Policy-making in DC on Risk and Crisis Communication

November 5, 2008

What a privilege to play an active role in one of the most important conferences around risk and crisis communication. Booz Allen Hamilton working with Homeland Defense Journal put together a conference for top-level communicators and policy makers in Washington DC on Tuesday. Nearly 200 participated. I was fortunate to be a presenter and the moderator of an outstanding panel that included Neil Chapman, a top communicator for BP in London, Butch Kinerny, head of communications for FEMA’s Mitigation Directorate (I kidded him that it would take a good communicator to explain that title), and Michael Dumlao, a very impressive young social media designer with Booz Allen Hamilton.

We heard from General Russel Honore, the Army general charged with leading the Katrina response, and Dr. Vincent Covello, the nation’s top expert on Risk Communication.

As crisisblogger readers will recognize, I talked about the need for ever faster, more direct and more transparent communication as we move more completely into a world of 140 character headlines, twitter feeds from all over, 300 million on-the-scene reporters, etc.

There is no question that government agencies are struggling mightily with the sea change underway–and I don’t just mean the election that was just concluded. It is the even more massive change in how the public gets information, how they process it, how they participate in the process.

I have to say and perhaps it is not surprising, but some of the most insightful analysis and comments of the entire session came from the youngest presenter–Michael Dumlao. He made it very clear that to continue to think in this environment that you can “control” the information is simply ludicrous. You only have one decisiosn to make–do you participate or not. Some will conclude if they cannot control it they will not participate. Too bad for them. He also asked this stunning question of all these government agency leaders and communicators: What is your wikipedia policy?

What a great question.

What is yours?


2 Responses to “Policy-making in DC on Risk and Crisis Communication”

  1. Neil Chapman Says:

    It was a privilege and humbling to appear on a panel at the Homeland Defense Journal’s conference in DC.
    It was a great event, and kudos to HDJ and Booz Allen Hamilton.

    It struck me just how much is known about Risk Communication. A lot of very good material was shared with participants: effective soundbites have proven formulae, 90%+ of questions media will ask in a crisis can be predicted, and tested messages will bias people to act in line with official safety advice.

    There is a tremendous amount of great research and a lot of science available to practitioners.

    However, it struck me that the art is in ensuring its application during real events. That takes persuading our leaders when they face tough decisions.

  2. Jimmy Jazz Says:


    Thanks for the update on the conference. As always, sound advice, with an eye to the future of comms.

    In reference to your question, I’ve asked a similar question at my job–what is our blogging policy? And we don’t have one. I asked in response to a conversation I had with Ike Pigott after the whole Cisco blog fiasco. I know that I opened eyes with my question, and imagine that a question about Wikipedia would’ve spun their heads.

    They know my feelings about the situation (I call it a blindspot), and it’s something I’m going to continue to push.

    Thanks again,

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