Monday, September 28, 2009

EPIAs and Regional Communication Plans

I am nearly wrapping up draft one of one of the biggest projects I've had in a long while--an EPIA or Emergency Public Information Annex for one of the nation's largest metro areas. It sets out in excruciating detail how the nearly 200 independent jurisdictions and agencies in this region will come together in a NIMS compliant Joint Information Center to communicate with the community and the world when things go really really wrong.

While I've written quite a few crisis communication plans they have tended to be for individual agencies. Certainly some, such as in the oil industry, anticipate coordinating closely with other response agencies and organizations. But it is a different matter when you have a number of very independent agencies in the region need to come together to speak with one voice.

A few quick learnings as I have gone through this process:

1) NIMS--I am more respectful than ever of the underlying wisdom of the NIMS requirements. Particularly the decision that was made early on to adopt the ICS system and its well established and practiced methods. Yes, it has gotten big, bureaucratic, and complex in many ways, but the core underlying principles are exactly what is needed to prepare and to respond effectively. It is most troublesome to me when some of the leading agencies who are responsible for NIMS are the most cavalier about the wisdom in it and prescriptions it offers. That is their worry, not mine. For me, making the plan as thoroughly NIMS compliant as I can means that it has the best chance of success.

2) Cooperation, collaboration and coordination are not in the nature of human beings--at least not government agencies. The natural flow of things is for agencies to operate independently and so they have for many many years. Yet, the problems of this kind of independent operation have been demonstrated far too often. There are two essentials to overcoming the inherent resistance to cooperate. One is to have a clear plan that has the force of federal reimbursement behind it. The second thing is the next point.

3) Plans are one thing, actions another.
This plan will be scrutinized, evaluated, tested, drilled and communicated. But all that without the certainty that it will be followed when it really hits the fan. Only time and. God forbid, a major disaster will determine that.

4) Change comes faster than my fingers can type.
I've been amazed at the pace of change in the world of public information management in the months that I have been working on this draft. Sometimes my fingers can't keep up. So, what happens now that the draft begins the process of evaluation, review, editing, testing and communicating? It reminds me of one of the big dilemmas of a PIO in a major incident: by the time they get a draft of a release written, edited, and approved by all members of Command, the info is very much out of date. What do you do? Stop that one and get a more up-to-date release? NO, because if you do that, you will never get a release out. Sending out outdated information when the situation changes as fast as it does is the only choice you have. The same for drafting a plan in this environment. So I'll work on draft two while draft one gets batted about.

5) The Four Ps really do work.
A few years ago, when I started seriously working at crisis communication planning, I developed the 4 Ps of crisis communication preparation: Policies, Plans, People and Platform. I could remember 4 ps and they seemed to encapsulate all the essential elements and mostly in the right order. I found this very useful. For example, by putting all the critical policy statements right up front it should (we'll see) take away much of the argument and nit picking about each individual tactical element of the plan. Because each of those should related to accomplishing a policy statement. If there is argument about "why would you want to send a release out that often" for example, all that is needed is to point back to the policy statement that underlies it. Then the question is: do you agree with the policy statement and if so, do you have a better suggestion as to how to accomplish it? The 4 Ps also make it clear that it really is all about the people who are going to do the work and whether or not they have the training, background and skills needed. But they can't operate without the "platform" which includes the physical facilities and equipment and the increasingly important technology platforms needed to manage the communication function.

Since there are no doubt a number of others in this business tasked with this kind of challenge I am interested in forming a kind of work group or special interest group around this. Or maybe doing a series of webinars where we could dive into the details of this kind of planning. If you have interest in this, please let me know by shooting me an email at

No comments:

Post a Comment