Joint Information Center trials and tribulations

August 7, 2007

If you’ve been in a Joint Information Center (JIC) you know that the concept is one thing, reality is another. For those who are JIC-less, a Joint Information Center is the communication function of the Incident Command System, which since 2003, is the federally mandated management system used to respond to all crises and emergency events where there is more than one agency or group responding. The response team responds with the operations, planning, logistics, finance and administration while the Joint Information Center provides the eyes, ears and mouth for the operation communicating with the media and stakeholders.

The JIC concept is very solid and has proven its value in multiple major events. It provides a single voice for the response despite there being multiple agencies involved, and makes it possible to exercise communication discipline under the leadership of the Incident Command. For example, if you have several different government agencies responding, from a large federal agency such as the EPA, to a local department of Emergency Management, plus some state ecology or transportation or health departments, the media would naturally contact any and all agencies involved in the response. The Minnesota bridge collapse provides a good example. If you were a reporter, who would approach to get the best, fastest, most accurate, most colorful information? You would try multiple sources, of course. With a JIC, there is only one place to go. One phone number (or set of numbers), one website, one email address, one set of facts, one PIO (public information officer) and one Incident Command (made up of commanders from the different agencies). One voice. It saves lots of time, it makes it more efficient, it helps make certain the information provided is as accurate as it can be, and it assures that those most responsible have control over what is being said about the response. Like I said, a great idea.

I am about to head out to another large-scale Joint Information Center operation. I am supposed to be the PIO as I have been for the past 8 years. But I won’t be. The simple reason is politics. The rules of ICS and JIC have been designed specifically to avoid politicizing and in-fighting, but that’s what gets me to my original comment. If any of you have been involved in JIC or ICS operations you know that it is dang near impossible to keep the politics and in-fighting out of just about anything. And so it goes. But, as in all things in life, you do your best to get along and go along and as far as it is possible be at peace with all others. If even if it means sitting back and watching a process that is important to you fall apart. I’ll let you know how it goes. No doubt I will learn important new lessons and that is what it is all about.

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