The 7.1 magnitude Canterbury Earthquake on 4 September 2010 created many opportunities for us as the significance of preparing for emergencies was reinforced by mother nature. In recent days we have watched the tragedy unfold in Reefton as the Incident Management Team faced enormous pressures to mount a rescue attempt whilst the experts told them that the environment was too dangerous.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those people affected in both events.
Both events involved multiple agencies and the responses were both high profile and closely scrutinised by the public. Managing emergencies at this level requires skilful involvement and handling of the media. Being watched at every turn can place a lot of additional pressure on even the most experienced incident management teams and is not for the faint hearted.
There are a few points to remember when it comes to working with the media.
Establish relationships with them early once it is clear that there will be intense public interest in the incident. Better still develop relationships in advance if you are likely to be dealing directly with media.
Establish protocols about how you will work together to get the information out to the public and be clear about your expectations.
Establish briefing times that allows media to meet their news deadlines.
Be honest in your dealings with the media. Your credibility is at stake and can be permanently damaged and trust with the public and media can be broken if you are dishonest. Avoid exaggerating or distorting facts. Those who work in the media are savvy and check facts. Exaggeration and distortion can quickly lead to a loss of credibility.
Be aware that when the interview or briefing is over the cameras and tape recorders will still be running. Many stories are run from comments made after the formal part is over.
Deal firmly but politely with media demands that you are not able to meet. Avoid being coerced in any way but don’t get offside with the media. You won’t win when it comes to a war of words.
Practise giving media briefings and holding news conferences with someone that is experienced in media ways so as briefings can be challenging at the best of times.