Being an emergency public information officer is a job where you never know where you will end up. One day, you will be in front of a homeowner's association group, helping people make their disaster plans. The next, you could be attending a drill at your city or county's emergency operations center. Then, there are those times when you are out on the scene, working with the incident commander, members of the media and public, helping everyone stay safe and get the information they need.
To that end, there are countless numbers of tools available to the public information officer. Satellite phones. Mobile joint information centers. Drones.
For me, though, there are three items I wouldn't be caught without while doing my job. Sure, maybe they aren't the high-tech, next generation gadgets, but they serve me very well:
- Cargo Pants. For my colleagues in the uniformed services (military, police, fire), you probably don't get a chance to choose what you will be wearing on scene. But, if you do have the choice, a pair of cargo pants is indispensable. The type I wear are made of heavy canvas and have 14 pockets in them, plenty of room for a notepad, pencils, extra cell phone battery, media call lists, a flashlight ... the works. Even in the hot Florida sun, I still go with these, because you never know when you will be someplace where sharp objects can be found - debris fields after tornadoes and hurricanes are notorious.
- A smart phone. Yes, a good smart phone can allow you to make calls and text. But, newer, more capable smart phones also give you the ability to e-mail, post to social media, video conference, take photos and videos, edit those videos, navigate by GPS and - during your down time - listen to music or watch a movie. In November of 2012, during my deployment to New York City after Hurricane Sandy, I was able to do interviews with the local Tampa Bay media via Skype to give our local residents updates on our efforts.
- A paper copy of important contacts. Call me old school, but there's nothing quite like holding on to a paper copy of phone numbers for my organizations key points of contact and media outlets. Yes, I have them electronically on my smart phone, iPad and laptop. I even store a copy in the cloud. But, when the chips are down and I need to get in touch with someone quickly, it's not easy to talk on the phone and look up numbers at the same time. I print out a new copy monthly or whenever there is a significant update to the contact list, just in case.
Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist