Monday, January 12, 2015

One step ahead

When it comes to media requests, it's important to stay on top of developments to understand what will be asked of you. Reporters will look to see how the local authorities would handle a situation should it happen in your town. It's called localization, and it's a common reporting technique to develop a good story angle.

That's why no matter what happens in the world, it always pays to pay attention to the incident, and to think to yourself, "what would happen if a reporter calls today or tomorrow?  How could we handle that?"

Buses flooded out by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge
A perfect example happened during Hurricane Katrina ten years ago. One of the stories that was reported was the number of buses that belonged to the New Orleans school district that were flooded out in their yards. Surely, they could have been better used to evacuate people before the storm made its impact, or to move them to better shelter after the storm passed.

Understanding that reporters would ask us about our plans, our county and the local transit agency worked together to explore the issue. At first, a study was going to be conducted about who uses transit service and what routes would be the best ones to run. What we had failed to consider, however, was that the transit folks already had a mountain of ridership studies already in the books. That's how they determine where the buses should run on normal days.

Get on the bus, Gus
Instead of conducting the study, an agreement was struck that allows our transit authority to run regular bus service around the clock during a hurricane evacuation until the winds become unsafe for buses to be on the road - a sustained 40 miles per hour.

By the time the reporters started calling about the potential study, we already had the agreement in place, making for some great coverage, and helping to reassure our citizens that we were indeed thinking about their safety should the worst happen.

We even did a TV interview with the transit authority to talk about the plan. This 15-minute interview sheds some more light on the lessons we learned and just how we're staying ahead of the curve.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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