety and well-being. The PIO must be prepared for deployment at a moment’s notice.

Experienced PIOs know that anything can happen, regardless of the weather forecast, and prepare accordingly.   Here are a few tips for new PIOs to prepare for this year’s tropical storm season.

Public Education Campaigns

Educating the public about the hazards of severe weather should be an ongoing effort, with additional campaigns launched before and during hurricane season. Awareness and preparedness campaigns provide critical information that people need to be ready for sheltering in place or evacuating when ordered by local officials.

PIOs have numerous tools at their disposal to inform, educate and advise– including websites, blogs, printed materials, video, public service announcements, media releases, briefings and others. PIOs are often invited to deliver preparedness talks to community groups, and should have standard presentations and handout materials at the ready.

Common public education campaigns include general hurricane preparedness, homeowner preparations, family and business emergency plans, severe weather awareness and preparation for special needs populations, such as the elderly.

Evacuation Prep

Every PIO should understand the basic strategy to prepare for an evacuation in the event of a severe weather event.  I recommend the PIO talk with the incident commander, operations section chief and liaison officer to understand what trigger points they will use to make a decision to evacuate.  Monitor the proximity to those trigger points and be able to explain to the media and others why an evacuation is being considered. By sharing that evacuation is a possibility, the PIO is helping the media and the public to prepare appropriately in case the order is given.

Go Kits

Common PIO preparedness tasks include developing and updating plans and emergency procedures, checklists, contact lists and public information materials. Additionally, professional and personal “go kits” should be assembled and ready at a moment’s notice.  The PIO’s professional go kit might include items such as:

  • basic office supplies like pens and paper, markers, and duct tape
  • cell phone with mobile hot spot and signal booster
  • 2-way radio
  • laptop computer and portable printer with alternate power sources
  • paper and soft copy of emergency operation plans
  • video camera, flash drives, and battery powered radio
  • current contact lists for media, key stakeholder groups and incident command
  • pre-scripted messages and template news releases
  • extension cords, surge protector and Ethernet cord

Don’t forget power cords, extra batteries and alternate charging accessories for all portable electronic devices and radios.  The kit should fit in a comfortable bag or backpack.

Personal Go Kit

The PIO’s personal go kit contains all the basics s/he may need for an on-scene assignment of three days or longer. Consider including these items at a minimum:

  • rain gear, moisture wicking shirts and slacks
  • sturdy, comfortable shoes or boots, undergarments and plenty of socks
  • three-day supply of water (one gallon per day) and non-perishable food
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • first aid kit, prescription medications and eyeglasses
  • emergency cash
  • sleeping bag
  • matches in a waterproof container
  • moist towelettes, toothbrush and toothpaste
  • mess kit, paper towels and tissues

There are numerous resources to help the PIO to prepare and respond to a major weather event.  Ongoing training and exercises are also a key component of disaster preparedness.  The most important things the PIO can do to be an effective community resource are these three Ps:  Prepare, Practice and Pack.  Here’s wishing you a quiet hurricane season!

Deb Hileman

Deb Hileman

Deborah Hileman, SCMP is President and CEO of the Institute for Crisis Management (ICM), a consulting firm specializing in crisis management and communications planning, training and consulting services. Founded in 1990, ICM clients include public and private companies, non-profit organizations, education and religious institutions, government agencies and other organizations in North America and across the globe.
A certified strategic communication management professional (SCMP), business leader, coach and consultant with more than 30 years’ experience in public and private companies and non-profit organizations, her most significant areas of expertise include strategic communications planning and crisis management, media relations, change management, employee engagement and training. She has taught hundreds of professionals to develop effective crisis strategy and messaging and to handle difficult media interviews with confidence and skill.
Known as a voice of calm amid chaos and crisis, Ms. Hileman has earned a reputation as a trusted communication strategist and advisor to board members and C-suite executives, operations leaders and other organizational stakeholders. She has developed and implemented successful communication strategies for numerous business issues, including natural disasters, labor strikes, workplace violence, wrongful death, food safety concerns, harassment and abuse investigations, social media attacks and cybercrime, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, closures and layoffs, controversial development plans, criminal prosecutions and federal civil investigations, employee malfeasance and investor litigation, among others.
A regular writer and blogger on business communication topics, she is the author of “Attorneys as Allies: Balancing Stakeholder Needs with Legal Concerns During a Crisis”, published in the Writer’s Guidebook, Vol.2, PR News Press; “Building a Crisis Early Warning System by Empowering Employees to Speak Up”, published in The Book of Employee Communications Strategies & Tactics, vol. 5, PR News Press, and “In a Snap: 15 Tips for Faster, More Effective Employee Communications in a Crisis”, published in The Book of Crisis Management Strategies and Tactics, Vol. 8, PR News Press. Contact Deb at [email protected].