Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Partnerships pay

My dad was a great guy for giving those bon mots of advice. You know, the kind of stuff that makes a teenager's eyes roll so hard, they are in danger of spraining one of their extraocular muscles. Some of his gems were:

  • You can't run with the wolves at night if you want to soar with the eagles in the morning.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

And, his all time favorite, especially when he wanted cooperation from his three sons:

  • Many hands make light work.

The funniest thing about that last one is that in my professional life, I have had to take it to heart.

"OK, everyone in!"
You see, as someone who wants to take the lead and make things happen, I would routinely try to solve every problem on my own or with the resources we had available to our agency. Others with a similar bent would do this as well. For instance, we had a director for our agency who came from the world of TV journalism. She came on board just as the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season happened, and was on the scene during the 2005 season - two  of the busiest on record.

Since she came from the TV news world, she automatically saw our government access television station as the perfect venue to relay information to the public about evacuations, storm preparedness and emergency briefings. So far, not a bad use.

Our TV news set from back in 2004
Where things got sideways was when she decided that we were going to have a dedicated news anchor for our coverage, and the idea of hiring a retired meteorologist - and paying for his AMS certification - was considered.

Fortunately, we pumped the brakes before we went all in on this venture. Some of the considerations we needed to address included that we didn't have the staff to go wall-to-wall with 24 hour storm coverage, we didn't have our own suite of Doppler radar and we already had our hands full handling media requests in our Emergency Operations Center.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service keeping an eye on the weather
What we did have, however, was a wide network of partners we could call upon. The forecasters at the National Weather Service were in place to offer us professional analysis of upcoming weather conditions. Our media partners had distribution channels that could reach hundreds of thousands of residents in minutes.

Our internal partners also had ways of reaching out. For instance, our Sheriff's office at the time had a reverse 9-1-1 system which could help us get the word out about evacuation orders. Our transit authority had the ability to reach all of their riders every single day with messaging. Before long, we had a fairly decent method of reaching people that didn't require us to reinvent the wheel.

The WEA logo found on equipped cell phones
Today, we've only gotten better at this. For instance, the Federal Communications Commission has required all cell phone carriers to provide Wireless Emergency Alerts about potential dangers to their customers. With a tool like this, reaching out to residents is just a message away.

You know, the older I get, I realize the smarter my dad was.It still doesn't stop my sons from rolling their eyes at me, but hey, they have some time to learn yet.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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