Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.
Keeping the Public Informed
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Smoke is billowing over the ridge. Flames are shooting into the sky. Residents near the fire are on pins and needles wondering what is going to happen. Is the fire going to burn their home? What direction is the fire moving? Is the fire going to be put out? These are just some of the questions that a public information officer answers.
Information is a critical aspect to any fire. The people who are affected by the fire want to know about it and public information officers are there to help.
Public information officers disseminate a wide range of information, including the fire's location, size, and spread direction, as well as firefighting strategies and tactics. Information officers also reach the public in a variety of ways, anything from making personal contacts to updating websites to interviewing with a local radio station. Sometimes they even use social media sites like Twitter.com as an attempt to reach people on the go.
By identifying and meeting with community leaders early on, information officers gain an understanding of specific information needs in order to develop a communication strategy for the community.
During emergency situations, the public need for information is akin to food, water and shelter. In order to allay fears and anxieties, information officers provide one-on-one personal contact with the public by distributing maps and current information to a trapline of businesses and residences. They establish highly visible bulletin boards and update them daily with current fire information and maps, photos and news releases. The public can also obtain information by calling the information center or receiving email updates.
To keep the media updated, information officers write and distribute press releases or fact sheets daily when fire activity warrants it. The press release, based mostly on information from the morning briefing, recounts the previous day's activities on the fire and the planned actions for the day.
When community interest is high, the incident management team will hold public meetings to explain how the fire is being managed, what contingencies are in place and what impacts the community can expect. An information officer is responsible for planning and facilitating public meetings, developing an agenda and preparing visual aids to help the public understand the incident's objectives.
Although managing the fire is the top priority, providing information to the public is a valuable piece of the equation.
Contact: Mark Keogh, Public Information Officer
Phone: (907) 822-7223