Disaster drill covers dealing with the media

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate June 17, 2014 03:46 pm

Del Norte County first responders practice creating a crisis joint information center. Photo courtesy of Dennis Louy
Del Norte County first responders practice creating a crisis joint information center. Photo courtesy of Dennis Louy
When a major crisis strikes a small community like Crescent City, emergency managers and first responders will have to deal with not only victim triage, putting out fires and coordinating rescue efforts, but also fielding questions from pesky reporters.

Not just hometown pesky reporters, but also the likes of CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS and many other national news outlets that might descend on Crescent City to get the scoop on the devastation.

To help local officials handle such a media onslaught, the Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services conducted training earlier this month on setting up a “joint information center,” testing their skills by using a drill scenario of an active shooter at Sutter Coast Hospital.

“At approximately 2 p.m. a man later identified as Lawrence Malvo entered the Sutter Coast Hospital on Washington Boulevard armed and started shooting people. All in all, about 30 victims were shot. At this point we have no person that is deceased; all 30 people are still alive in various degrees of condition,” said Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven during a mock press conference.

Steven continued to explain that law enforcement and a SWAT team responded to the hospital where they were met with gunfire and an explosion that was believed to be a diversion. 

“Mr. Malvo was located by the SWAT team, found armed wearing bulletproof armor and a helmet. He was shot by the SWAT team. He has survived, and he is in critical condition, but he is stable and expected to survive,” Steven said. “We have found out that there is a possible link between Mr. Malvo and his brother, who is a Pelican Bay inmate, that was in need of some sort of medical care that in his mind was not being seen to properly by the hospital and that this was some sort of retaliation.”

As the lead public information officer for the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, Steven is well versed in responding to reporters, but the training hosted by Media Survival Group, consultants who specialize in training public information officers, was intended to coach a team of first responders on the best way to handle a large-scale press conference with several local, state and national media outlets and identify what problems might arise.

“One issue here is that the majority of people in this room — if it’s an active shooter drill — most of us aren’t going to be the (public information officers). We’re going to be involved in the situation and going from there,” said Mark Tatara, commander of the Coast Guard cutter Dorado.

While a mass shooting could occur in Del Norte County, a much more likely scenario is a devastating earthquake and tsunami from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which scientists say has a 40 percent chance of occurring any day in the next 50 years. 

Such an event would certainly bring national media outlets to Crescent City, where nearly 900 deaths are predicted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but thanks to trainings like this, Del Norte County officials might at least be prepared for those pesky reporters.

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