Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're in this together

Tomorrow marks the 13th anniversary of the deadliest act of terrorism in United States history.  As the planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, people worldwide sat, transfixed, watching these events unfold on live television.

Then Mayor Rudy Guiliani and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a news conference following the attacks
For the responders in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania that day, the challenges were manifold. First, there was the act of responding to protect life and safety during a chaotic and confusing time. Added to that were the challenges of doing this response in front of the unblinking eye of the media and communicating the important public safety messages in order to keep people out of harm's way.

The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia shortly after the attack
That unforgettable day will forever be burned into our memories. And, when we think about that day, it's difficult to forget that other towns and cities went through similar traumas. Whether it was Hurricane Katrina bringing New Orleans to its knees, the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City or the Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Virginia, whenever the call has gone out to respond to the unthinkable, brave responders have waded in to help bring their communities back from the brink of chaos.

New Yorkers react emotionally watching the events unfold in Manhattan
One day, during a joint public information officer meeting we have in our county, a PIO from one of our cities asked what would happen if an Aurora, Colorado movie theater type shooting took place in his jurisdiction - where would the help come from?

That's when we as a group had an epiphany ... when something bad happens in our communities, it is the local officials who will step to the fore to take control of the situation. While our law enforcement and fire rescue communities have mutual assistance compacts in place, what about our public information teams?  As event as small as an accident on an arterial road may require the assistance from your colleagues, and a large impact event may leave you scrambling for help in a very difficult situation.

Now is the time to make those connections. Call a meeting of your local PIO colleagues. Get to know them and how to reach them. We can't do it by ourselves. Together, we are stronger. The time you invest now in making these connections will pay dividends when you need them most.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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