Tips for Local Agencies: Communicating with Stakeholders and the Media

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Communication and coordination among and between local and state agencies before, during and after a natural disaster is critical, yet local agencies often find themselves lacking sufficient communications plans and struggling to communicate efficiently with other local agencies and state representatives during an incident. Use these tips to identify common areas of disconnect and improve your communication between local departments and with state agencies during a natural disaster.

Have someone on-hand who can translate between state agencies and locals.

  • For example, state agency representatives may describe wildfire movement using directional terminology unfamiliar or confusing to locals. State officials can also use official street names while locals call them something else.

Live stream press conferences.

  • Instead of limiting your press conference schedule to once or twice per-day at peak news hours, consider streaming press conferences on Facebook Live as information comes in so constituents don’t need to wait until the evening or nighttime news.

Use social media and alert systems for timely messages.

  • Send messages out via social media, like Twitter and Facebook, as information becomes available.
  • Begin posts with “IMPORTANT MESSAGE,” and end them with “PLEASE SHARE,” to encourage constituents to spread information.
  • Use reverse 911 and text messaging systems to reach large portions of the population quickly with important messages.

Plan, practice and coordinate.

  • Communication disconnects often occur between departments at the local level; outline the communication flow in your emergency operations plan (EOP) to alleviate problems.
  • Have an email chain with all stakeholders that can be quickly enacted to ensure all stakeholders are receiving the same information at the same time, and test the email system periodically to ensure it’s working and up-to-date.

Have a single point of contact.

  • Communication disconnects can also arise between local and state agencies. Local agencies, such as law enforcement, should consider assigning liaisons to logistics, the PIO and other important state operations centers.

Know your state’s communication plan.

  • If your state has a designated liaison to communicate with local government agencies, have the liaison’s communication information on-hand and make sure they have yours. Build a relationship before a disaster hits.
  • During a disaster, make sure to communicate your needs to the liaison – local officials know their constituents and their community’s response and recovery needs.

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