PIO training aimed at helping BMH communicate with media, public, during future incidents
After last fall's highly publicized CO2 incident at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, which affected dozens of students and staff, and sent more than two dozen students to Blue Mountain Hospital for treatment, the need to provide better communications with the media was considered a priority for hospital administrators.
In an effort to increase Blue Mountain Hospital's ability to manage information, during such an incident, Emergency Manager, Cari Spillman, recently attended a Public Information Officer workshop, in Moab. Spillman said the workshop provided valuable information about how to use social media, and traditional communications, to keep the public informed during an emergency incident. She said the emphasis of the workshop was training PIO's to provide press releases in a timely, consistent manner to keep the public informed and up to date with the facts surrounding an emergency incident.
According to Spillman, the mainstream media is constantly monitoring social media to glean as much information as possible about current events. When an emergency incident occurs, and the media is not given information, they tend to wonder, "What are they hiding."
"We need to stay ahead of things, and be the first to tell the story, not wait for someone else to tell it," Spillman said. "We need to get the right information to the right people at the right time. This is key. We're better off responding to the media, so they don't think we're hiding something."
During the incident in Montezuma Creek, Spillman said San Juan County officials placed a gag order on any information being released to the media. Spillman said the county had no right to place a gag order on Blue Mountain Hospital, and in the future, the hospital will be releasing its own information to the press. One immediate priority is for the hospital to create it's own PIO Policy to establish a set of standard procedures for dealing with emergency incidents and information dissemination.
During the recent workshop, Spillman said those attending were instructed in writing press releases, doing on-camera interviews and dealing with the media on all levels. Those attending included representatives from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, San Juan County EMS, Dinosaur National Monument and Grand County Sheriff's Office. Spillman said future workshops will address advanced techniques for PIO's to use in dealing with emergency incidents. She said there are many resources available to the hospital in handling such incidents. In the future Blue Mountain Hospital will be better equipped to provide information to the media and the public through social media avenues such as Facebook, Twitter and Blog sites.