An expert on public information and the media spoke at the governor’s annual conference on Homeland Security Monday. Haven Simmons is an associate professor of communications at Salisbury University in Maryland, and teaches a variety of courses to emergency responders and government officials. Simmons says there can never be too much information given out in disaster situations.
Simmons says things like evacuation routes, storm information, shelter information, hospital information, and symptoms during a biological attack. He says the media is mainly responsible for getting that "essential information" to the public. Simmons says though, the information has to be based on facts.
"The news media today have become a little to speculative because of competition, that’s particularly the case I think in the cable television industry for example," Simmons says, "what government needs to do is not give into speculation. Wait until the information has been processed and accurately dispensed. But there is a fine line between the speed of conveying the information to the public, but also making sure that you have enough time to ensure its accuracy."
Simmons says that there are a lot more ways for the correct and incorrect information to get out as "we are living in a brave new world now," and he always tells government employees and first responders that everyone is a potential journalist with the prevalence of camera phones and video cameras. "Emergency responders are under a microscope, as never before," says Simmons. Simmons says he tells emergency personnel they can alleviate a lot of problems by talking first to each other.
Simmons says there are jurisdictional conflicts no matter where you are, and he says the various jurisdictions need to work together in advance of any emergency or catastrophic event. Simmons says that’s particularly true for the public information officers, so they know each other and can work as a team. He says getting the proper information to the public requires the one key thing that’s required for all other elements of responding to a disaster.
Simmons says it goes back to planning and training, and says this conference itself is invaluable because so many people from different parts of the state get to meet each other. He says proper planning and training and having everyone on the same page, could save lives in an emergency. The fourth annual governor’s Homeland Security conference runs through Wednesday in Des Moines.