The FirePRO event in Birmingham comms2point0 supported saw a some of the best learning you are likely to come across.
By Dan Slee
For most people a burning building is a disaster but for your fire service? This is their place of work.
For me there are no group of people with more versatility than fire comms people able to cut from a family-friendly campaign to a disaster instantly.
Which is why spending two days in their company was one of the highlights of 2017. Two big incidents cast a shadow across the year: Grenfell and the Manchester bomb.
One thing for me emerged from the #FirePRO2017 event in Birmingham and that’s that lessons from one part of the public sector work in another part too.
What was discussed? How to handle a damning report that sees your organisation rebuilt, a campaign for a Christmas number one and fake news.
Grenfell Tower? London Fire Brigade’s handling from Vicky Hardman was fascinating. But what was shared in the room cannot be shared out of it.
Manchester bomb? Greater Manchester Police in the wake of the Manchester attack. You’ll recall that 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert in the city. Adrian Worsley from GMP presented brilliantly.
10 points of learning from Greater Manchester Police post-Manchester Arena bomb
1. An out-of-hours rota is essential. In the current uncertain climate with the UK on high alert it is criminal that every public sector organisation does not have an out-of-hours rota and run excercises to test what will happen in an emergency.
2. When you run your emergency planning exercise invite the Press. A huge and unexpected learning from Greater Manchester post-Manchester bomb. They need to know that this is not business as usual that the flow of information may be shaped by a live investigation. It may seem a small point. It became huge in the aftermath of the explosion.
3. Press the mutual aid button… fast. After four days of your team working 18 hour days in extreme stress they will fall over, Greater Manchester Police say. Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.
4. It’s okay not to be okay. Strikingly, Adrian from GMP was open about the impact this has had on the team. It has been difficult. The after effects may be felt months down the track, he says.
5. Team work makes the dream work. That trite slogan? It is true.
6. Communicate what the public need to know not what the media want to know. It seems subtle but in actual fact it is a huge point. Don’t lose sight of this.
7. In a major emergency, your comms team assume the position of management instantly. Big decisions need to be taken minute-by-minute and sometimes the top brass are not free to make them for you.
8. The reaction of the public may overwhelm you. Post-bomb GMP was inundated with pizza deliveries and tea bags. There is a limit to how much you can eat and much was given away to good causes. But the reaction of the public was overwhelming.
9. But you may not be able to say what you did. After the bomb’s aftermath other organisations such as ambulance and fire gave personal accounts of what they did. GMP took the decision not to. Partly, it was being restricted by on-going investigations and partly a decision that ‘this is what we do, we don’t make a fuss.’
10. In the first 24-hours the GMP comms team answered 1,077 media calls. Four months on their workload remains three or four times what it was before the incident.
Other points of learning:
11. When your organisation gets a damning report comms needs to play a vital role in the recovery.
12. There is a lot of love ion the room for the Musterpoint social media management tool from comms people.
13. Alan Oram from Alive With Ideas is a good bloke who can help you come up with good ideas.
14. Blue light services got how important ‘fake news’ was first. But that’s spreading to other parts of the public sector.
15. Three billion images are shared daily on social networks in 2017.
16. Mental health and wellbeing in fire comms needs to be very important.
17. Coming together with fellow professionals is useful on so many levels. Not least to realise it’s not you, it really is them.
18. Fake images are a problem.
19. Farida Vis knows her stuff about what is really going on on the web with truth and fake news.
20. South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s campaign for a fire safety Christmas number one was time-consuming, remarkable and tiring.
21. Expect different cultures when your fire service comes under the umbrella of a Police and Crime Commissioner. Tricky times.
22. ImpactHub Birmingham is a lovely venue with good WiFi and good food.
23. Fire comms people can do unconferences just fine.
24. Ask frontline people to get involved. The Every Pregnant Brothers' Christmas number one attempt showed that people who aren't the usual suspects may well be up for it, too.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0 who were a supporter of #firepro2017.