Chapter Rewind | By Zenaida Kotala
FPRA and PRSA Members Listen to Lessons Learned from Pulse
Plan ahead and develop relationships before you ever need them.
That was Heather Fagan’s message to a group of public relations professions gathered for a special FPRA and PRSA’s joint March breakfast workshop at the Citrus Club in downtown Orlando.
Fagan, Mayor Buddy Dyer’s chief of staff, spoke about how her office communicated to the media and the public during and after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016.
The sold-out workshop featured Fagan and other public information officers that responded to the Pulse tragedy including representatives from the county, Orlando Health, and former PR Pro of the Year Sara Brady who represents the owners of the nightclub. WKMG reporter Eric Sandoval also provided his perspective because he was one of the first reporters on the scene.
The shooting at the gay nightclub left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded. Many were members of the Hispanic community. Pulse is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Despite the tragedy, the tone of the city’s initial response helped create a spirit of resilience that translated into #OrlandoUnited, which has been recognized worldwide.
Fagan was called early Sunday morning, 10 minutes before Mayor Dyer picked her up on the way to the scene.
The city has good partnerships with police, the county and the hospital already so it was easier to call people in the early morning hours, she told the crowd. It’s important to have good relationships, but it is also key to have a process to responding to crisis situations.
A disaster is not the time to be negotiating who is going to be responsible for what, she said. Plan it out and practice with multi-agency mock drills. That way when a crisis happens, you are better able to respond in a timely manner, Fagan said.
She also talked about the power of social media and the early decision to use Twitter as the city’s official way to communicate with the media. There was just no way Fagan and her team were going to be able to keep up with requests, so social media was the way to go. The team responded to thousands of inquiries that continue even today, as the community prepares to remember the tragedy on its first anniversary.
Kena Lewis, APR, the director of public affairs for Orlando Health, referred to the hospital’s crisis manual during her presentation. Her advice – if you have a plan that would accommodate 50 people, now blow it up for 100 or more. You can’t predict exactly what the crisis will be, but there are steps that can be taken to prep and then you have to have good relationships to be able to pivot when circumstances change.
Other speakers shared their personal stories and provided tips for PIOs who may find themselves dealing with a massive crisis.
- Have relationships with set up protocol before you need to.
- Assign someone to monitor the news because you won’t have time to do it. And sometimes you’ll have to respond to information you weren’t aware was out in the public domain.
- Record interviews, that way you can remember and correct facts.
- Ask for help, you can’t possibly handle it all.
- Prioritize by asking yourself, do I have to make that decision today?
- Keep a jump bag handy at all times.
- Assign someone to take care of your PR team so they eat and sleep.