Just the facts in crisis reporting

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 5:38pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 10, Issue 2 | 2014

Any large-scale emergency is muddled with chaos. Responders mobilize to aid the people involved. Reporters scramble for the facts. The public hangs on every word. In the confusion, misinformation mounts. But for Y‑12’s emergency communications, the message is increasingly clear.

To push accurate, timely information to first responders and the public, Y‑12 developed the Emergency Management Information System. EMInS, a computer-based system to manage disaster response, pulls together emergency management resources and gives the site’s trained responders an easy way to communicate.

EMInS provides responders with the resources they need during an emergency,” explained Robert Gee, Y‑12 Emergency Management. Y‑12 emergencies could include fires, chemical spills, nuclear criticality accidents, security incidents or other situations requiring organized sitewide response.

EMInS integrates meteorological data, Geographic Information System–enabled site maps, plume models and field data, building and material guides, video capabilities and status boards with real-time updates. Responders in the field communicate with emergency managers in both the Technical Support Center and Emergency Operations Center who constantly update data, actions and plans in EMInS.

“Through this system, everyone involved in a response has a common operational picture, and responders can seamlessly coordinate their efforts to provide the most effective response,” Gee said.

For all its improvements to internal response communications, though, EMInS did not initially incorporate public communication needs. Y‑12’s public information officers were drafting numerous press releases by hand, carrying them to multiple sources for approval and often circling back for reapproval if changes were made. Ultimately, the public was left in the dark.

“We realized that our model was broken,” said Steven Wyatt, NNSA Production Office Public Affairs manager. “By the time our news releases were approved, they were no longer relevant.”

To remedy that, Wyatt pulled together a team of federal and contractor experts to explore options. They worked with Y‑12 Information Technology to integrate public information needs with the tools already collected in EMInS; created a new information officer position to fill information gaps; and, ultimately, incorporated social media to reach the widest audience in the shortest amount of time.

“People want information now, and they want it in bite-size chunks,” said Terry Byrd, Y‑12 social media coordinator. “Social media offers us that speed.” With EMInS, speed and accuracy merge. Y‑12’s public information officers collect all the response information posted in the system and work it into bullet-point facts that are electronically reviewed and approved for outside release. The information can then be tweeted.

“Here’s the beauty of EMInS: We can all see the same information at once,” Wyatt said. “We’ve got public information officers in five different locations, but we’re still coordinating a quick, consistent and factual message.”

Y‑12’s success with social media during emergency response has not gone unnoticed. After a 2012 emergency exercise, an outside evaluator rated Y‑12’s emergency public information process and social-media use as a “noteworthy practice.” The achievement serves as a recommendation that other Department of Energy sites adopt Y‑12’s model.

“This is all a result of our collaborative team scrutinizing every step and questioning how we could do things better,” Wyatt said. “EMInS is perfect for delivering information as quickly as possible. Now we’re sharing our successes with sites around the Nuclear Security Enterprise.”