On Crisis Communication Job Aids

If someone ever says to you, “I don’t think Brewer likes job aids very much,” that person would be wrong, and has probably never spent more than a few minutes with me in a professional setting.

I love job aids! Well, I love well designed and field-proven job aids. I love ’em so much that I feel emotional pain when I see people struggling with a process at a critical incident or during a training exercise, and there’s an unopened book or binder full of job aids in front them that would guide them in the right direction.

I don’t know what the psychology is behind why people sometimes don’t hit the easy button and pull out the job aid designed specifically to guide them through process X, Y or Z. Maybe they’ve never used it before? Maybe they forgot about it? I’ve been sharing public information and crisis communication job aids with people for decades, so it can be frustrating when all the proselytizing is for naught, situationally. I was looking at one yesterday (pictured), and it dawned on me – maybe sometimes we’re just socializing them wrong.

Let’s use this simple checklist as an example, and maybe you’ll agree that if this is presented as just an incident response job aid, we’d be doing the potential user a disservice. It is an incident response job aid, but it’s also a strategic and tactical planning job aid. Many of the actions to be completed here require training or other information, received before being used at “the real deal.” Let’s look at this public information officer (PIO) checklist closer:

1. Check in with the initial PIO or incident commander (IC). This requires knowledge of what you’re supposed to do during that check in process. If you’re relieving a PIO, you need to know how to conduct a debrief; if you’re reporting to the IC, you need to know how that meeting is supposed to go (receiving initial direction, but also negotiating PIO/JIC release authority, making staffing recommendations, etc.).

2. Establishing comms channels. Who is handling these things at the command post? Do you know how to correctly fill out a resource request form? Etc., etc.

3. Gathering and verifying basic information. If we use this checklist correctly, we can look ahead and know that this is probably happening at the “you’re on your own – for now” stage of operations. This would then require basic knowledge of what facts you’re doing to need to successfully conduct external communication, and how you verify them.

4. Using facts to respond to inquiries. Seems simple. Often is. Mode of transmission could be a question here. Call people back? Disseminate a news release? Hold a live media briefing? Etc.

5. Activate assistants. First, you have to know how to acquire resources. When those resources arrive, you need to quickly ascertain their skill levels for any particular job and know how to provide them with initial direction.

6. Permanent JIC location. Again, this requires knowledge of how things get done at a command post, or whatever kind of organization/location at which you’re working. It also requires the foresight of anticipating future needs (e.g., adequate space for a growing organization, best location, etc.).

7. Call for more assistance. As above, among other things, you’ll need that “crystal ball” that lets you see into the near future to figure out what kind of resources you need.

8. Establishing a formal JIC. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about staffing, operating and demobilizing a JIC, but it sure helps. If you’re the PIO, knowing the importance of a JIC Manager would really pay off here.

9. Assign a JIC Manager. Oh, hello there! You have to know what makes a good JIC Manager and how to find the best resource needed for the current crisis.

10. Assign APIOs. See #8 and #9.

11. Finalize JIC location. This will probably be done for you, in coordination with other elements of the incident management team, but you do have to make sure everything is going to work for your team’s current and future needs.

12. Tell people about the JIC. Do you have the means for communicating with everyone who needs to know that a JIC exists, where it is and how to contact people working in it?

Some of these things can be learned through training and exercise; some can be addressed in organizational crisis communication plans. Some you can learn on the road, at an exercise or real incident. I could add many more “what abouts” to each of the 12 steps above, but you get the idea.

The key question to ask now about this – or any other – job aid is, “What else do I need to know or have for this thing to be effective during a critical incident?” Job aids like this one are simple and stimulus/response designed for a reason: during the fog of war period of a real incident (or, heck, during an incident response exercise), they help you to focus and think clearly about processes and procedures that need to be completed.

OK. Next time you’re in the JIC and you’re struggling and you hear someone from across the room yell, “USE THE JOB AID,” that might be me or one of my converts. Prepare in advance.

2 thoughts on “On Crisis Communication Job Aids

  1. I know this is an older book that you got the checklist from, but number 2 is literally screaming for the addition of “official social media accounts.”

    • mmhmm! anyone who doesn’t use a layered approach to get important information out to the public is going to miss some people, depending on where they are operating (and that’s not good!). this seems to be where local and state PIOs have an advantage over federal PIOs, in my opinion – they can *really* know how their communication customers want their news. sometimes feds parachute into an unfamiliar AOR, and have to guess, take steps to figure it out, or (if they’re smart) get in touch with the locals for advice.

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