Public Information Officers from all agencies face a daunting challenge in the Fall. The nation seemed poised for a two-stage mass vaccination program to address concerns about the flu. The first will target the so called “seasonal flu” and is routinely administered to at-risk populations each Autumn.
A second vaccine, likely administered in public schools, will seek to protect from the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus. This will almost certainly be the largest mass vaccination program since the 1970’s. Communicating the specifics of the threat, need for two vaccinations, risks associated, etc will pose a major challenge in risk communications.
To help PIO’s prepare for all this, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health & Human Services, and other areas of the federal government are gearing up their guidance. Consultants, like High Noon are providing templates and educational videos, and academia is also rising to the challenge.
One of the best in the latter group are the materials coming from the North Carolina Center for Public Health Preparedness. Among the offerings on their web site are a variety of “pre-packaged training modules” perfect for briefing elected officials, school boards, and your own staff. You’ll find PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, and even on-line courses to help prepare you for the pandemic, no matter how mild or severe it might be.
They’ve also collected related resource materials from other government agencies, etc. and made their site a “one stop shop” for public health officials and other agencies seeking training resources.
Their on-line training course; “E is for Epidemiology” is a five-part training series developed by NCCPHP to introduce non-epidemiologists to the basic concepts of epidemiology, and it’s a perfect introduction for PIO’s who may be called on to explain how the virus spreads to the public, & the media.
You learn the basics of how outbreaks are detected, how the virus spreads, and surveillance methods used to track it’s progress through a community. Armed with this knowledge, and related training on how to mitigate risk, PIO’s can speak with authority as they address the issue.
This resource is key part of our recommended five step process for preparing for the coming flu season:
- Educate yourself, your staff, key stakeholders, and elected officials now on the threat, methods to reduce risk, and your agencies plans for dealing with the pandemic in the Fall.
- Work with school boards and educators to begin communicating this information to parents early in the school year. When vaccination programs begin in earnest, or if an outbreak is detected in your community, it should come as no surprise to parents if you’re doing your job properly.
- Prepackage media resources, Video News Releases (VNR’s), pre-packaged press releases, and so called “Dark Web Sites” now to be ready for a variety of scenarios in the Fall.
- Update your public communications plan to include Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Web 2.0 resources. The public will turn to these for information regardless of your use or lack of use. The only question is does your agency want to be part of the solution, or simply doing rumor control.
- Take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your staff now. Plan for absenteeism and the need for child care during an outbreak. You can’t help others if you have to worry about yourself.
High Noon is offering a variety of products and services that may be of use to you. These include a special seminar called “Social Media for PIO’s” and the creation of pre-packaged Video News Releases, dark web sites, press releases, and crisis communications packages. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you or your agency.