Training Public Information Officers to respond to the ‘Big One’

The City of Redmond (Washington, USA) asked us to support in the delivery of the Cascadia Rising emergency planning exercise to enable Public Information Officers (PIOs) to rehearse how they would handle social media channels in the event of a high-impact earthquake impacting the region.

Natural hazards represent one of the oldest risks that businesses and government agencies have had to plan for, but the rise of social media has created challenges and opportunities that communicators need to be prepared for.

Our role in the exercise was to put the PIOs through their paces, with a specific focus on:

  • The speed with which PIOs were able to engage with a range of audiences using social media
  • The consistency with which Joint Information Center (JIC) members were able to communicate and coordinate their efforts amongst multiple PIO teams
  • The information sharing capabilities of social media responders and wider incident decision-makers to inform interactions with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the wider humanitarian response effort (e.g. triaging casualties and directing on-the ground medical teams) 

We used our Social Simulator platform to enable participating teams to:

  • Engage with lifelike recreations of Twitter and Facebook, with our team of role-players recreating the fallout from the incident and interacting in real-time with PIO teams
  • Post statements to mock-ups of their websites and monitor authentic-looking media feeds, including TV bulletins, radio broadcasts and traditional media articles 
Breaking news as Cascadia Rising gets underway – fictitious material created for the purposes of the exercise

Project Outcomes

Learnings identified during the exercise have led to updates being made to the City of Redmond’s public information process and revisions being made to the memorandum of understanding which sets out how the PIO teams for the different counties making up the City Of Redmond will cooperate in the event of a major incident