Ep 28: Importance of the PIO

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Episode 28: Importance of the Public Information Officer

A discussion about the Public Information Officer and why it is critical in Active Shooter Event Response

Bill Godfrey:

Welcome back to our next podcast. Today's topic, we are going to talk about the public information officer and the role of media and press briefings and social media, oh my, in an active shooter event. Thanks for joining us. My name is Bill Godfrey. I'm the host of the podcast. One of the instructors here at C3 Pathways. I've got, joining me today, three of the other instructors, Harry Jimenez.

Harry Jimenez:

Hello, Bill. Thank you for having me.

Bill Godfrey:

Thanks, Harry, for being here. I appreciate it. And we've got Adam Pendley. Adam, thanks for being here today.

Adam Pendley:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Bill Godfrey:

And of course, somebody that's familiar to our audience, Mark Rhame. Mark, thanks for coming back in.

Mark Rhame:

Thank you for having me.

Bill Godfrey:

So years ago, when we first started this process and began working on active shooter incident management and actually for several years of the first generation to the checklist, PIO wasn't on it. And we finally hit a point where we were like ... And the reason for that was ... I guess, I should explain that. The reason was the checklist was predominantly focused around those actions that you needed to tend to in the first 20 to 30 minutes. And we just, at the time, didn't see PIO as being one of those immediate actions that was necessary. But this wonderful little thing called social media changed all of that. And number of years ago, we added PIO as one of the early actions. And Adam, if I remember correctly, you had an active shooter event that you were on where social media played a huge issue very early on in the incident. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Adam Pendley:

Sure. The incident itself actually involved an online gaming event. So the shooting was actually streamed live as part of the event. Of course, that live feed went silent very quickly. But then immediately thereafter, hundreds, if not thousands of people that were watching this event started tweeting and commenting about what they just saw. So we had information making it out to the mainstream media about an incident that occurred at this event even as first responders were arriving on the scene initially.

It was a very exact example of how you're already behind the information curve when you're on scene. With that event not only being streamed live with social media, but like all events, everyone carries a phone. Kids and adults that are at these scenes. They see things, their live streaming. And I think we just saw that again recently in one of the recent active shooter events that there was a young man that was streaming live as law enforcement was arriving. So there's a lot of information that is already being broadcast, that is already being twisted, that is already behind what the real information that a law enforcement needs to get out quickly.

Bill Godfrey:

And while that's a great example of it happening and there may be some listeners that are thinking, “Okay, yeah, but that's a one-off. You're not going to typically have a livestream event, sporting event or some sort of venue where you've already got press and media and everything else.” But Harry, Mark, I'm sorry, yeah, Harry, Mark, Adam, when we think about school events, you got typical school size, what? 500, 1,000 kids, pretty easy, just about everywhere, whether it's elementary or high school, and almost all of them walking around with cell phones. An event goes down, a lockdown goes down ... I don't know, my daughter certainly ... My youngest daughter who's finishing up high school certainly has left me with the impression that they know the difference when it's a drill and when it's not. And I got to imagine the amount of traffic that goes out. What do you guys think? Is that pretty reasonable issue?

Harry Jimenez:

Absolutely. We've seen it in the recent school shootings. It just takes a minute to realize that you have videos of sounds of the shooting, the actions inside the classrooms, and even the evacuation when police arrive. All of this have been captured on videos and have been uploaded in multiple social medias throughout the last couple of years. And once again, like you said, in the beginning, when we put together this checklist, social media was not as prevalent as it's been in the last, you call it, last 10 years. There's been an explosion, growth exponentially in the multiple, different venues.

Mark Rhame:

And I agree. I mean, the majority of my career there was a no cell phone. No one carried a phone around with them. So when an event occurred, there was no instantaneous messaging to their loved ones or friends telling them something just occurred at this location. And I'm not law enforcement, I'm Fire EMS, But I've see it when you have events nowadays when it gets flooded. The scene gets flooded with civilians responding to their loved ones. They are curious. Maybe they want to be that remote media person so they can post it on their own blog. We're seeing that flood of people coming to the scene. Where in the past, we probably didn't worry about that in the initial 15-20 minutes because there wasn't that impact. It didn't occur.

So this is a new world that we're dealing with in the last 10-15 years with these cell phone, live feeds. And law enforcement have to set up their parameters very, very quickly. Otherwise, their scenes' going to get flooded and it's going to be very difficult to control.

Bill Godfrey:

So I think we've done a pretty good job of explaining the reason, the need. You can't control this. You can't stop it. There's no policing it. You're not going to prevent. It is going to be out there and out of control before you even get your first arriving units on scene. You might get two or three on scene, but it's going to be out there really, really fast and you're going to have to contend with it. So I think we've made our case there.

Let's talk a little bit how to manage this. Now, of course, in the ICS system, the public information officer is part of the command staff, reporting to the incident commander. Now, our recommendation is that when you stand up that position, you actually stand them up as a lead PIO to organize a JIC, a Joint Information Center.

Harry, talk a little bit about your experience from the tragic one you dealt with and give people a sense of the scope of the media and why it can't just be one PIO.

Harry Jimenez:

Thank you, Bill. The incident Bill's speaking about is Sutherland Springs shooting in November 2017. In the initial hours, being in the rural area, we have the local media. Couple of channels showed up. People that you deal with mostly, you know them. Immediately, they basically made it all the way to the crime scene. It took a little bit of conversation and because you know them, they're willing to work with you and move a little far away and allow you to create a parameter and secure that crime scene.

However, after the third hour, then you start getting a lot of older news outlet. Some of them national outlets. And those national outlets can't care less about your local community. They do not care about your crime scene. They do not care about the local community or how they feel or what's happening. They want a shot. They want to be able to interview somebody. They're going to be pushing a microphone in front of people and-

Bill Godfrey:

They want their rating

Harry Jimenez:

They want their ratings. And like Mark was saying, if you don't set up that parameter fast in the initial time, you're never going to be able to gain it again. We saw in Sutherland Springs, by the time that we have our number four, we were almost basically pushing back two dozen cameras and reporters.

By the time that we were able to set up the first official press conference in which we were ready with several public information officer from some of the public officials, they bring their own public information officers, we have to get everybody inside the location, set up a briefing, determine the message that we wanted to get out as incident command, as law enforcement to the community. And once you agree over that message and control the information. You have to feed the beast, right? You have to give them something, but you have to be careful what you give them because whatever piece of information you give to the press, they're going to run with that. And you have to be accurate, you have to be knowledgeable of what you're saying, and you don't want to damage the investigation.

Then it comes the twist. In our case was the governor's office calling saying, “Governor Abbott's going to show up.” Now, you have to stop all that movement and put the 50 or 60 news outlet that now you have there and try to find a location that you can move them away from your crime scene to be able to have that conversation. Not an easy task. It takes a lot of up of political capital, if you may. You have to ask for a lot of favors. And sometimes, you have to have a good state troopers that push back that parameter.

Adam Pendley:

Sure. Bill, the thing that's interesting here is we've described how far behind you are even before the incident has gotten underway. And then Harry's talking about how big it's going to get. And so I think the interesting thing that jurisdictions need to consider is, what do you do in that immediate, to get ahead of it quickly? And I think if you take something from the ASIM program that we teach. If you have a scripted message that you can train multiple people on how to give out that information, that has standard language, a standard quick numbers, standard tactical information. Meaning, strategy for us. Where do we want people to go? Where is reunification? Where is the media briefing location?

So some standard things that are in a script that whether it's Sunday morning, like in Sutherland Springs, 1:00 o'clock in the morning for a late night supermarket shooting, or any other time in between, you may be waiting for your PIOs to get there and you need to get something out quickly. So I think developing a quick script that any on duty supervisor or even anyone from your partner agencies, Fire EMS can get out quickly so you're ... Stop the gap between, you're already behind the curve and onslaught that you're about to see.

Bill Godfrey:

Mark, something Adam mentioned, with the timelines and getting the message out. Talk a little bit about the importance and the challenge of pulling together that initial briefing.

Mark Rhame:

I would say that it has to do with how critical that environment is. Because, of course, let me revert back to my fire rescue environment, my history of my time on the job full time, is that we were all about that critical message going out very, very quickly. Because if you don't, what's going to happen is ... I mean, the media is going to seek other sources of that information, and most of it's wrong. And the problem then is your spending a lot of your time beyond that, correcting the message they sent out. So if you can get ahead of that curve, get that message out quickly.

I can tell you historically, for the department that I spend the majority of my time in, we up trained or trained all of our battalion chiefs and above, our combat troops to do that initial message while they were still on the scene. We did not want them to pack up and go home without meeting with the media that arrived on that scene and have that battalion chief to run that scene or assistant chief to run that scene and give the initial message. Basically, we used a template.

They were trained on what that message should be and should not be, what the information you don't want to give them initially, but that template gave them enough information. And it was so successful that after a while the media was using our basically first briefing verbatim when they published it. When you see that, you're going, “Well, it's working.” Because they didn't vary from what we were saying.

Harry Jimenez:

Absolutely. Having a template saves you a headache. It keeps you on on topic. It keeps you on the theme. It keeps you with the information that you want to provide, but at the same time, allows you to protect the investigation. If you do not give anything to the press, they're going to fill the gaps with whatever they want. So this is a unique opportunity for first responders to provide the message that we want out.

One of them, “The scene is safe. Stay away from this area.” Reunification, we want to tell them, “Don't come here. Don't look for your loved ones or your friends in this location. Here's the other location. Here's the alternate location where we're going to have reunification. Here's the phone number to call. If you want to help, go to this location and provide your help there.” There's going to be an outpouring of support, but you don't want all these people converging in your crime scene. You already have hundreds of cops and first responders that are going to show up. And depending on what the location, like Adam was saying, if it's a school or it's some kind of a function, there's going to be already a lot of people there and they're going to be bystanders. So you want to be able to use that. That's the template.

There is a video, which if you have the time and you want to see how not to conduct a press conference is after the Fort Hood shooting, the commanding officer on that base decided to do the press. And instead of sticking to a information and a template, he just went off the cuff. And hour and a half later, he was still talking and he was just all over the place. And it's a terrible, terrible thing to do because you may have affected negatively a lot of people including people that didn't know that their loved ones were injured.

Mark Rhame:

But I'll give you the flip side of that. If you don't tell the press or the media some initial information, they're going to seek out their own information. And let me give you an example. And this isn't an active shooter, but it was a structure fire that weighed a fatality. And the initial engine company arrived, hooked up to the hydrant, laid out their line, and it was dry because the hydrant was dead. Now, the crew didn't know this. Obviously, they wouldn't have laid into that hydrant, but the incident commander chose not to talk to the media because of that incident, that hydrant being dead and there was a fatality at this structure fire.

The press took that on their own, started interviewing the bystanders, the local residents, and created their own story. And we spent days, not only trying to correct that initial 5-10 seconds media blast. It was on the lead story for the next couple days. But we had to address every single politician now that thought that we failed in our mission when in fact it wasn't our fault. It was actually the utility that shut down that hydrant. We just weren't aware of it. So if you're not ahead of the curve, you're going to be behind and it's probably going to be days where you correct that issue.

Bill Godfrey:

We talked a little bit about the template and as I think Adam mentioned, we have one that we cover in the ASIM class. Adam, I'm going to ask you to role play this with me. I'm going to read off the template as if I'm PIO and then let you do the part of the incident commander.

Hello, I'm Bill Godfrey, public information officer for this incident. Names and titles of the speakers will be provided in written form after the briefing. Before we start, let me stress that all information we are about to discuss is preliminary and subject to change. Again, this is an ongoing investigation. Everything is preliminary and subject to change.

At approximately 1:30 today, one suspect began shooting multiple people at the First Street Mall. We have one suspect who was neutralized. There is no active threat at the scene. We want everyone to avoid the First Street Mall area. At this time, we have approximately two dead, five injured, and more than a hundred survivors. We are working hard to reunite survivors with loved ones and provide information to families as quickly as possible. This is a complex incident and it's going to take time. We have survivors assistance en route to aid survivors. Investigators have begun their work to understand what happened. We do not believe other assailants are at large. We are investigating whether anyone else was involved in the incident, but we do not believe other assailants are at large. We will release updates on the investigation as approved by the incident commander. I would like to introduce the Incident Commander, Adam Pendley, who will briefly answer a few of your questions.

Adam Pendley:

Our community has experienced a tragedy today. This is an extremely difficult time to families, to survivors, and the responders. We are heartbroken, but as responders we have important duties ahead of us. We must secure the scene, provide quick and accurate information to those affected, thoroughly investigate the incident, and begin the recovery process. There is a lot of work to do, so I am only going to take a few questions.

Bill Godfrey:

And Mark and Harry, I'm going to ask you guys to shout, or not shout in the mics. We don't want to hurt anybody's ears. But ask Adam the questions as you would normally do in training, and then I'm going to eventually cut that off.

Mark Rhame:

I've got a question for you. Is there any other threats in the city that you're aware of?

Adam Pendley:

We are not aware of any additional threats at this time. We know this scene is safe, but we do not have any reason to believe there are additional threats at this time.

Harry Jimenez:

We heard that there were some casualties. How many people died and were there any injured? Were they taken to the hospital? Which hospitals?

Adam Pendley:

We are not going to release which hospitals at this time, but there are two dead and five injured at this time. And again, we are working to get the best information possible to those families as quickly as possible.

Mark Rhame:

What's the name of the shooter and what was his motivation? Why did he do this? And is there any other people that he's been working with that you're aware of?

Adam Pendley:

Most of that information is still under investigation and not able to be released at this time.

Harry Jimenez:

Yes. We would like to know, was an AR-15 used and was this weapon legal?

Bill Godfrey:

Okay, that's all we have time for. I'm going to cut off our press conference. Our Incident Commander is still very busy. We're early in the incident. He needs to get back to the command post. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. We'll be back in 30 minutes with an update. We'll give you more then. And that's it.

That's an example from our template that we have in the class, where we would typically do that preliminary read in. Now, sometimes, you may not be able to get the incident commander to the podium with you, but I will tell you, it only takes a few minutes. They don't need to take a lot of questions but just to show that face and have that power team between the public information officer, and then somebody representing the incident commander if it's not the incident commander himself. Maybe the deputy incident commander, but put a face to it let. Let the PIO manage the press and know when to cut it off. That's the biggest thing that we see in training in a regular bid is you get somebody that gets out there, they a misstep, they misspeak, they get themselves into trouble.

Adam Pendley:

One of the things that on that note that I have found to be very helpful is again, in the same template, there is a list of commonly asked questions and how to respond because no comment is bad. There are the same number of general questions that the media will typically ask of these types of events. And so it's okay to be honest and straightforward and say, “That information is still under investigation, we are not going to release it at this time.” As opposed to no comment. That looks evasive. So it's very helpful to also script out some commonly asked questions.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. And we've actually done that as well. I was just going to say, Adam, that's a perfect segue into this. Let's talk a little bit about some of the frequently asked questions that we heat at these things. Harry, do any of them stick out in your mind from your experience?

Harry Jimenez:

Usually they want to know name and address of the shooter, anybody that helped him. And then after that first part, I call them, they go into the crazy, which is the type of weapon that was used. Was his weapon acquired legally? Do we know where it was purchased? And then more bizarre are the ones that go into, “Oh, we're going to talk about Second Amendment issues here.” And there's no way to win on those. So those usually stick out.

Mark Rhame:

Yeah. That's why I think the PIO managers got to do their job by briefing that incident commander, and making sure they know that there's going to be some hot topic questions they got to be prepared for. It maybe that it's still under investigation, as Adam said. But again, what's the hot topic right now? Is it immigration? Is it gun control? All that sort of stuff is probably going to be surfaced. And as a PIO manager, you got to be prepared to hook that person or have a scripted response ready for them, because that's their job. They should be seeing the social media trends, what's being asked out there. They should be seeing people actually blogging right now about that incident you're going to address, and you got to be prepared for those answers, because they're going to ask them. They're going to give you those questions that you don't want to respond to and you got to figure out how are you going to respond to it.

Bill Godfrey:

Yeah. One of the most important pieces of advice I had a pre-seasoned reporter give me one time, talking about doing press briefings. They said number one ... Well, first they said ... I'll deny telling you any of this if you ever say it. Then they said, number one, you do not have to accept the question as it was asked or posed by the reporter. You do not have to accept that posit. Because often, they will structure question in a way where it's a got you question no matter. For an example, “When did you quit beating your wife?” There's no way to win that. And so just because they asked the question, you don't have to answer it.

And then of course, I like what the politicians do. They don't really care what question you ask, “Oh, I'm so glad. You should have asked the question that I wanted you ask, so that's what I'm going to answer.” And the next thing, you're sitting there, looking at them going, “Wait a minute, that has nothing to do with what I asked.” Well, you know what? That's that's sometimes how you have to handle these things, know where to pivot.

But a couple of the ones that stick on my mind that I think come up often is, “Have you identified the suspect?” We've got three answers there and I kind of want to walk through these and I want take a second to talk about one of them. The one answer is, “We are working on it.” Or, “It's under investigation.” Another answer is, “Yes, but we're not releasing that information yet.” Don't leave them any place to go. And then the third one, and this is one I'd like to take a minute to talk about why. The answer is, “Yes, we will provide that information to you however, we will not give one ounce of notoriety to the suspect by using their name in our briefings. We ask that you join us in preventing that notoriety by minimizing your use of the suspect's name in your reporting.”

Now, we all, sitting around the table, know why that is, but let's talk about that a little bit. Harry, what's the history behind that?

Harry Jimenez:

Absolutely. What we see every time that we have one of these events that hurts a community, we have the press immediately start broadcasting the name of the suspect, of the shooter. First of all, you're giving them what they want, the attention. Many of them, that's what they want. They're doing it for the attention. And number two, you have the copycat. What we have seen is every time that we have one of these incidents, you have the potential of other individuals just looking at how much attention and press and the name, glorifying the actions. That might be just the little bit of push that they needed to actually go and do what they've been thinking about doing.

Adam Pendley:

Sure. And we've seen from previous incidents that some of these shooters have expressed the idea that they wanted to outdo ones that have come before. And so it's that recognition that negatively reinforces what they intend to do. But I think in addition to that, every time a survivor hears that person's name again, they get re-injured from the original attack. And that's just what the attacker wanted, is to put that hurt out there. And if we can, in any way, intercept that, I think it's not only our duty as first responders, but it's also our duty to ask the media to honor that.

Bill Godfrey:

Agree. Let's pivot to a slightly different topic. Another favorite question that seems to come up a lot is, “Was this terrorism?” It's interesting, the connotation that that takes on. I know my wife and I have this rather fruitless discussion almost every time it comes up. “Oh, that was terrorism.” Well, no, it's not quite that simple. Here's the answer we have for, was it terrorism?

Understand for law enforcement, terrorism has a specific legal definition. A determination of terrorism is made by the Attorney General, not by local law enforcement. We will not speculate. Next question.

Harry Jimenez:

And that is outstanding because I'm going to mention the most recent incident that we have. Someone rammed into one of the barriers in the Capitol, in the U.S. Capitol. It was immediate that the name was released. Immediately, the press went to do what? Google search of the individual; Facebook account, snapshot of whatever the person was posting. And before the casualties were removed from the area, they were already talking about motives and the attribute motive on the fly. Just because a posting or a name or-

Bill Godfrey:

You mean they were speculating?

Harry Jimenez:

Exactly. Go figure. The press will never do that. That doesn't help anyone. This is just completely bizarre because they take a lot of liberties writing about what it is, but if you sit down and talk to some of the reporters and ask them, “Can you define terrorism for me according to the Attorney General of the United States?” They're not able to.

Adam Pendley:

And on top of that, if you are too quick to call it terrorism and then those agencies that are legally responsible to investigate terrorism are unable to take the case because it does not meet their definition, now you have created a conflict that didn't need to be there.

Bill Godfrey:

And you mentioned the definition of terrorism. That's another one in our FAQ. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Which is kind of interesting when you think a lot about what's going on the last year and a half for that definition, but I don't want to linger there.

Mark, any of the questions or FAQs that kind of stick out in your mind?

Mark Rhame:

I think the thing that gets me when we talk about it or I see something on the media, we talked about this in class, is that we're good I think, at controlling our own environment. If you're the manager of the PIO, you're the lead JIC manager and you're briefing your leadership team, if they're going to get in front of microphone of what you should say and what you shouldn't say. Of course, they can go their own their path, is when you get the elected official up there, and Bill, you talked about that earlier, that goes down their own path. And then you're you're sitting there going, “I'm going to be spending days trying to correct this because that is not what occurred. That is not what we're dealing with.”

Again, I think it's very important that JIC manager, that lead PIO really get with your people and try to establish kind of that rules, how we're going to play this game. Again, the incident commander could take their own path. They really can overrule you and say, “No, that's not what I'm going to say.” And again, the politicians are going to try to go down the path that pads their side, if you will, depending if they're on the left or the right. They're going to pad their side and take their direction. But again as that lead manager of the PIO, you really need to do your job and try to control that environment the best you can.

Bill Godfrey:

Absolutely. And so I want to come back to dealing with the elected officials and the briefings on that. Before I do that though, I want to share with the group, Mark and I have since learned this for a while back, but something that came a little surprise to us as Fire EMS folks, is that there is information that law enforcement will deliberately withhold. I don't mean they'll just say, “We're not discussing that.” They won't even acknowledge that they know or aware of things and will purposefully sensor, if you will, what is allowed to be released and be briefed. Adam, can you talk a little bit about that kind of stuff and why that is?

Adam Pendley:

Sure. So if there are outstanding suspects, the manner of injury may be part of the case that only the shooter would know. And sometimes, we wouldn't release that. And then of course, from a Fire EMS perspective, talking about the nature or number of gunshot wounds might just seem like a commonly released information and it interferes with the law enforcement investigation. So that's a real issue, but that comes back to the idea of trying to quickly establish a joint information center where you have all agencies speaking one voice.

Harry Jimenez:

And that's very important, Adam. And you mentioned before that we have to be honest working on passing information to the press, but it has to be accurate. It has to be timely. And if we make a mistake, we have to correct it immediately. But it's important to prepare everyone. It doesn't matter what their rank is. This is one of those situations where somebody in that JIC has to take that position of, “Here's the information. Incident Commander, you're going to approve this.” And if the incident commander doesn't approve it, it doesn't go out. And those are the inner battles. This is the reason why we recommend that you take all the public information officers from each of the entities, be it the [inaudible 00:33:09] entities, the state and locals, all the politicians. Bring them inside a location away from the command post and hash it out, have that conversation. Make sure there's an understanding. And then there's only one statement, one voice, one message, approved.

Bill Godfrey:

And let me clarify, he's saying put them into a room and lock the door and don't let them come out until they all agree to a message that the incident commander has approved, that they're all going to go from. Adam, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

Adam Pendley:

No, that's okay. And I think that's also important to have that conversation before the critical incident happens. Because once emotion takes over, the elected official for that area is going to want to release information because they want to show that they're engaged and responsive, but they need to understand that it's important for them to work with the one voice concept as well.

Bill Godfrey:

And Mark, that brings ... Go ahead.

Mark Rhame:

But you also don't want to alienate those people even though they have their own message. Because if you alienate them, they're going to go ahead and give their own message. So somehow you got to bring them into the fold and get them involved in that common message. Because otherwise, you're going to be competing messages from different entities that you didn't bring in. Like Harry was saying earlier, you got to bring them together. You got to come up with that common message that's going to go out in the field, especially that initial one.

Harry Jimenez:

And what I have done in the past is I make sure that, manage the egos, right? I get everybody involved. Once we have the PIOs agreeing on the message, we make sure that the one person talking, maybe the most senior ranking individual or if it's law enforcement, whoever has the jurisdiction, and then stand right behind them or around that person to wrestle those politicians, those city officials, county officials. So everybody has an opportunity to be in front of the camera, but you have one person talking. In that way, that balances out what Mark was saying, trying to acknowledge, yes, you're important, yes, you have a message to say, but everybody is together. Just the fact that you're standing next to that individual talking, it's telling the press, “We're all in this together.”

Bill Godfrey:

And that brings me back to where I was going before, when you talked about briefing the elected officials, whether that private briefing to the elected official is done by the liaison or done by the PIO, what do you share with them? And here's how the conversation typically goes, “How many dead are there?” “No, we're not disclosing that.” “I know. I won't say it. How many dead are there?” “Well, we're not disclosing that.” “I understand that, Chief. I want to know how many dead and how many kids are involved. I understand. I'm not going to discuss it at the press briefing. I'm not going to disclose that.” And then you tell them, and then the next thing you know is it comes out.

And I will say honestly, I don't think it comes out deliberately. I don't think they do that deliberately. It's stressful. You stand up in front of that podium with all those bright lights snapping on and people shouting questions at you and all the noise. It's very easy to get rattled and confused. But if they know, it's going to come out. And so the incident commander ultimately ends up needing to make a decision of, are we going to hold the hard line and not tell them no matter what? Which can have some downstream repercussions. Or, are we going to go ahead and disclose that and then take the chance that, like Mark said, we're going to have different message just come out and things like that?

So I'd like to hear each of your thoughts and opinions on that. Mark, why don't we start with you and we'll go around the table?

Mark Rhame:

It's an incredibly emotional press conference. I mean, frankly, for any one of us, especially if you were on the scene initially and were involved in that carnage, involved in that active shooter environment, and especially ... I always go relate back to kids for some reason. That's that thing that clicks. But when you see someone that is young in age that has been taken before their time, that's difficult to get there in front of a microphone much less in a normal situation where you're standing in front of the press. That's that emotional trigger that may be very difficult to handle.

But when you're talking to a politician or some other leadership and you're still having a scene that's under investigation and you're trying to put all the pieces together and you're not ready to release that information, my personal opinion is, and it's kind of easy for me to say this, sitting in front of microphone in this sterile environment, but you don't release the information to him. Because as you said, Bill, more likely they're going to slip up or they're going to tell when their staff members, and guess what? That staff member has a friend in the media that it's going to get released. That unknown, reliable source that they're starting to quote.

So if you don't want it released, don't tell anyone. You know, “It's still under investigation.” You know, “We're following our policy.” And here's a little thing you can do for your politicians and of course, you'll have to play everyone exactly the same is that, “Sir, ma'am, you're my favorite, you're going to be the first person I'm going to call. You're that person I'm going to call first because I know you're going to get the right statement out and- ”

Bill Godfrey:

You never did that, did you?

Mark Rhame:

No, not at all. Then of course, you call them all at the same time, put them on speakerphone, and you know.

Harry Jimenez:

This cannot be the first time that you're saying this.

Bill Godfrey:

Adam?

Adam Pendley:

Sure. And I think in that conversation, you may have to go one step further and say, “The reunification and the care that the next of kin needs takes time and I think it's unfair to release information to others before we take care of them.” And so I think if you're able to give an elected official that one more true, not sentimental, but the true heartfelt reason why that information should not be released right now, I think that might be able to defuse that conversation.

Bill Godfrey:

I like that. It's kind of an emotional speaking point to come back to that even they could repeat ...

Adam Pendley:

Right.

Bill Godfrey:

...to say why they're not. Harry?

Harry Jimenez:

For me, I actually have to appeal to their feelings, right? So in my incident, they were asking all these questions: how many, their ages, the sex, how many impacts, how many times they were shot. And we allow them to ask because we have them all together once we decided the message. And of course, remember, my incident happened in one county. The church was in one county, one city. The shooter was neutralized in the second county or the second city and he live in the third county in a third city. So we're dealing with three county judges, three district attorneys, three city mayors, three chiefs of police, and then the governor showed up. What can possibly go wrong?

So when this questions came up and they were trying to break their own people based on, “I am who I am. You need to tell me.” I appeal into the, “Sir, we are in a recovery mission right now. There are a lot of families that have been impacted by this tragedy. You are a public figure. You are the glue that's going to keep this community together. We need you, I need you to help me get this message out. I really need you to go with this piece of paper that I'm giving you and help us start the healing with the community and helping everyone. And we'll get to those numbers, but right now, we're really behind. We need your help.” And when you appeal to their help and their humanity, mysteriously, they like it. And they will go off, they will go off that piece of paper. But because they don't have that information available, they don't commit it.

Especially if you have a politician that is a lawyer, then appeal it with the law. “Here's the crime scene. Here's the information we have. This is what we need to protect. You understand this, you're a lawyer, you are a prosecutor. I really need you here.” And that tends to work out. It worked out for us and we were able to control a lot of that information going out.

Bill Godfrey:

I like it. Three different perspectives and three great tips. I might add going in there. All right. We're running a little bit long guys, but there's one more place I want to take us before we leave this one. And that's on the social media and the idea of not only mining social media to figure out what misinformation is trending and at what point does the incident commander need to react to that and have the Joint Information Center prepare a message to counter that in this information, but also let's talk about the role of the Joint Information Center in mining that social media for witness information, for intel, for what might become evidence, the videos and things like that. Adam, can you lead us off on that one?

Adam Pendley:

Sure. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that most agencies have gotten really good at using social media to get out a message, but it shouldn't just be a one-way loudspeaker. You have to be able to listen at what's coming back as well. So not necessarily to respond to every of crackpot remark that is made in the comment section however, there could be very good information in there. And then of course, investigators are becoming more and more adept at actually looking at the social media both before and after, obviously, to figure out the motive and stuff. But again, when you're broadcasting information, it cannot just be a one-way voice into the darkness.

Mark Rhame:

I agree with that. I mean, I'll take that one step further in regards to that crackpot person who's going onto your site, is that don't respond to him. Because you respond to him, that's a never ending battle that everybody's going get engaged in. Frankly, they make their statement. It's public record. It's on your site. Leave it alone. We all know there's going to be people out there with their own conspiracy theories. You can't stop. There's no way you can stop that. The only thing you can do for an organization is get ahead of it and only tell the truth. If you make a mistake, correct that mistake and own the mistake. But make sure that you're telling the truth out there.

And social medias, as you said before, Adam and Bill, it's a two-way street because that JIC, that lead PIO's got to tell the incident manager what they're hearing. If you're not telling them what you're hearing out there, what is the hot topics, they're going to be put on the spot and you're responsible for that because you knew better. So if you hear something, tell your incident manager or incident commander and say, “This is what we're hearing out there. This is what the trends are. You're going to get this question. Be prepared for it, or don't respond because it's under investigation, but it's up to you.”

Bill Godfrey:

I think that's a great point. Harry, if you were my lead PIO coming in and you said, “Hey, there's a couple of posts here that are saying, claiming the officers executed the suspect, that he was trying to surrender.” Or something like that. I'm probably not going to get too excited about that. Like Mark, I think I'm going to probably park that under the heading of the conspiracy theory and not worry about it. You walk back in 20 minutes later and say, “That post is now trending. It's got you know, 10,000 views. It grew legs. There's a group talking about starting to go protest at City Hall.” That's a different animal.

Harry Jimenez:

Completely different animal. And remember, that lead PIO, among his or her responsibilities are to prepare that incident commander or that public official. That is part of their responsibilities, to get them ready, to make sure that they know and say, “Hey, here's the possibility this topic is coming.” And if it's something that is trending like that, we need to correct that immediately.

Mark Rhame:

Actually, this doesn't address what you're talking about, Harry, but I think this is an example you've brought up in the past in regard to a press conferences, in regard to live feeds. Can you talk about that? Didn't you have an incident where someone actually did the live Facebook feed or something like that, and how can we be prepared for that?

Harry Jimenez:

Yeah. We're talking about social media, and this is another thing for preparing that public official like Bill was saying or that incident commander. There's never an off the record with any reporter ever. Because now with social media, right there after approaching you to talk, they're broadcasting live. You have a Facebook Live, you have Zoom, you have two different platforms that they're going to be broadcasting at the moment. And there's never that off the record. On the country, that can get you in a world of trouble because if you're not aware that they were broadcasting, you don't even know how many hundreds of thousands of people are actually listening and watching you in that interaction. And that can take sideways the whole situation.

Mark Rhame:

It's not like the old days, where they set up a camera, put a microphone in your face. Now, they're just holding that phone in front of your face like they're talking or something or being prepared. They're live feeding.

Bill Godfrey:

Mark, I'll take that a step further. So a very dear friend of mine and in North Carolina was relating to me that exact incident. They were getting ready to do a press conference. They had a fairly graphic scene. Fairly horrible incident with some fatalities. It's fairly somber. They're getting ready to do a press conference. This is, I don't know, probably three or four hours post incident. They're lining up to do the gaggle and the reporters are getting their cameras together. They're getting their microphone setup. They're setting up their tripods. And the reporters are kind of almost joking back and forth a little bit with the folks, and he didn't even notice the tripod that had the iPad setup that was pointed at it that was live streaming on Facebook Live the entire thing. And it captured conversations that were never intended to be public. It captured off the cuff comments. It captured some of that...

Quite frankly, as responders, this stuff is tough to cope with and responders are kind of notorious for having a dark sense of humor because what the hell else are you going to do? You got to find a coping mechanism. It was unfortunate. It was unfortunate. It's very frustrating. And the reporter never gave them a clue, not a clue. Almost, I don't want to say baited them, but I don't know what else you'll call it.

Mark Rhame:

Set them up.

Adam Pendley:

Sure. And I think I also just on that subject, you've seen a trend years ago when you guys were in the fire service, it was almost against the rules to show a graphic picture of an injury. Car tags were blurred out, things like that. The media was really cooperative at protecting the public from such images. That has trended the other direction now. Even on mainstream media channels, you often see more graphic things that you would have never imagined. So it's just something to think about for as we set up our crime scenes as well, that we have to protect the scene from being broadcast in all its unfortunate goriness.

Bill Godfrey:

Absolutely. All right. Let's get this one wrapped up. Final thoughts? Mark, anything?

Mark Rhame:

I think it really boils down to [inaudible 00:48:43] size of your organization. If you're going to have someone appointed as your PIO, this is something you got to train. You got to actually get with the incident commanders before that incident occurs and talk about your parameters and how you're going to handle this. Because when the big one hits, there's a lot of motion there and you need to be prepared for that ahead of time. And I would tell you again, from my history, the department I was with the longest period of time where we engaged our battalion chiefs and above to do that initial press briefing on auto accidents, on structure fires, and stuff like that, it got us prepared to be engaged to the media in the right direction. So I think training and getting all of your people that are going to be in those roles involved ahead of time is going to make you a winner, is going to keep you ahead of the curve.

Bill Godfrey:

Adam, final thoughts.

Adam Pendley:

Real quick. I think the media is on a deadline all the time, and so they're looking for something to write and say. And if we give them something that's clear, consistent, and accurate, they'll take that instead of making things up.

Bill Godfrey:

Harry?

Harry Jimenez:

I'm going echo Adam. They have a 24-hour cycle to fill and they're going to go for anything and everything, so have an outline, a template, be clear, be honest, and practice.

Bill Godfrey:

Gentlemen, thank you so very much. It was a great conversation. I really enjoyed it. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for tuning in. If you have not subscribed to the podcast already, please click the subscribe button wherever you listen to your podcast or consume them. Until next time, stay safe. We'll see you soon.

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