Harris County Hosts Crisis Communications Training

(Houston, Texas) – The Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM) in collaboration with the University of Houston’s (UH) Jack J. Valenti School of Communication recently offered a day of crisis communications training to area public information officers and emergency management partners.

Post Hurricane Harvey, Harris County conducted internal reviews including one with partners who helped staff the Regional Joint Information Center (JIC). Feedback from partners included the need for additional crisis communications training to help them when they support the JIC and when their office faces a crisis of its own.

“Every disaster reminds us about the importance of having an effective crisis communications plan in place,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “When an emergency occurs, organizations need to be ready to provide clear and consistent messages as soon as possible.”

The training led by UH educators discussed how to create a crisis communication plan, how to approach various cultural and stakeholder groups during a crisis, the importance of transparency, and how to use digital assets to reach wide audiences.

“Given the speed at which news travels, planning ahead is essential before an actual crisis takes place,” said Dr. Jennifer Vardeman, UH associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Valenti School of Communication. “Every business and agency public or private should have a detailed contingency plan that outlines every conceivable crisis and appropriate response.”

The training included a team exercise involving a crisis scenario to test the participants’ ability to work together to develop messaging and discuss the best ways to disseminate information. The exercise allowed participants to test their performance and identify opportunities to improve their response to real events.

In Harris County, HCOHSEM’s Regional JIC serves as the area’s hub for communication and coordination. The Regional JIC is a component of the Harris County Emergency Operations Center and activates to support emergency operations public information. During an emergency, the Regional JIC collaborates with key partners responding to the same incident to ensure coordinated and consistent messaging.

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