After the Webinar: Joint Responses to Major Incidents. Q&A with Katie Nelson

Webinar presenter Jonni Redick answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Join Incident Responses to Major Incidents: How Law Enforcement and Other Partners Can Truly Work Together. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: How do you determine who takes the lead in a crisis communications situation? What should we do when another agency or organization steps out of the chain of command and starts providing information without actually having coordinated the info with the ‘primary agency’? 

Katie Nelson: So, the primary agency is the agency, for the most part, at least in the initial response, where the incident occurred, so that jurisdiction. Now, if another agency goes rogue, so to speak, and begins to share information out of turn, please utilize your leadership and your department to speak to the leadership of that agency or that department. To address as quickly as possible. Most agencies hopefully will understand this. You never want to jeopardize an investigation. You never want to jeopardize the integrity of an investigation. And so, making sure that everybody understands it at the forefront, again, through that proactive effort, at relationship building, training things like that is so important. But if that is just not possible ahead of time, make sure, at least your leaders are in communication so that if that begins to happen, it can be nipped in the bud sooner rather than later.

Host: Good point, I think I think it was Kate Kimble, who shared you’d never make friends at 2 in the morning. So, make those facts right or beforehand. So, good advice.


Audience Question: Katie, you talked about how we’re in an era now, where no comment or holding all of the information until all the details are set just doesn’t really work anymore. But what do we do if the chief or our sheriff’s point of view is no windfall before its time?

Katie Nelson: By not speaking, you are giving somebody else licensed to tell your story for you, and I don’t know a single Sherriff, that would be okay with somebody else dictating how their agency is run, or how they respond to things. So, if you’re concerned that your Sheriff may not understand the totality with the ability to speak as an incident is evolving, please know that every time that your agency does not provide an update, even if it’s just a holding statement like, “We are still actively investigating, as soon as we have information to share, we will,” That’s going to give more power to being in the driver’s seat of information, back to you, and your agency, and your Sheriff, or your police chief, or whomever. As opposed to allowing media, local residents, or local politicians or talking heads to, again, take that away from you, and then you are operating in a double deficit if that’s the case. You’re not only operating against the time deficit, but you’re also operating against the deficit of being in control, being the primary.


Audience Question: Well, you must be reading my mind here, because I’ve got another question here that’s come in. So, Katie, how do we corral the misinformation once it’s out there when the public has taken a tidbit of partial or misinformation, and it’s completely run loose? Is there anything we can do to actually close Pandora’s Box once the poor information is out there, or once the misinformation is out there?

Katie Nelson: Yes. So, there are several ways to go about doing that. First and foremost, the minute you start seeing misinformation, establish your command presence in a digital space, and let people know that they have wrong information, especially if it’s coming from the media, or you’re seeing a powerful vocal group in the community. Share information that is not correct. I am more than happy to share specifics of what that looks like. Secondly, if you have the time, create a rumor mill or a misinformation page on your website that you can link out to what that has all of the themes, or topics that are being discussed that are inaccurate or incorrect, and address them with the truth and accuracy. Don’t forget, though, that facts cannot trump emotions. So, speak to the emotional side of critical incidents and joint responses, as well. And then finally, get your leadership in front of a TV camera. There is nothing more powerful than having your chief or your sheriff, or whoever stands in front of a bank of cameras and say, I want to address the misinformation or the rumor out there about such and such. I want to unequivocally say that that information is false. Here is the truth. Nobody can get past that at a certain point. So, making sure they do that over, and over and over, that is so important.


Audience Question:  Should we call it wrong or say, it’s wrong information, or how blench or direct should we be when we’re calling out misinformation? 

Katie Nelson: No time like the present to be as accurate as possible. Call it out exactly as it is.


Audience Question: You talked about making sure that voice is consistent. During an emergency, though, we can have numerous people monitoring and responding to messages and social media and such, and everyone talks just a little differently. How do we standardize voice when we have numerous hands involved? What does that look like? 

Katie Nelson: So once a joint response is necessary, again, make sure ahead of time that there are efforts to understand what the voice of that agency, the primary agency looks like. Now, federal agencies speak a little differently from state agencies, and they speak a little bit differently from county and local agencies. And sometimes those differences are very obvious, and sometimes they’re subtle. But also, understanding the mentality, the mindset of whoever is behind those accounts, or who is leading as the PIO. That also helps. So, as I said, relationship building is so important, that I will know how a PIO in the city next to us Palo Alto will speak. I know how different a PIO in a neighboring city like San Jose will speak. It’s all about knowing. And getting those relationships built over time, to really understand how people think and feel and see how, as people come into those joint responses, how one agency is going to speak, or the primary agency will speak. And then, as you move away. Let’s say the incident, the investigation gets deeper, so, it now goes to the FBI knowing what that’s going to sound like, and how that person, or the comfort level of that organization to use certain language. That’s also, that’s all a learning curve that has to be established, and again, the sooner the better.


Audience Question: Katie, not surprisingly, during the Great Resignation, we’ve seen a number of new chiefs, new directors, new sheriffs, and department heads change over in the last year or so. What should new chiefs or maybe even existing leaders what should they be doing to reach out? Extend the hand of collaborations as you’ve described it? Is it cheesy to reach out? And just to introduce yourself, or offer to come over to their agency and introduce yourself and answer questions? How do you begin that conversation? Especially if you’re new?

Katie Nelson: Oh, think of it like a date, if you like somebody and you want to ask them out, ask them out. Go over there, be proactive. It’s okay to take that leap of faith.


Audience Question:  And then what should our existing department heads or existing chiefs do when they know that their counterparts that new agencies have changed over? 

Katie Nelson: Just, I would say that, for us, at least here in the Bay Area, we have an ongoing list of active PIOs at different agencies. If you don’t have something like that in your region, begin to establish it, and then every six months, send out an e-mail to that current lists. Inevitably, you’re going to get a response back that says, I made the rotating out, or somebody new is here, and then update it as you can. The more people that know who is at what agency, the better off you will be, because, again, that is going to mitigate the lag and response time in the event that a joint response is needed.


Audience Question: Should I start with a first meeting? What types of topics should I bring forward to start off that first meeting? How do I connect with these individuals, and especially my community resources? 

Katie Nelson: I would say, the first meeting should be simple. Don’t get too in the weeds with things but look at having conversations about what the meetings forward should look like. So, let’s look at the different aspects of joint responses. Let’s talk about this, looking at how we can have a whole meeting around best practices, really having that establishment meeting is important. Then, that also sets the stage, again, it’s a call to action for further meetings, to ensure that that momentum is carried forward.

Host: So, it’s more of a meeting to establish an ongoing conversation, not to try to resolve everything in the first meeting?

Katie Nelson: Correct. And then making sure that there’s a set schedule for every meeting going forward, so you’re setting expectations, people are going to know, going in what to bring to the table.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Join Incident Responses to Major Incidents: How Law Enforcement and Other Partners Can Truly Work Together



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