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Survey: Politicians Should Move Aside, Let Public Safety Talk

A survey by Rave Mobile Safety found what first responders and public safety officials have known for years: Often, it’s best for the politicians to step aside and let the people in uniform speak about an emergency.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking at a podium.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during a news conference at NBC Sports Grill & Brew at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Fla., on June 3, 2020. (Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
A recent survey by Rave Mobile Safety confirmed that people are less trusting of government officials than they are of first responders, and a good majority are not confident about their state’s ability to efficiently distribute a COVID-19 vaccine

The good news, though, is that the survey indicated people are more willing to share personal information if they feel it will help them stay safe during a disaster.  

The survey polled 1,000 adults in late 2020 and early 2021. Of those polled, just 22 percent said they had complete trust in information they receive from local officials, but 62 percent said they completely trusted information received from firefighters, while 59 percent said they trusted information from paramedics or EMTs. Police were less trusted than other first responders, with 33 percent of respondents saying they trusted information provided by law enforcement.  

Further, 77 percent of those surveyed said they either trust completely or trust somewhat facts shared via direct alerts, like emergency text messaging systems. More than 85 percent, however, say they are very or somewhat willing to share background information about themselves or family members to ensure proper aid during an emergency. 

One of the takeaways confirms what most public safety officials and first responders already knew: It’s incredibly important to a politician’s career how they handle a disaster, and the public would be better served if politicians stepped aside and let first responders — or in the case of COVID-19, health officials — tell the story.  

“Maybe not surprising was the feedback from the residents that they’re government officials aren’t as trusted as they used to be,” said Todd Miller, senior vice president of strategic programs at Rave Mobile Safety.

Miller said part of the reason for the mistrust is the mixed messages that have been so prevalent from political figures and government officials during the last several years.  

“When we try to make recommendations to communities about how they can engage with their resident base, one of the recommendations we’re making is you might want to change that voice or that persona that these messages are coming from,” Miller said. “It may not be that elected official, who by the way is running for election next year and wants to be on the camera.” 

Miller said instead the public would be more inclined to listen to a more trusted person wearing a uniform, or a public health official.  

Of course, as public safety officials know, that’s easier said than done when a politician’s future may depend on how he or she handles an emergency.  

“My coaching would be that for the greater good of a given community elected officials should take a step back here, you don’t have to be the face of all of this,” Miller said. “That can be a real challenge and oftentimes it takes that local team that understands the community well and it takes strong leaders from the public safety side to be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, elected official, we’re going to take it from here, this is how communication is going to work.’”

The better news was the increased willingness of the public to share personal information about themselves or a family member ahead of a disaster so that public safety responders can respond in a more appropriate fashion.

“It’s a factor of social media, where we see people already sharing a tremendous amount of information, and public safety is catching up with the technology of the private sector in allowing this to happen,” Miller said.  

Public safety has gone from being able to alert residents within a certain boundary to pinpointing alerts to residents who may be more vulnerable, and that’s largely a result of the information being provided by the public. 

An example is Washington state’s Travis Alert Act, which enables a resident to document a condition of disability, and through the Enhanced 911 system allows dispatchers to instantly know of that condition and alert first responders who may be en route. 

“The information can be delivered to 911, but we can also share that information by emergency management or public health personnel and start to really do tailored messaging because it may not make sense to broadcast a message to every resident that says vaccines are now available,” Miller said. “What might be better is if we could target the 75-plus age crowd or individuals who meet the criteria for at-risk or vulnerable populations and give them specific instructions.”