Major Incident Planning and Support (MIP+S) Level 2

80 videos, 4 hours and 32 minutes

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Dealing with the media

Video 63 of 80
5 min 13 sec
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Whether you like it or not, your service or organisation is going to receive inquiries from the media about whatever incident it is you are dealing with and that will apply to you whether you are a company, a theme park, an ambulance service, a police service, etcetera, etcetera.

This is one of the areas in which you can prepare well in advance and actually where failure to prepare happens could cost your company considerably. First of all, train your personnel to deal with the press, teach them the basics of dealing with it in terms of, you will need to engage with the press as early as possible. The long old days of going, "Sorry, no comment," are long gone and you are better off doing a unified press statement with the other emergency services, including the company that may have a problem at the time as well.

There are some really good examples of this. If you look at the Cluthrow helicopter crash, you will see that all three services were lined up. If you look at the Alton Towers Smiler crash, you will see that that was including not only police, fire and ambulance, but senior Alton Towers management at the same time. The key thing when dealing with the press is, to be honest, and follow what I would call the ABC approach to dealing with the press. Answer the question, bridge the gap and communicate the key message that you need to send out as an organisation.

Those key messages can also be in general terms, written in advance. You can almost have a pre-prepared generic press statement. As an example, I usually state who I am and what my role is. I will praise my staff for the work and effort that they are doing, I will express sympathy for the families and victims of those involved and I will call on the public to help us in this situation, usually by asking them to give blood. Whilst that will not actually help with the incident at that particular point in time, it fills up the blood banks, it gives you something to say when you do not want to answer a question.

So as an example, "Hello, my name is Justin Burke-Jones, I am the tactical commander at this incident." Give a brief outline of what the incident is and how you have responded to that incident. "We have implemented a major incident plan in line with our partner agencies and we are all working together to solve that problem. Our sympathies go out to the victims' families and friends of those involved. I would like to say that I am pleased and proud of my staff who have worked long hours in difficult conditions in order to do the most for the most. I would like to call upon the public at this time to give blood in order to help us with this incident."

Once you have those four key points to communicate, you can actually use them to not answer any questions that you do not want to. "Is this terrorist-related?" "I cannot answer that right now, but what I can say is, we have responded in line with a well-rehearsed emergency plan along with our partner agencies." This is no different from what your politicians do on a daily basis. They just keep communicating the key message that they want to get across. It takes practice, so I would suggest a proper press relation course run by a professional organisation and train key people within your organisation to be able to deliver that.

The key point is to try to make sure when you are doing joint press statements that you only answer the questions that are relevant to your services or organisations. Do not try and answer questions that will rightfully be set with the police or the fire service or the management of whichever industry is involved in the incident. Rehearse briefly and quickly with your partners before you go out, sometimes useful to talk to the press in advance and ask them what the first question is, they will usually tell you what their first question is going to be and that helps you get into the role.

The other thing to remember is, particularly as a Health Service Commander, is you have an out and the out is that there are patient lives to be saved. So in order to terminate something, usually have a subordinate available to you. You will have a tell; in this case, I lift my thumb up, my subordinate realises that I now want to leave and will say, "I am sorry, sir, we have found some more casualties, could you come with us now, please." At which point you can say, "Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but I am afraid, clearly, we have got other things to do at the moment, we will come back to you." And always give them when the time you are coming back to them and never be late.