Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Slow or fast?

How will you die, Joan Wilder? Slow, like a snail? Or fast, like a shooting star?

The movie poster from Romancing the Stone
Oh, those movies from the early 1980s. Risky Business. Sixteen Candles. Flashdance. Who could ever forget the hours of entertainment they provided us, or some of the wildest, most decade identifiable clothing styles of all time?

Of course, there was also Romancing the Stone, one of my mom's favorites. In this movie, urban novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Tuner) receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered brother-in-law. Now on a quest to find its meaning, she travels to Columbia where she meets handsome and rugged adventurer Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), and hijinks ensue. At one point, held by the evil drug lord Zolo, she is asked the quote at the top of this article.

Wildfires are common in Arizona
I know, this is  a great stroll down memory lane, but the quote popped into my head a few weeks back in Arizona while we were instructing the pilot offering of the Basic PIO class. At one point, one of the students in an evaluation form wrote wondering why someone who had hurricane experience was out in the desert Southwest teaching people whose primary concerns were flash flooding during the monsoon season, wildfires and other manmade issues that had no lead time.

A scene of recovery from a hurricane
Meanwhile, back in Florida, our mindset when it comes to disasters is that wow - we are going to get a pretty decent lead time should our worst potential disaster come to pass. A hurricane. We would get regular briefings, satellite imagery, Hurricane Hunter readings from inside the storm ... the works, and we can plan accordingly to evacuate our most vulnerable populations.

In other words, how will your disaster befall you? Slow like the snail, or fast like the shooting star?

To which, I responded, "Who cares?"

Think about it for a minute. A disaster - any disaster - is going to go through several phases that are very similar.
  • Preparedness. Whether it's hurricane, tornado, wildfire, monsoon or whatever season, some disasters tend to befall areas of the country - and the world - during particular times in the year, so we can think ahead to what actions our public needs to take to get ready. And, for those things that could happen at any time - a haz-mat situation, a nuclear power incident, an earthquake, well, preparedness can still be conducted. And, should conditions offer a bit of a head start (like waiting for the arrival of a hurricane or blizzard), that time can be put to very good use. 
  • Response. Once the disaster befalls an area, it's time to kick things into high gear. 120 mile per hour winds. A 7.2 on the Richter Scale. An EF-3 tornado. A train load of Methyl-Ethyl bad stuff derails. Once you know what it is you are dealing with, then you can spring your plans into play and save the day. You can communicate with your public to take the necessary actions to make sure they are getting away from the bad situation so they can start their road to recovery.
  • Recovery. Oh, yeah, when the time comes to pick up the pieces, the need to communicate will be critical. Where can people get aid to rebuild their homes? Get their kids back to school? When will the mall reopen and the latest movies come back to the local theaters? 
Oh, and another point - as a public information officer, you may be asked to pick up from where you live and the potential disasters you have prepared for and offer your assistance to those who have experienced a disaster far from where you live. Not a bad strategy to be well-versed in the All-Hazards approach to response from a public information standpoint.

Now, that's a stone to romance!
Keep that in mind, and you might discover that you are a real gem to the profession.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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