Howdy Folks! It’s a brand new day here in Crisis Commsville, and you’ve just been named Public Information Officer (PIO) of a large-scale incident. Congrats! Hopefully, your first job isn’t tearing the dust-covered shrink-wrap off that ol’ Joint Information Center (JIC) Model. Okay, now what? Let me guess … your phones are ringing incessantly and Twitter’s overheating, right? News vans lining up outside? All your communications people are looking to you for direction as a flash of panic crosses your CEO’s face? Yup, thought so. Here’s the deal, you’re going to war my friend.
Square your shoulders, take some deep breaths and open that creaky JIC Model to the page marked JIC Manager (JM). You’re about to make a decision that will largely determine your success in communicating response efforts effectively to the public. You’re choosing the general that will lead your troops into battle, your JM.
As the PIO for a large unified command, two things may surprise you here:
- You’re not actually going to lead your own JIC. Um, whaaaaa?
- Out of all the positions in that JIC Model, the APIO’s, the Writers, the Social Media Specialist gurus, you’re only going to choose one of them, The JM. That JM will appoint the rest.
In fact, after selecting your JM, you may not spend much time in the JIC at all aside from delivering strategy and receiving updates. Yup, that’s right rock star, if you’re doing it right, most of a PIO’s time is taken up by strategizing and meetings, closeted away with the rest of the command.
In the world of high-risk crisis comms., in the big leagues, in the initiated circles of JIC survivors who remain witness to disasters so historic they’re remembered by monikers like 9-11, Katrina, Deepwater and Sandy … in this world an axis exists … a pivot point within the JIC that all things rotate around, and it’s NOT THE PIO.
A JIC is a living thing and keeping it alive and healthy requires one heck of a caretaker. What encompasses that caretaker? What qualities does an effective JM possess? The great ones are actually a rare combination of ringmaster, octopus, and psychic. With her many tentacles, she constantly measures, takes the temperature of and evaluates every aspect of what the JIC produces, every affect those products have on the public, then adjusts and corrects accordingly.
Is that video just released being seen and shared by the public? What’s your Media Monitor telling you about the trending public sentiment after that last press conference? Is your new Assistant PIO for Media Relations’ negative attitude becoming a distraction and outweighing his competence? Is the community’s concern growing into outrage at the perception of being ignored by response leadership? Is that Media Relations Specialist crying in the corner in need of a quick walk outside, a new position in the JIC, or a plane ticket home?
A JM makes these decisions continually, directs the implementation of tactics to achieve leadership’s objectives, constantly evaluates, then adjusts the plan accordingly. They recognize when one function of the JIC is acting as a single point of failure, causing what should be a brick house of a JIC to more resemble a house of cards.
- Assess and assign JIC staff to appropriate roles, provide coaching, training.
- Ensure proper organization of and coordinate internal information flow within the JIC.
- Be familiar with all JIC forms, command staff meetings and daily ICP schedule
- Oversee all operations of the JIC; set JIC staff working hours and daily operating schedule.
- Conduct morning and evening briefings, coordinate with section chiefs within the command post to assure JIC is fully integrated where it needs to be.
- Experience – Not rank, pay grade or current position in the company or organization. This is experience gained in the trenches of actual incidents. Someone with a lot of “exercise experience” is great, but there’s no replacement for actual incident experience. Also, bear in mind the JM needs to be able to step into the PIO role at any time.
- Leadership ability– the best JM can make decisions based on the big picture and for the good of the response. They have to hire and fire people based on their capability of filling JIC positions, then deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise. In turn, if a more experienced, better-suited JM is available, they will step aside gracefully when asked by the PIO and offer their assistance as assigned.
- Training – aside from JIC training, extensive ICS training and familiarity with positions, meetings, forms, protocols, and general best practices across the Command Post is a necessity.