“We cannot stress enough how important it is to develop a relationship with reporters to help us get more accurate information to the public,” said Debbie Williams, a reporter with WKRG-TV in Mobile, as she and other expert panelists addressed a crowd of 70 public safety information personnel and first-responders at a media relations workshop on Dec. 1.
Columbia Southern University (CSU), one of the nation’s top online schools, presented the daylong event to help those in emergency service and public safety learn about communication and the media. The gathering was conducted at the Adult Activity Center in Gulf Shores, Ala., and featured a range of participants from Mississippi, Kansas, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley and the Coast Guard and other regional agencies.
The interactive presentation examined media management at the local and national level, such as responses and reporting about the BP oil spill and natural disasters. The workshop also featured discussions about developing policy and procedures before an event occurs, how to utilize the media to promote your organization, and various aspects of social media.
Panelist Alan Brunacini, a retired fire chief with the Phoenix (Ariz.) Fire Department, said his staff created a five-day academy to help members of the their local media learn more about firefighting.
“It was interesting to see the difference in the effect that the academy had on the way they reported on what we were doing,” he said. “For example, you would have a helicopter reporter who was over a structural fire and they were narrating that fire, explaining not only what the firefighters were doing but forecasting what was going to happen next.”
This type of education and relationship-building is vital to both members of the media and emergency services in preventing misinformation or miscommunication, the experts explained. Those experts also included:
• Mike Brooks, former police officer and current law enforcement analyst for CNN and HLN
• Bobby Halton, editor-in-chief of Fire Engineering magazine
• Dennis Rubin, former fire chief with Washington D.C. Fire and EMS Department
• Marc Anderson, assistant editor of the Baldwin (County) Register
• Billy D. Hayes, vice president of Marketing and Outreach at CSU and public information officer with Gulf Shores Fire Rescue.
“It was very interesting to hear all this information about what we do on a daily basis,” said fire inspector Nelson Bauer who is with the Foley Fire Department. “Especially with such an accomplished group of people. I have gotten a lot out it.”
This workshop was sponsored in part by the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitor Bureau.