Originally published Sep 12, 2011
On August 28th, approximately 160 public information officers (PIOs) from across the nation convened in Phoenix, Arizona to discuss the latest in media, technology, crisis communications and disaster response at the Annual National Information Officers Association (NIOA) Conference. Among the crowd were two of our very own Georgia Department of Public Health communicators.
“Many don’t realize that Public Health is a first responder,” said Suleima Salgado, Public Information Officer and Marketing Communications Program Manager for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Whether it is bioterrorism, a mass casualty, a natural disaster, or a recent outbreak or pandemic, public health is at the forefront working alongside community partners to prepare Georgians for any possible threat to our state and nation.”
The conference began with the ever popular PIO 101 course and continued with featured sessions dedicated to the unthinkable shooting of Representative Gabrielle Gifford and nine other patients injured by gunfire in Tucson, Arizona, an Arizona prison escape, the investigation into the disappearance of an eight month old, PIO and the Law, Incorporating Social Media into your agency communications plans, rebuilding your organizations image, and much more.
“The discussion from the media, hospital, and sheriff’s department around the shooting of Representative Gifford was truly emotional and made me realize that I have to be prepared to respond to media inquiries at any moment,” said Sandra Roberts, Public Information Officer and Marketing Strategist & Program Analyst for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “It was astonishing to hear Mark Kimble, Senior Press Advisor for Representative Gifford, detail his vivid recollection of the timeline of the tragic shooting. As the media point of contact, he had over 1500 missed phone calls on the first day of the incident from reporters.”
Kimble continued to tell his story and informed PIOs that his work was not over. He stated that as the phone calls continue, he is keeping a list of reporters from across the nation. They all want an interview with the Congresswoman. His list of reporters is approximately 27 pages.
ABC News Correspondent Jim Avila, most known for his work on the network's show 20/20, was one of the keynote speakers, addressing the importance of building crucial relationships with the media prior to any serious matter and how relationship building will better help our agency.
“Avila allows for new and veteran Public Information Officers to realize the power of networking and encourages them to continue their efforts to promote their organizations in the best possible light,” said Mike Fronimos, Region 4 Director for NIOA.
“The majority of us have the same needs, problems and challenges,” said Chris Taylor, Lieutenant and PIO for the LaGrange Fire Department in District 4 in Georgia. “NOIA provided a sounding board for us to share ideas in hopes of providing our 159 Georgia public health counties the best information possible and to build a network of resources, beyond local and state boundaries.”
The National Information Officers Association (NIOA) was established in 1989 and is now an association of over 600 spokespersons from local, state and federal government, law enforcement, fire, medical, emergency management, public health, transportation, public works and other public safety and emergency service agencies.
“This conference not only helped me prepare messages for an array of disasters, but has also helped me build a network of reliable PIO contacts,” concluded Salgado. “If there was ever a public health crisis in Georgia, I can reach my fellow PIOs by phone, email or social networks and they won’t hesitate to provide assistance.”