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Communicating During a Disaster Luncheon Recap

Last month, Akron Area PRSA welcomed Steve Bosso, master FEMA-trained public information officer and assistant fire chief for the Twinsburg Fire Department as our January luncheon featured speaker. During the event, Bosso discussed critical steps for sharing public information during emergency and non-emergency situations as well as tips for storytelling through different platforms.

“The goal is to get the right information to all the right people at exactly the right time, so everyone is empowered to make the right decisions,” Bosso reiterated throughout his presentation about the overall mission of sharing public information.

To achieve successes, Bosso explained a good public information officer understands his or her community’s demographics, governmental structure, key players, relevant history and community culture.

Bosso said his public information communication is broken into three categories: day-to-day public awareness (95%), emergency notification (5%) and crisis communication (1%). In all these categories of communication, Bosso recommends using the classic inverted pyramid story structure and apply it to every media platform. He said this method is affective for even the most dire situations.

Bosso’s reputation as a successful public information officer has led to his work with some very serious local and national crisis situations.

In 2019, Bosso led public information efforts when a Twinsburg firefighter was responsible for a murdering his fiancé followed by committing suicide. During the crisis which gained national attention, Bosso focused on telling the truth and sharing as much positive information about his employee as possible.

“The negative news will come without warning,” Bosso advised. “Do your research and be as prepared as you possibly can.”

During the 2018 Category 4 Hurricane Florence, Bosso was called down south to help lead public information efforts and work in several joint information centers (JIC). Through his work with various JICs and cities affected by the hurricane, Bosso developed three to five key messages for his team to focus its communication. By narrowing communication in these key areas, his teams were able to develop consistent and cohesive messaging across all platforms.

“In a JIC, I use a traditional SWOT analysis to determine who is best for each communication job,” said Bosso. “Some people were good at social media, while others were good at on-camera interviews. It was important to find everyone’s strengths so we could successfully communicate important information during this crisis.”

In all public information communication, Bosso emphasized the importance of reporting the facts to those affected as efficiently as possible.

“Tell the truth, tell it all, tell it first, tell it fast,” Bosso recommended, echoing the advice of well-respected Cleveland crisis communications specialist, Bruce Hennes.

About Steve Bosso
Steven Bosso, assistant fire chief and public information officer (PIO) for the Twinsburg Fire Department, recently completed a year-long FEMA professional development program and joins less than 70 others across the U.S. as a recognized Master Public Information Officer. Established in 2017, the national program is designed to prepare senior-level PIOs for an expanded role in delivering public information and warnings using a strategic, whole community approach. It is the Department of Homeland Security’s highest level of training and credentialing for public information professionals.