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Great Falls hosts MT DES Public Information Officer workshop

PIO Workshop.jpg
Posted at 6:19 PM, Oct 25, 2023

GREAT FALLS — In an emergency situation like a fire, flood or even a late October snowstorm seconds and information count. In Great Falls this week, people who want to deliver that information are honing their craft.

Great Falls hosts MT DES Public Information Officer workshop

Under the watchful eye of MTN News team members Ryan Gamboa and Tom Wylie, Ana Marie Reid got a feel for what it’s like to be a conduit of vital information in an emergency.

“The mock interview, this was this the first time I was actually did something as a mock interview,” said Reid who is a volunteer with the Cascade County Community Emergency Response Team, or C.E.R.T. “So it was a little bit different for me. But I'm going to take it home. I'm going to work on it a little bit and see what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are and improve on that.”

Reid is one of nearly 20 volunteers who want to be better prepared for the role of public information officer.

“A PIO is a public information officer. They're the continuity between their agency and the citizens, the community or whatever audience they're trying to get to,” said Joey Zahara, the Montana Department of Emergency Services Training Exercise Education and lead instructor for the three-day workshop. “So, they're the catalysts. They're the trusted source of information that is getting out to the public.”

In addition to being questioned by the press about a massive snowstorm, participants are also getting social media training and crafting sample press releases critiqued by state emergency officials and journalism professionals.

Reid also volunteered with C.E.R.T. while living on the east coast. She would encourage fellow volunteers to attend future courses which she sees as a good networking opportunity.

“So you can find out who those key players are here in Cascade County,” said Reid. “So, in case there was an emergency, we would be able to ascertain and be able to effectively respond to it in a very knowledgeable way and also a way where we protect our citizens here in Cascade County.”

The course was first offered before COVID in Lewistown and organizers say it was a considerable success and the word spread.

“We Don't have repeat attendees, but we have people that were in the class before and they work for the same agency and they're sending their employees to this course,” said Zahara.

Zahara says earning the public trust during an emergency is invaluable.

“When you become the trusted source of information, people keep coming back to you for more information,” said Zahara. “So it's really critical that you're on point with your skills, with how you talk, how you act, and how you deliver information.”

“It's all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time,” said Reid.

One of the highlights of the workshop was a presentation from a FEMA Master Public Information Officer who served in that capacity during the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in June of 2016.