Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Deer in the headlights

We have all had this fear ... and some of us have lived through it. You're driving down a lonely road late at night, listening to a little music on the radio while you think about all of the things you need to do when you get home, and * POW * just like that, you see a large shape dart in front of your car. You apply the brakes quickly, ready to swerve out of the way, when the shape in front of you stops and looks back at you, frozen in terror at the sight of your oncoming car.
I'm sure it looked just like that!
We use the expression 'frozen like a deer in the headlights' a lot. It could be a description of a child on stage during a school play who just forgot his or her lines, a colleague delivering a report to superiors or any one of a hundred other scenarios. Basically, people sometimes lock up under pressure, and they have that signature look that just spells doom.

It's perfectly normal to have that type of reaction. In those times where we haven't experienced a situation similar to the one we are enduring, it can be a difficult, often confusing situation which prevents quick and decisive action.

And, let's face it, emergencies by their very nature can throw curve balls at us all the time. All of the training in the world can sometimes become worthless when something totally unexpected happens. Let's face it, during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, when people were speculating wildly about crude oil washing up on our shores, we weren't 100% sure how to address the specific concerns, how oil boom worked or what our beaches were going to look like after all of this was over.

Establishing contacts in a command post
But, that doesn't mean we should stand in the middle of the highway, looking at the oncoming lights with fear. In fact, as public information officers, part of what we need to do is shuffle, stumble, crawl or even stagger our way to one of two possible directions.  First, we either need to take command of the situation, and even if we don't have any of the details, we can certainly take the necessary steps to work with whomever the incident commander is and get at least some of the most basic ideas fleshed out.

Or, we can seek out a public information officer who may have more experience in the situation, and inform them that they are on point. Which, of course doesn't quite relieve you of your responsibilities. No, until that PIO can get things up and running, it's always a good idea to stick around and offer your assistance until they have matters in hand.

How do you develop the skills to know which way to go?  Well, there's really no substitute for experience, and the more you find yourself involved in situations, the easier this becomes.

Getting the information out
Another important thing to do is to build your circle of colleagues. You should be meeting with your colleagues on a regular basis, so you know exactly who to contact when something goes sideways.

Most importantly, don't be afraid to step in and take some action if you see the public information component isn't being covered. Remember, when incidents happen, people are more concerned about apprehending the bad guy, putting out the fire or rescuing people from rubble, not necessarily the timely and accurate flow of information. It's better to take the initiative at first to ensure that position is staffed until further help arrives.

It's better than being stuck in the middle of the road.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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