By: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson/Public Information Officer
What can we take away from this tragedy for our own safety and that of others.
Friends and new acquaintances often ask me after they hear what I do for a living, â€œI bet you have seen everything?â€ My response is always, â€œI may think so until the next incident occurs.â€
On Wednesday, Aug. 26 two journalists were shot and killed by a disgruntled ex-employee of the television station they worked for, a CBS affiliate, WDBJ, in Roanoke, Virginia.
Countless viewers witnessed the premeditated homicides during a live broadcast with the footageÂ replayed many times after the attack. The murderer, positioned just feet away from his targets, waited during a live early morning news broadcast until Adam Ward, a 27-year-old cameraman, was focused on Alison Parker, a 24-year-old reporter.
Both Ward and Parker were shot and killed in the attack. Vicki Gardner, head of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was being interviewed by Ward and Parker and sustained a gunshot wound during the attack. She is expected to survive.
The use of social media, a valuable tool in our public information officer (PIO) toolbox, also played a role in that the gunman recorded the heinous act and soon uploaded the video to Twitter and Facebook. Did this action and attention strike a chord with others?
How many times have fire and emergency medical service (EMS) department PIOs been in the same position as Vicki Gardiner, either reporting on breaking news, providing updates on a significant incident or speaking on behalf of your department on just about any subject matter? I am confident most PIOs can say that they have been there many times. Is there a lesson to be learned from this tragic incident for us? Â
PIOs and our media associates must continue to provide news as we always have, however, is there a need for safety concerns for yourself and the media you are working with? Absolutely. There has always been and there will always be safety concerns within a fire department incident scene or simple stand-up on-camera interview. Now, we must be aware that this has occurred and could happen again, anywhere at anytime.
While most of our interview opportunities are held in relatively safe environments, as compared to our law enforcement counterparts, there is always room to remain vigilant and safe. As the PIO, you are responsible for the safety of the media on your incident scene. While the Smith Mountain shooting appears to have been an isolated vengeful attack, it remains our goal to ensure everyone goes home after every call. If this means relocating a media area away from the general public or off the shoulder of a busy road, it is our responsibility to ensure for everyoneâ€™s safety. Once the media makes their way to obtain other interviews or to get that â€œbetter angle,â€ there is not much a PIO can do to control their safety except to make it perfectly clear that they are on their own. Â Reality is that nothing short of having additional staff and security present during the early morning live shot could have made a difference in the outcome. PIOâ€™s should note this tragedy occurred and never forget it.
Remaining vigilant is a high quality for a PIO. Being a good PIO is being aware of your surroundings, situation and ongoing incident status, all while keeping an eye out for the â€œlive truckâ€ or reporter and videographer like Alison and Adam, at all times. Â After yesterday, awareness of the WDBJ-TV tragedy and a higher degree of vigilance should become the norm for PIOs.
Just as you critique your departmentsâ€™ operations after a significant incident or your personal performance of your duties as PIOs, you need to examine the Virginia incident and put yourselves in the position of Vicki Gardiner and ask yourself, â€œWould I or could I have done anything differently?â€ Your answer, most likely, is no. We need to walk away with the awareness that this incident has occurred and with the crazy potential that it could occur again. We need to continue to provide the information that our citizens have a right to know, regardless of what has occurred. Â We think we have seen everything until that next incident occurs.