So a while back I signed up for this one day conference held at the Vermont Public Safety headquarters. Admittedly, I’d kind of put it in the back of my mind and then saw it on my calendar recently and remembered it. Not knowing what to expect I went in and sat down in an amazing meeting space (by school standards) and dug into the learning.
The whole deal was around the concept of a Public Information Officer or P.I.O. A P.I.O. is an individual that makes sure the wheels of communication are greased during an event. They work with all parties to make sure that clear communication is reaching the people that need it. As the Director of Communication, this was one of the first pieces of trainings that really stood out to me as something that directly speaks to that portion of my job.
The training was great and it was one of those conferences where you sit there and think of all the things you want to get going on when you get back to the ranch. Here are my basic take aways:
- Schools and districts should be clearer about roles and responsibilities when it comes to communication during an event (that’s the essence of this role). The establishment of a P.I.O. position or responsibilities is a step in the right direction
- Take advantage of proactive relationship building with first responders and other outside organizations that might someday be involved in a school situation.
- Mark would be upset if I didn’t say this: “Put your most important information first and work in key messages at least 3 times.”
- Educate families and the community about terms and concepts that might be used or expressed in an emergency situation. This’ll pay off.
- Have a clear plan for working collaboratively with the news media. There were lots of great points about this, but it’s more than waiting for an event happen. Things like establishing staging areas at your school sites, letting them know your role in the district, setting up how often communication will come, understanding their deadlines…just a few of the gems shared.
We walked through several scenarios, which was really helpful. My big takeaway was to sort out roles during an incident. I think this is challenging for a lot of people, but particularly in schools. First responders are very clear about who does what and when, but often during school incidents we all want to help and be involved (it comes from a really good place). Discussing our roles ahead of time and sticking to those would be an essential part of the planning.