Public opinion has often driven operations during disaster incident response. Successfully establishing and operating a joint information center can make your incident management organization part of the conversation with a well-informed public; not doing so can put you “behind the story,” playing catch-up to rumors and misinformation.
When multiple organizations are in the same fight to mitigate disaster, they often join together to form one incident response management organization – it happens during everything from wildfires to hurricane response, and all manner of other natural and human-caused disasters.
A key position in these management structures is the person responsible for communicating operations to the public and media. How is this job done when incidents grow in size and complexity, and last for days, weeks or months on end? Typically, a joint information center is established and staffed to handle the myriad external and internal communications tasks.
The best way to establish, staff, operate and, eventually, demobilize a joint information center is to use a systematic approach, and the U.S. National Response Team Joint Information Center Model (NRT JIC) is what I’ve successfully used for decades to do just that. (Full disclosure: I’ve been an advisor for the three published versions of this model.)
Here’s the short list of why I recommend the NRT JIC model:
All-Hazard/All-Incident – This model works for everything. Personally, I’ve used it for fires, floods, hurricanes, terrorist events, search and rescue, law enforcement, environmental pollution response, shipping incidents and large-scale planned events.
Scalable and Flexible – It works if you have six or 60 people on staff. As your needs change, your staffing model can change, too.
Task-Based – People using the model in the midst of a crisis don’t need to have expert knowledge of it beforehand – roles are written with clear, succinct descriptions and job aids are intuitive for any user. I’ve seen people from industry, NGOs, PR firms and city, state and federal government agencies plug in and play successfully. Check out page 73 of the above-linked PDF for a good example of the clear language and design, written for initial incident communicators.
Lessons Learned & Best Practices – The model was written and designed by an interagency group of experts (including people from industry and private sector) based on lessons learned from large incidents and best practices from throughout the incident response community. It is peer reviewed and was vetted through the 14 federal agencies that comprise the National Response Team.
Interoperability – It is designed to work within the parameters of all U.S. law, doctrine and guidance for incident response operations, and it uses the same language and practices of the incident command system.
Goal-Oriented – The goal of communicators during large incidents or events is to release facts as accurately and quickly as possible, packaged in the right way for people to understand and be motivated to action, if necessary. This model is designed to meet that end goal, and I’ve used everywhere from Micronesia to the Mississippi River, and points in between.
Oh yeah — it’s also free and is a public domain document, so anyone can use it!
Here’s a presentation on the model that I recently gave at Central Penn College to people who work in all facets of emergency management: