So You want to be Your Department's PIO
It seems too easy. You have a smartphone and you capture a few images of your Department at work. You post the image and caption to the many social media networks available for everyone in the world to see. Does this make you the Department's Public Information Officer (PIO)?? No, you are doing what any person with a smartphone can do and sometimes they get it right and sometimes wrong. If you are a member of a Fire or EMS Department, do you have permission from your Chief and/or your Department to operate as the PIO?? This is your first step; prepare yourself through education and ask your Chief and Department for the authority to speak on behalf of your departments, post images, attend community events and talk to reporters, to name just a few few roles of the PIO.
Your next step is to acquire as much knowledge about the role of a PIO as possible. Search for PIO classes offered in your area or on the internet. Ask PIOs from other Departments if they have meetings or training sessions. A great first step in your education is the on-line class, FEMA PIO Awareness. Your State Training Office should be able to tell you about any upcoming 2-day Basic PIO Class and the 2-day Joint Information System/Joint Information Center Class (JIS/JIC). As you start to grasp the basics consider attending the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland which offers a 1-week resident class, Advanced PIO Class.
Your State Training Officer should also be able to tell you about the Incident Management Team - All Hazards PIO Class offered regionally through the Emergency Management Institute. This is a week long class that delves into operating as a PIO within the National Incident Management and Incident Command Systems. There are several pre-requisites to take this class so please read what is required before signing up. My point here is that you should acquire as much education as possible about the role of being a PIO as you can. The FEMA classes are free and readily available. Take advantage of the training and use it to your advantage.
The use of social media is not an "End All - Be All" to being a PIO - it is just another tool in the PIOs toolbox. It's important to learn the basics of PIO 101 before going social worldwide into PIO 2.0.
Next we will discuss your internal and external audiences.