Effective communications with our citizens and the news media is an essential part of public service and is particularly crucial during catastrophic public safety events. The purpose of this Directive is to establish duties and responsibilities for the Public Information Office during times of extreme emergencies to facilitate the release of information to the news media during mass incidents affecting the public safety of the citizens of Volusia County.
Directive 54.1 establishes media relations guidelines and defines the responsibilities of the Public Information Officer during mostly routine circumstances. However, due to their nature and scope, certain types of mass incidents will require an extensive public information activity for a protracted period of time. Such incidents include, but are not limited to: school or workplace shootings; major airliner crashes, train derailments and other transportation accidents; civil disorder; and terrorist events and other catastrophic incidents involving mass casualties. During such mass incidents, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has a responsibility to cooperate with the news media and keep the public informed. This responsibility must be balanced with the need to preserve the peace and ensure that the news-gathering process does not disrupt or interfere with ongoing operations or endanger the safety of citizens or public safety officers. These issues will be addressed through the adoption and implementation of a Crisis Communication Plan.
During times of crisis or mass law enforcement/public safety events that are handled by or involve the Sheriff’s Office, it shall be the policy of the Sheriff’s Office to inform the community and work cooperatively with the news media to facilitate the flow of factually consistent information on a timely basis. The Sheriff’s Office shall not interfere with the legitimate right of the media to collect and report information, provided such news-gathering efforts do not disrupt, interfere with or jeopardize ongoing operations or endanger the safety of citizens, public safety officers or news reporters.
54.2.1 Taking into account the extent and severity of the incident, the impact on the public safety of the community and the information demands of the news media, the Sheriff, in consultation with the Public Information Officer, will determine the necessity to activate the Crisis Communication Plan on a case-by-case basis.
54.2.2 During activation of the Crisis Communication Plan, the Sheriff’s Office’s Public Information Officer shall report to the scene of extreme emergencies and be responsible for coordinating news media activities.
54.2.3 In order to fulfill the responsibilities under this plan, the Public Information Officer shall:
Work at the direction of the Sheriff and the Incident Commander or his/her designee.
At all times adhere to Directive 54.1, Media Relations.
Respond to the scene, obtain a briefing from the Incident Commander or his/her designee and prepare an initial information summary upon arrival.
Act as liaison and coordinate all activities with Public Information Officers from other responding agencies and jurisdictions.
Establish a staging area for the news media to obtain information safely without interfering in tactical operations. When selecting a staging area, consideration shall be given to providing the news media with the ability to observe public safety operations when practical, while ensuring that the news media does not disrupt ongoing operations. Consideration also shall be given to ensuring that the staging area is separate from the Command Post, yet close enough to facilitate the flow of information. The Public Information Officer shall be responsible for the control of the news media within the staging area and shall have the authority to eject individuals disrupting or hampering law enforcement activities.
Coordinate all media briefings. Every effort shall be made to conduct media briefings at regular and continuing intervals to facilitate the flow of timely, accurate, consistent, updated information and control rumors and misinformation to the maximum extent possible. Every effort will be made to include representatives from the various responding agencies at all media briefings.
Seek approval of either the Sheriff, Command Staff or Incident Commander or his/her designee prior to the release of all information. All media briefings shall be conducted by the Sheriff or his/her designee, Incident Commander or his/her designee or the Public Information Officer or his/her designee and shall be in accordance with established Directives.
Via the news media, relay special bulletins, instructions and other public safety messages requested by bonafide agencies responsible for various activities related to the emergency situation.
54.2.4 The Public Information Officer, at his/her discretion, shall request on-scene response of mutual aid PIOs from other public safety agencies, as the need arises. Upon request of the Public Information Officer, the County’s Community Information Director shall provide mutual aid to the extent possible. In addition to general PIO duties as directed by the Public Information Officer, County Community Information shall act as liaison to the County Manager/County Council. All mutual aid PIOs shall act at the direction of the Sheriff’s Office’s Public Information Officer.
54.2.5 The Public Information Officer or his/her designee shall be included in all briefings at the Command Post to facilitate the flow of timely, updated information to the news media.
54.2.6 Whenever practical, the Public Information Officer shall coordinate and arrange media interviews with incident personnel to provide the news media with first-hand information on the operations.
54.2.7 In addition to on-scene media briefings, the Public Information Officer shall cause to have the Sheriff’s Office’s web site and the automated media telephone line updated during regular intervals throughout the duration of the incident.
54.2.8 Requests by the news media for access to restricted areas shall be considered by the Incident Commander or his/her designee on a case-by-case basis. If approved, the access area will be specifically identified by the Incident Commander or his/her designee, and said access will be accommodated by PIO escort.
54.2.9 To the extent that a public safety crisis event impacts the County as a whole and/or other County Government services/resources in addition to law enforcement, the Sheriff shall serve as liaison to the County Manager in coordinating the release of information to the news media to the maximum extent possible.