PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection

PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-06-13
Unit 1Presentation Materials: PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection
Unit 2Transcript: PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection
Unit 3Workbook: PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection
Unit 4Recording: PIO Lessons Learned During the US Capitol Insurrection

On January 6th, 2021, a violent mob attempted to disrupt the counting of electoral ballots by launching an assault on the United States Capitol. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) swiftly responded to the urgent request for defense, facing individuals engaged in destructive and harmful behavior. Despite being outnumbered, exhausted, and injured, the MPD officers courageously defended the Capitol. The MPD’s Office of Communications leveraged the officers’ heroic feat to shape the public narrative and widely negative public perceptions of law enforcement.

Here to discuss the US Capitol Insurrection is Alaina Gertz, who served as the Lead Public Affairs Specialist in the Office of Communications for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC in the height of the Capitol riots. Alaina is also the newly appointed Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the Fairfax County Police Department.

Points covered in Alaina’s presentation include:

  • An overview of the Metropolitan Police Department, its leadership, and law enforcement landscape providing context on the organizational structure and dynamics before and during the January 6th
  • The atmosphere within Washington DC leading to the Capitol riots characterized by demonstrations fueled by the George Floyd incident, a stressed out, overworked and low morale workforce, and social media’s role in fueling tensions.
  • The MPD’s creative intelligence-gathering efforts and proactive planning and logistics initiatives based on information from social media conversations, hotel occupancy numbers, and open-source information.
  • A detailed timeline that illustrated how the January 6th insurrection played out.
  • The unexpected level of strategic and tactical planning that the rioters had to advance into the Capitol.
  • The critical information gathering done prior to the press conference to ensure that the information shared with the public are accurate and complete.
  • The message communicated during the first press conference that centered on the MPD’s role in the riot response, the harm caused by the rioters, and the curfew put into effect.
  • The information provided in the second press conference updated the public that the Capitol is secured, agitators are removed, the arrests and weapons recovered, and the death toll.
  • Clarifications and updates provided by the MPD’s communications team regarding arrests, injuries, and deaths, the partners that MPD worked with, the joint investigation led by the FBI on the incident, and the need for the public’s help to identify the insurrectionists.
  • The internal messaging that ensured a uniform storytelling from the MPD members and the post-event tailored messaging shared with local, national, and international audiences.
  • Shaping the narrative and emphasizing how the officers saved democracy and leveraging the media in telling these.
  • Lessons learned as it relates to intelligence, planning, operation, task force approach, transparency, responsiveness, internal communication, navigating the media narrative, and documenting and archiving.
  • The value of investing in employees’ mental wellness and recognizing their contributions and acts of heroism.

Questions from the webinar attendees are about:

  • Giving local and national media access.
  • Pros and cons of exclusive interviews for significant events.
  • The goal and target audience for the media outreach.
  • Where the most useful tips came from.
  • Questions from within the workforce on the reporting.
  • MPD’s use of social media in communicating.
  • Changes in communication methods as a result of the lessons learned from the Capitol riots.
  • What PIOs should do in the case of a similar large-scale protest.



Click here to view and register for other upcoming PIO, Social Media, and Communications webinars on the JCH Platform.


Audience Comments

  • “The sharing of information, “best practices”, what didn’t work. Really good presentation.” — Adriana
  • “The webinar was very informative, and I learned facts about the insurrection that I had not known. I also learned more about how responding officers were affected by the event.” — Ashley
  • “Lots of new information especially from the PIO perspective. Great stuff!” — Catharina
  • “Very well presented. Thank you for informing us and for the work you and others did on that day.” — Kimberly



This webinar is part of the JCH Summer School Program. From June 1-August 31, 2023, attendees will receive a certificate of attendance via email about one hour after the conclusion of a webinar.

Want to join us for other Summer School webinars? Check out our Summer School Calendar and register today!



Additional Resources
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