By Gerard Braud
Natural disasters have emergency managers, emergency operations centers, and public information officers in high demand for telephone interviews with the Weather Channel, CNN, and other media outlets.
So why is it, with the wealth of official knowledge available from these officials, the Weather Channel suddenly cuts away during Tropical Storm Lee to interview some yahoo resident standing in flood waters at his home in Mandeville, Louisiana?
Because I’m the yahoo, I’m in rising floodwaters, and I have an iPad with Skype and Wi-Fi. They picked me because I’m in person and on the scene.
Times are changing and these officials need to take action now to change with the times by taking these three steps:
Doing one without the others is dangerous. You must do all three because operating and holding the technology while being a spokesperson is a daunting, multitasking event that goes beyond anything you’ve done before. There is no camera crew or a producer. You are the camera crew and the producer.
iPhones, iPads, and laptops, with a built-in video camera, top the list of the technology you need. Using these for a live interview means you need to be connected to the Internet and what you need is Skype. Skype works just like a telephone, except it allows your voice call to become a video call so you are ready for a live broadcast.
During Tropical Storm Lee, Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans, pushed 3 feet of water into my lakefront yard. From my front porch 10 feet above the water you could see spectacular 5- to 10-foot waves crashing over the sea wall. Using my iPad, with Wi-Fi and Skype, I was able to take television viewers to the heart of the story. I held the iPad at arm’s length, and to the television audience, the scene was as good as the one being provided by the Weather Channel’s own correspondent. Nothing was happening where he was, while I had crashing waves and flooding. Wi-Fi, Skype, and iPads can be temperamental and depending upon weather conditions, you may wish to use a direct wire to the Internet for a stronger signal.
Periodically between live interviews, I used my iPhone and iPad to video the flooding, walking beyond the range of my Wi-Fi. I then used the Internet to upload the footage, making me a triple threat: I had great video; I had a great on-the-scene location; and I had the technology and information to communicate effectively at a critical time.
There are two parts to technology training. Part one is learning which keys to push and what applications to use. Part two is having the talent to manage the technology, while conducting an intelligent interview with the news anchors. This can be tricky.
There is no margin for error when you are both managing the technology during a live network interview. Therefore, you need to combine the training to practice using the equipment, while holding it yourself, while talking.
The technology training also needs to include how to shoot additional video at the scenes of your worst events. That means learning how to hold your camera phone or iPad perfectly still, as well as knowing when to “pan” or turn the camera to enhance the video that you provide to the network. These days, the media will use even well-composed still photos from a smart phone. Just remember, the more professional it looks, the better your chances are that it will get used over the stuff from the yahoo on his front porch.
Annual media training should be standard operating procedure for every emergency manager and public information officer. Talking to the media is a skill much like playing sports; you must practice on a regular basis and increase the intensity each time in order to master it.
When you combine it with technology training, you will learn how to hold the iPad, iPhone, or laptop; how to “frame the shot” so the television network sees you and what is going on behind you; and where to look while filming. Looking good goes hand in hand with looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. Saying what is most important upfront is critical. Your live shot likely will last only 90 seconds.
In the world of crisis communications, expect live interviews on the scene via Skype to become the norm. But this technology shouldn’t stop with just the media. It also lets you post videos and interviews to YouTube, Facebook, and your own Website, so your public, your employees, and the media all have access to the best, up-to-date information.
Powerful communications before a crisis and rapid communications during a crisis has the ability to move people out of harm’s way. But that life-saving critical communication depends upon you learning to do your part.
Gerard Braud (Jared Bro) is known as the guy to call when “it” hits the fan. He is an expert in media training and crisis communications plans, as well as the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until… 29 Secrets You Need to Know Before You Open Your Mouth to the Media.” He can be reached at http://www.braudcommunications.com. To view his Tropical Storm reports, do a Google Search for Gerard Braud Tropical Storm Lee.