Shawn Metcham (standing), Media Relations Training Manager with the Texas Engineering Extension Service National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, spoke to public-information officers in Henry County this week, regarding crisis situations.
By Jason A. Smith
Spokespersons for Henry County and its public-safety entities learned how to improve their responses in situations of crisis, thanks to a program by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The two-day course, taught by instructors with the Texas Engineering Extension Service National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, was held this week, in the Henry County Emergency Operations Center. Attendees were instructed regarding the role of public information in incidents involving terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), said Henry County spokesperson, Julie Hoover-Ernst.
"Participants ... gained a better understanding of the news media environment and requirements during such a situation, and how to effectively communicate public information in the wake of a WMD," Hoover-Ernst said. "Participants also conducted mock press conferences based on hypothetical scenarios in which a WMD had been released, during which they responded to questions from the 'media' while ensuring that key messages were conveyed."
"The constant and regular review of the principles of effective public information in crisis situations is critical in our field," she continued. "In those types of situations, while the first responders will be focused on search and rescue efforts, it will fall upon the [public-information officers] to help the public stay safe and get the help they need by getting into their hands the most reassuring tool there is: information."
Twenty-four public-information officers, from Henry County and surrounding areas, attended the training, said Henry County Emergency Management Agency Director, Don Ash.
"The course taught us ways to get information out to the media, but more importantly, ways to get information out to the community," he said.
Ash said in addition to spokespersons from local agencies, a member of the Alabama Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security took part in the event.
Henry County Police Maj. Jason Bolton has been the public-information officer for his department for six years. He said although he has undergone training exercises before as part of his job, "it was good to have a class that focused solely on the role of the public information officer during a time of crisis."
"I definitely feel more capable now of performing effectively should such an event occur," Bolton said. "Of course, I hope we never have to deal with such a tragedy, but it is always best to be prepared for it, and the training did just that."