I hope my patient readers will allow me a little self-congratulations here. Once in a while, if you are lucky, you get a brief and fleeting sense that maybe what you are doing is making a difference and changing the world even just a little. Eight years ago, almost to the day, I became involved in a major oil industry disaster. It involved a fuel pipeline explosion that took three lives and since I was contracted to one of the oil companies involved, I became very involved in the communication response including serving as spokesperson for the company. I learned a lot and it was my first experience with an ICS (Incident Management System) response including the use of Joint Information Center or JIC.
The communications were a disaster–despite our best efforts. And it was largely about the lack of technology needed to meet the high demands for information from the media, neighbors, government officials, agency leaders, etc. Attorneys were involved–enough said. Out of that experience came my book (Now Is Too Late2) and a communication management technology now widely recognized as the leading urgent and critical communication management system. Out of it also came a concept which the technology expressed and made possible–the idea of virtual JICs.
The idea is simple: Joint Information Centers as conceived and currently implemented flat out don’t work. Too slow. They depend on communicators from a variety of different organizations getting physically together in one room, getting all the needed technology hooked up, getting all the lists and tools they need to work with together, getting them organized, coordinated and properly directed. All that is very possible and happens all the time. It’s just that it takes days, not hours or minutes. And minutes and hours is what you have to work with in these days of instant news, blogs, fulltime all the time news channels and the like. For long term events, it still is possible and necessary to pull a big JIC together–but that is after the virtual JIC has been at work.
The virtual JIC depends on technology. A complete and comprehensive technology platform that allows a dispersed team to function as if they were all in the same room. And it also depends on universally accessible technology–because a JIC by definition includes communicators from a variety of organizations that normally don’t work together and frequently don’t even get along. So using one organization’s tool without providing full and complete access to all the players simply doesn’t work.
That was our concept. It works–it has been proven in major oil industry events, major government events (such as the G8 Summit), major weather events and natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina. It is at work all over the world right now.
We’ve been trying to gain attention and understanding of the concept of virtual JICs for over five years. And now, here is the point of all this, we have some validation. Out of the Ohio State Public Health Department, a researcher by the name of Bret Atkins has analyzed the concept of Virtual Joint Information Centers and in a very academic mode, has evaluated the idea and its potential. Here is the strongest external, sober-minded, non-commercial and completely unbiased analysis of this idea since the days it first hatched.
I hope that Mr. Atkin’s call for continued evaluation of this concept will bear fruit and that his study will result in national level recognition of the importance of this for public safety as well as for protecting and enhancing reputations.