Educating and preparing citizens through relevant, prompt, and authoritative emergency information communications systems and networks is essential for protecting lives and property in the event of any kind of significant disaster.
The media and the general public seek information and guidance during times of natural and manmade disasters and emergencies; therefore, an emergency management agency has an inherit obligation to protect its citizens by disseminating this information. Whether municipal, county, state or federal, all emergency management agencies must be prepared to deliver information and respond to inquiries as they arise.
What is a Public Information Officer?
Due to the importance of disseminating information quickly and accurately in times of crisis, emergency management agencies rely on specifically trained dedicated personnel to carry out this task. Public information officers (also often referred to as emergency communication specialists or emergency notification specialists) provide information and field inquiries from both the media and the public about emergency and crisis situations.
These professionals provide information on warnings, shelter, evacuation orders, and the general progress of events. They must report the facts as accurately as possible and remain in contact with the media at all times.
They may communicate through a number of resources, including press conferences, phone calls, media outlets, and through social media. (Many federal and state agencies provide timely updates and information through Facebook and Twitter, for example.) Further, these emergency management professionals are often involved in developing public outreach materials, such as handbooks and flyers, and media materials, such as press releases.
Public Information Officer Job Description
Within the emergency management framework, public information officers serve as key staff members who are responsible for supporting the agency’s incident command structure. These professionals advise the incident command on all matters related to public information. As such, public information officer jobs involve the following duties:
- Coordinating the agency’s public information system before, during, and after an emergency
- Developing and updating a comprehensive public information program, which includes educating and increasing awareness of emergency preparedness and response
- Creating and distributing weekly information reports and maintaining an Internet presence through social media, blogging, and website updates
- Overseeing public outreach events and programs
- Establishing an emergency information center during times of crisis
Education and Training for Public Information Officers
Public information officers must be able to clearly and expertly disseminate information in times of crisis, and they must have a clear understanding of emergency management operations and the incident command system.
A bachelor’s degree or higher in emergency management or such fields as public administration or even business administration, is generally accepted as the academic path to a career in emergency communications. Individuals interested in pursuing careers as public information officers should give attention to relevant coursework within their emergency management programs, which would include:
- Incident Command System for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
- National Response Framework
- NIMS Public Information Systems
- NIMS Communication and Information Management
Another possible degree path for public information officers may be a bachelor’s degree in public relations, marketing, journalism, or communications, given the need for excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Regardless of the degree earned, public information officers must possess experience in emergency management, public relations, and/or community relations experience.
Further, continuing education and public information officer programs are required in this field. Issues covered in these programs often include:
- Legal Issues in Public Information
- Public Information and Public Policy
- Risk Communication
- Interpersonal Skills for Public Information Officers
- Conflict Resolution
- Media Relations
- Emergency Information Systems
- Stress Management for Public Information Officers
Salary Statistics for Public Information Officers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median, annual pay for public relations managers was $91,180 in May 2012, with the top 10 percent earning more than $166,000. The median, annual pay for public relations specialists, during the same period, was $52,090, with the top 10 percent earning more than $92,500.
Resources for Public Information Officers
- International Association of Emergency Managers
- Federal Emergency Management Association
- National Incident Management System
- Department of Homeland Security
- International Public Relations Association
- Public Relations Society of America