Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Today, I teach

Today, tomorrow and Friday, I will be away from my office doing something I find very enjoyable - instructing FEMA's G290 Basic Public Information Officer and G291 Joint Information Center/Joint Information System training at our county's emergency operations center. This has to be - by far - one of the best parts of my job.

Wave 'hi' to the camera!
What makes it so much fun? Easy - each class is an opportunity for me to learn from the students who take the class.

I know that may seem counter-intuitive. After all, I'm one of the instructors, supposedly the one with the answers. And, the students are all brand new to the craft, eagerly seeking those answers, right?

That's not always the case. For instance, I can remember the time in 2010 when two of our students had come from Texas. I thought that odd, since we tend to draw only from the Sunshine State. It turns out that these two students were both from the U.S. Army, and had been stationed at Fort Hood during the shooting that killed 13 and wounded 33. The base commander had instructed these two public information officers to take the first class they could attend, and that led them to Clearwater.

The scene at Fort Hood, Texas
Believe me, the stories the two students shared with the class were a lesson that we all learned from.

There are students who come to us as full-time professional public information officers, and those who wear the PIO hat with several others. We have PIOs from large agencies with several colleagues, and those who serve several small agencies.

Some students have just moved to PIO duties after leaving long careers with the media, while others have only the barest experience in media relations. Believe me, there is much to learn from both ends of the spectrum.

I also learn a lot from my co-instructors. Through the years, I have been honored to teach with some of the best public information officers I have ever had the honor of meeting. Carl Fowler. Louis Fernandez. Bob Lasher. Holley Wade. And, her husband - and one of my most important mentors - Bill Wade.

Bill Wade working the scene of the 2000 Ybor City fire
It would not be an exaggeration to say that retired Tampa Fire Rescue Captain Bill Wade was critical in making me the PIO I am today. Bill is a legend when it comes to media relations here in the Tampa Bay area. If there was a big event here in the region, you knew for sure Bill was going to be there. From Super Bowls to the massive 2000 Ybor City Fire, Bill was there, cooly answering questions and working with reporters to get the story out to help residents make the right decisions to protect themselves and their families.

Sure, it will be a few tough days of teaching, but I wouldn't trade a second of it. This is where I learn as much as the students I teach.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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