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Public Information Lessons from the Texas School Shooting

Multiagency response requires a joint information center (JIC).

The story line for the unfortunate Texas school shooting has been convoluted at best. Every day since the first report of the shooting occurred, there have been twists and turns in what happened that day and who did what and when.

The first report that was evidently “wrong” was that a school resource officer “engaged” with the shooter as he was about to enter the building. It turns out that was evidently not true. What took so long for entry to be made at the school and what took so long for officers to actually take down the shooter? Different agencies had different stories or interpretations of what happened and all of it was relayed to national television and other media outlets by different responding agencies.

I’ll go back to what is needed in this type of response when it comes to public information. First, as I wrote in another blog, the incident command system (ICS) needs to be established at the scene and linked hand in hand with a public information officer (PIO) who reports to the incident commander (IC) and gets current status information from operations and planning. There is only one spokesperson for the incident at the incident site — one!

Back at the emergency operations center (EOC), if there is one, a more robust joint information center (JIC) needs to be established that helps with future information releases that go beyond the verbal to be written news releases alongside the use of social media tools, like Twitter. The JIC does not release anything that has not been cleared by the IC or the PIO at the scene.

The satellite trucks assemble and will stay for a considerable time. Someone from the PIO/JIC side of things needs to manage the media and the briefing locations, be they outside or inside a designated briefing area that is sized to handle all the media representatives. It might take ordering up a large commercial-sized tent or portable building.

The JIC needs to be made up of personnel who represent all the agencies present at the scene and also the additional people who are needed when you start to expand the response to include mental health professionals, someone from the school district and the jurisdictions represented: city, county and state.

One of the more sensitive issues is always the release of the names of the deceased. First of all, it is only the medical examiner/coroner who releases a body count of the dead. No one else. It is also their job to identify the names of those who died and provide the information to the JIC.

These are really big events. If the local jurisdiction can’t handle it, the state needs to step in and bring in resources to do it for them while acknowledging that it is the local jurisdiction that remains in charge.