Webinar presenter Cassidee Carlson answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Developing a PIO Support Program for Families During Mass Casualty Events.
Audience Question: Did you run into any challenges given the combined federal and local command structures at the scene?
Cassidee Carlson: There weren't issues. Everyone was on board. The PIO volunteers did not report to me. There are instances that they need to get in touch with us, but other than that, the PIOs independently managed it.
Audience Question: Based on the information you provided, It seems like 4 of the 12 families decided not to work with a PIOs. For those families, did you get a sense of why they decided not to work with a PIO? Or were you not able to get ahold of them?
Cassidee: All the 12 families were present and offered the same opportunity to have a PIO work with them. One of the families had a family member who had experience with PR/Media that they decided to go with that. The other three, we don't know the reason why they decided against it, but we did not want to appear to be pushing or pressuring them. The PIOs' numbers were also provided to them if anything changes or they have questions.
Audience Question: You mentioned social media, can you provide a little more detail? Were the family PIOs involved in any monitoring or posting? What did they do regarding social media?
Cassidee: That was on an individual level. They asked the families if they want the victims' accounts shut down. It was up to the families if that was something they want or something the PIOs can monitor or have access to.
Audience Question: Would the PIOs assigned to the families be present with them during media interviews?
Cassidee: If there was a media interview with the family, the PIO would set it up and would be with the family as they go down to stations. They would be present if the media came to their home or met them for an interview. They were present as support, but wouldn't be the ones being interviewed. They coordinate with media, and coach the families to prepare for things to expect.
Audience Question: Do you know how involved the PIOs were in terms of reviewing the family statements especially if they knew that there might be potential issues in how the media would end up portraying the family statement? Did they provide insights and suggestions?
Cassidee: Yes. They did. It was case by case. For some families, they relied heavily on their PIOs and were in constant contact. Some weren't as involved and only played the buffer so the family didn't have to deal with the media.
Audience Question: In the days immediately following the incident while the PIO program was still very much active, did you end up coordinating any regular meetings with the PIOs to address any issues, make any suggestions, or share best practices?
Cassidee: Yes, there were a couple of meetings. It would be recommended if you will be implementing a similar program.
Audience Question: Was the group restricted to the more experienced PIOs or did you have some fairly new PIOs as well?
Cassidee: I did select experienced PIOs that I can trust to handle the stress. It will be your judgment call, depending on the sensitivity of the case.
Audience Question: Should an agency look at training Victim Advocates to also take on a PIO role? How did the VA and the PIO work together?
Cassidee: I was fortunate to be in an agency with lots of resources available within the area to serve as backup. Not everyone can pull off something similar in a short notice so pre-planning is very beneficial. I'm apprehensive about giving the VAs double duty with PIO role too. If you have the resources, keep it separate. Put a PIO in the position so the VAs can focus on their tasks and responsibilities.
There was positive feedback from the VAs and PIOs on attacking it as a partnership. They would depend on each other. I would suggest that you make that relationship between PIOs and VAs happen.
Audience Question: Do you think it would have been pragmatic to have PIOs for the injured victims as well?
Cassidee: I agree. There would be value in that. But you also need to look at the hospitals' regulations. It's about your numbers. You can identify the injured victims who are the PIOs they can reach out to, instead of assigning one per victim. But if you have the resources, it would be very beneficial.