Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NAGC – Call for Entries’ Final Deadline: Jan. 20, 2012

Be recognized! Enter your best work in the National Association of Government Communicator’s 2011 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. This annual international awards program recognizes superior government communication products and those who produce them.

Final Deadline: January 20, 2012

10 Tips for Submitting a Winning Entry

2011 Winners 

Flash Slideshows of 2011 Winners: Part 1 and Part 2

Quicktime Slideshows of 2011 Winners: Part 1 and Part 2

This year there are 41 categories to choose from, including new categories for Blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Best 140 Characters. These enhancements have been made to reflect the changing ways in which we communicate with our audiences. Enter as many categories as you choose in the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. The number of opportunities to share your best work, innovation, creativity and use of technology may surprise you. One winner will be awarded Best in Show! The following examples show the range of categories for entering your best work:

• Publications
• Media Relations
• Photography
• Graphic Design
• Video, Multimedia
• Electronic Communications
• Branding/Rebranding
• Social Media

Take advantage of special discounts by renewing your NAGC membership or becoming a member today!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Social Media for Emergency Managers Can't Start When the Emergency Does

There was a nice post about the use of social media by emergency managers last month on the Next Gov site.

One part that caught my eye was the following, and I think all of us who work with social media can relate:

"One of the biggest barriers to leveraging Twitter during disasters, for instance, is sifting out important information, such as Tweets from people trapped in collapsed buildings or at ad hoc shelters that are short of food and water, from the larger universe of Tweets and re-Tweets, panelists said Thursday."

Back in August, we highlighted the Charlotte Fire Department's efforts to manage social media, and I'm really interested in hearing more from smaller city or county communicators, or departments with very limited staffing. How do you keep up? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Do You Manage Expectations Via Social Media?

Survey results released in August by the American Red Cross revealed some pretty high expectations for the public in terms of how quickly they expect a response during a disaster. This key finding really stood out: "For those who would post a request for help through social media, 39 percent of those polled online and 35 of those polled via telephone said they would expect help to arrive in less than one hour."

Obviously, we live in an information overload, immediate gratification environment when it comes to information, due in no small part to social media and the incredible wealth of online information we have at our disposal. More importantly, people are increasingly viewing social media as a viable means of getting emergency assistance.

At Memphis Light, Gas and Water, one thing we do is to regularly remind customers what they can and can't do through social media (i.e., reporting outages, emergencies, etc.). We also sign on and off every day on Facebook and Twitter, so that customers know when we're available to help answer questions. That helps, though more so during normal business operations than when we're in crisis mode.

How are you dealing with managing social media and meeting these lofty expectations?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Early Bird Deadline for NAGC Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards: Dec. 9

Be recognized! Enter your best work in the National Association of Government Communicator’s 2011 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. This annual international awards program recognizes superior government communication products and those who produce them.

Download the Call for Entries

  • Early bird deadline: Dec. 9, 2011
  • Final deadline for entries: Jan. 20, 2012

This year there are 41 categories to choose from, including new categories for Blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Best 140 Characters. These enhancements have been made to reflect the changing ways in which we communicate with our audiences. Enter as many categories as you choose in the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. The number of opportunities to share your best work, innovation, creativity and use of technology may surprise you. One winner will be awarded Best in Show! The following examples show the range of categories for entering your best work:

  • Publications
  • Media Relations
  • Photography
  • Graphic Design
  • Video, Multimedia
  • Electronic Communications
  • Branding/Rebranding
  • Social Media

Take advantage of special discounts by renewing your NAGC membership or becoming a member today!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ideas for NAGC Board Retreat Friday?

The NAGC Board will conduct its annual retreat on Friday in Falls Church, VA. We're going to spend the day discussing the past, present and future of NAGC. The agenda includes:
  • Revising board positions
  • 2012 NAGC Communications School
  • Blue Pencil/Gold Screen Awards
  • A new mentoring program
  • Educational opportunities for members
  • Partnerships
  • NAGC Website redesign

What are we missing? Thoughts?

On another note, have you checked out the NAGC Linked In Group lately? We're up over 500 members now, and recently we've had a lot of activity. Discussion, shared insight and ideas involving:
  • Social Media Archiving
  • Penn State Scandal
  • Disaster Response After Tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama
  • An LA Utility Feeling Some PR Heat

Join the group and wade into the conversation!

NAGC: Good Communication…Good Government

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Call for Speakers: 2012 NAGC Communications School

Tell Your Story!

NAGC announces its “Call for Speakers” for the 2012 Communications School, Government Communicators: Telling America’s Stories, in Arlington, VA, June 5-8, 2012. We are looking for half-day pre-conference training workshops and 60-minute breakout session presentations.

Topic areas of interest:

  • Working with Media
  • Responding to negative press
  • Strategic Communication Plans
  • Communicating on Sensitive Topics
  • Contingency Plans & Preparing for Disaster
  • Emerging Technologies
  • 508 Compliance
  • Advances in Social Media
  • In-House Photography & Video Production
  • Old School & Traditional Communications Tools
  • Leadership
  • Creative Storytelling
  • Understanding Generational Differences
  • Surviving the Approval Chain
  • In-House Style Guides

·Download the abstract submission application at Submit your presentation abstract by 5pm ET on December 9, 2011.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at

Know a great speaker? If you have heard a great speaker on one or more of these topic areas of interest let us know at Please try and provide as much contact information as possible with your speaker recommendation.

National Association of Government Communicators

(NAGC) Headquarters

201 Park Washington Ct.

Falls Church, VA 22046

P: 703-538-1787

F: 703-241-5603

NAGC: Good Communication…Good Government

Mark your calendar:

June 5-8, 2012 – NAGC Communications School, Sheraton National Hotel, Arlington, VA

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Water district orders PR consultant to halt use of News Hawks site

Water district orders PR consultant to halt use of News Hawks site

Yike's. This story about a PR firm working for Central Basin Municipal Water District in Los Angeles caught my eye. Let's say that you are in charge of their communications for a day. What do you do?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Your Thoughts on the Penn State Scandal and Response?

This issue has been burning up the newswires this week. From a communications and media relations standpoint (and more importantly, from a moral standpoint), the university has been panned. This author shared her takeaways. What are yours? How would you have handled it?

We've started a discussion on the NAGC LinkedIn group as well.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Call for Speakers: 2012 NAGC Communications School

Interested in presenting at the 2012 Communications School?

NAGC announces its "Call for Speakers" for the 2012 Communications School, Government Communicators: Telling America's Stories, in Arlington, VA, June 5-8, 2012. We are looking for half-day pre-conference training workshops and 60-minute breakout session presentations.

Topic areas of interest:

* Working with Media

* Responding to negative press

* Strategic Communication Plans

* Communicating on Sensitive Topics

* Contingency Plans & Preparing for Disaster

* Emerging Technologies

* 508 Compliance

* Advances in Social Media

* In-House Photography & Video Production

* Old School & Traditional Communications Tools

* Leadership

* Creative Storytelling

* Understanding Generational Differences

* Surviving the Approval Chain

* In-House Style Guides

* And others

Download the abstract submission application at Submit your presentation abstract by 5pm ET on December 9, 2011.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

Know a great speaker? If you have heard a great speaker on one or more of these topic areas of interest, please let us know. Please try and provide as much contact information as possible with your speaker recommendation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FCC and FEMA to Test Emergency Alert System Tomorrow

· The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) are planning the first Emergency Alert System (EAS) nationwide test, which will take place at 2:00 PM (EST), Wednesday, November 9, 2011. The test will last approximately three (3) minutes. Normal programming will return following the test.

· FCC and FEMA are conducting a public relations campaign utilizing print, broadcast, and other media to prepare the public for the test and the fact that a “live” alert code is being used. If you are part of an organization, below is a draft article that could be used for use in your group’s newsletters, telephone trees, blogs, meeting announcements, or any other way your group uses to communicate important information.

· The November 9 test will utilize a “live” national alert code, i.e., a coded message that will make it appear as an actual emergency announcement, not a test. This is necessary in order to allow FCC and FEMA to test the actual working order of EAS equipment and the state of readiness of EAS operators and participants.

An audio message will precede the alert message announcing that the exercise is a Test Only. Other information will be broadcast after the test concludes.

· Additional information about the test is available at the FCC’s website



ONLY A TEST. On November 9, 2011, at 2 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will conduct the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). At that time, an announcement will come on every TV and radio channel indicating that there is an emergency. This is only a test! Please do not be alarmed when you see this test. You do not need to take any action.

The purpose of this test is to assess how well the EAS can alert the public about dangers to life and property during certain national emergencies. Although the FCC and FEMA are taking steps to ensure that everyone has access to the announcements made during the test, some people watching cable television (as well as some others) may only receive an audio (not a visual) notice that this is a test. Both agencies are now working to ensure that you are aware of the test so that you understand that this is not a real emergency.

What is the EAS? EAS alerts are sent over the radio or television (broadcast, cable and satellite). State and local emergency managers use these alerts to notify the public about emergencies and weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. EAS can also be used to send an alert across the United States in the case of a national emergency. It is common for state and local EAS tests to occur on a weekly and monthly basis. But there has never been a test of the nationwide system on all broadcast, cable, satellite radio and television systems at the same time.

The purpose of the November 9th test is to see how EAS would work in case public safety officials ever need to send an alert or warning to a large region of the United States. If a major disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami occurs, EAS could be used to send life-saving information to the public.

What will be different about this EAS test? The nationwide test conducted on November 9th may be similar to other EAS tests that you may have seen in the past. These have an audio EAS tone and a message indicating “This is a test of the Emergency Alerting System.” But this nationwide test will last a little longer: around 3 minutes. In addition, due to some technical limitations, a visual message indicating that “this is a test may not pop up on every TV channel, especially where people use cable to receive their television stations. For these reasons, the FCC and FEMA are taking extra steps to educate the public, especially people with hearing disabilities, that this is only a test.

For more information about how this EAS test may affect you, please visit:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Federal Communicators Network Offers Blue Pencil/Gold Screen Workshop

Are you a federal employee and want to know more about NAGC's Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards? Attend the Federal Communicators Network's "How to enter NAGC's Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition," November 10th at 9 a.m.

Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Ave. SE (Navy Yard Metro) - Rm 6

Washington, DC 20590

Register at or call in:

US Toll Free Access#: 1-877-366-0711

Participant Passcode: 82194997#

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How is Your Communications Area Organized?

Jina Gaines of the City of Virginia Beach is doing some research into how government communications departments are structured. Her questions are below.

  1. Which communications structure does your organization subscribe to (centralized vs. decentralized)? By centralized I mean there is coordinated messaging from a department of communication/public affairs office and within that department/office there are representatives/account executives that see to the communications needs of individual departments/offices/programs. By comparison, a decentralized communications structure is one in which the public affairs/public relations/media person operates more independently and communications decisions are largely made at a departmental level without oversight from a central office.
  2. How does your structure work? How are communicators organized and what are their responsibilities?
  3. Do you think the method you are currently using is effective/efficient? If so, please explain. If not why not?
  4. How has your communications structure affected branding? Do different departments have different logos, slogans, taglines, etc.?
  5. Have any issues/problems arisen that are attributable to how communications are carried out (whether centralized or decentralized)?
NAGC: Good Communication...Good Government

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Blue Pencil/Gold Screen Time Again!

2012 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition Call for Entries
How to Submit a Winning Entry Teleconference

Be recognized! Enter your best work in the National Association of Government Communicator’s 2011 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. This annual international awards program recognizes superior government communication products and those who produce them. Complete details and entry forms are available at

This year there are 41 categories to choose from, including new categories for Blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Best 140 Characters. These enhancements have been made to reflect the changing ways in which we communicate with our audiences. Enter as many categories as you choose in the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition. The number of opportunities to share your best work, innovation, creativity and use of technology may surprise you. One winner will be awarded Best in Show!

The following examples show the range of categories for entering your best work:

  • Publications
  • Media Relations
  • Photography
  • Graphic Design
  • Video, Multimedia
  • Electronic Communications
  • Branding/Rebranding
  • Social Media

Winning Tips
Join past winners and judges for the “How to Submit a Winning Entry” teleconference on Thursday, November 3, 2 pm ET. Visit for further details.

Get More Involved—Volunteer to be a Judge!
In addition to entering the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Competition, you can also get involved by volunteering as a judge. Judges will be assigned to categories in which they have not submitted an entry. Contact us for more information,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meeting Murphy

Meeting Murphy
By John Verrico, Spokesman, Science & Technology Directorate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Setting up a high-visibility media event - especially one that involves a great deal of technological coordination - requires a lot of advanced thinking about what could go wrong. Beyond the traditional planning affiliated with any live demonstration, adding the complexity of remote
cameras, Webcasting, chemical releases, and an emergency responder training exercise offer whole new avenues to be surprised.

Here's the scenario. The DHS Science & Technology Directorate was demonstrating a new chemical sensor that can be placed inside cellphones and could warn people about the presence of deadly carbon monoxide gas and other hazardous chemicals. The sensors could not only alert the
cellphone owner, but could also contact emergency responders with detailed information about the gas concentration and location.

We set up an elaborate scenario with manikins in a "hotel room" exposed to a dangerous carbon monoxide leak. Because the gas chamber had to be sealed off and we couldn't have people inside, we used remote cameras to capture when the cellphone in the room alerts and when the rescue squad breaks in to save the occupants.

We could not operate the remote cameras wirelessly because of signal dead zones at the fire fighter training center, so we ran cables between the buildings. We conducted multiple dry runs, testing all the equipment and connections and everything was perfect for the event.

So now we have several dozen people in a conference room, including television cameras, and several hundred more watching live on our Webcast. After being subjected to a series of scientific presentations about the development of the technology and all the obligatory partnership thank you messages, the crowd was ready for some action.

The gas built up in the room, the cellphone called for help and the rescue squad was deployed. Let's cut to the remote cameras to see what is going on in the "hotel room"...but the signal was distorted and the image froze for several seconds before ultimately cutting off altogether. No manner of signal pushing or gizmo tweaking would bring the cameras back on line.

No one got to see the rescue, which was the climax of the entire demonstration!

What could have gone wrong?

We checked, double-checked and triple-checked all connections and systems - audio, video, lighting, mult-box, etc. We had foul weather contingencies in place - although we never needed them because the sky was clear and sunny with only the slightest breeze. We had alternate people on stand-by in case someone became ill or missed their cue. We rehearsed several times. It just didn't make sense!

It was, of course, the one thing we never considered. And we didn't discover the answer until later that day when we were cleaning up everything. That's when we found the teeth marks in our cable to the remote cameras.

As we rolled up the damaged cable, muttering expletives under our breath, an inquisitive (and apparently hungry) squirrel chitterred at us from atop a nearby telephone pole.

As I realize that we cannot think of every contingency, I will always remember that sound as squirrel laughter.

We named him Murphy, but we aren't sure if he's related to another squirrel that's currently creating mischief in the baseball world.

John Verrico also serves as the Professional Development Director for the NAGC Board of Directors.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Latest from NAGC

Mark your calendars: NAGC will hold its 2012 Communications School in Arlington, Virginia, on June 5-8. As more plans unfold, you'll be able to find out more at

Meanwhile, there have been a number of interesting links and discussions posted recently on NAGC’s various social media sites.

A YouTube video chronicles Morris County, New Jersey and its social media efforts during the Hurricane Irene response.

Patrick Rafferty of RaffertyWeiss Media posted a link to an article about the documentary "Rebirth," which features interviews with 9/11 survivors.

What’s Your Social Media Plan if Disaster Strikes? Sandy Levine posted a link to this interesting article.

On the flip side, is social media during emergencies an unrealistic expectation? Leonard Sipes examines this in depth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Social Media as a Credible News Source?

Still a little ooky about social media? Well, believe it or not, social media is a major element of news nowadays.

In recent weeks, as the Washington DC area was pummeled by an earthquake,
multiple aftershocks, Hurricane Irene, a couple of small tornadoes and
unprecedented flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Lee, news gatherers were turning to Twitter and other social media sites as sources of news.

The news anchors and weather reporters on every network would pull up a
Twitter page and actually read tweets as part of the newscast. The tweets were considered to be accurate, credible reports of damage, rising
waters, downed trees and power lines, and other issues.

During the height of Hurricane Irene, the FOX affiliate compared tweets from
different areas to identify how those areas were being affected by the
storm. For example, people on Maryland's Eastern Shore were talking about
high waves pounding the waterfront, folks in Prince George's County were
tweeting about power outages, Southern Maryland residents were concerned
about high winds and parts of Washington DC were astir with rising rivers.

The utility companies and emergency responders were paying attention to the
social media reports as well and many were interacting with customers via social media.

Who would ever have expected that 140 characters could make so much of a
difference? Is your agency on board?

And what about accuracy and squelching rumors?

This is a potential topic for a session at the NAGC Communications School in
June 2012. What do you think? Is this something we should pursue?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Local Government Communicators Use Online Tools to Provide Irene Updates

After a weekend that saw the Eastern U.S. get hammered by Hurricane Irene, a number of government entities have stepped up their communications in order to reach the public. The advent of smart phones has made it possible for many people to use their phones to continue to get information during disasters, making online updates more important than ever. The National Hurricane Center and have done a great job of disseminating information at the national level. A couple of good local government communications examples in Virginia that caught my eye: the websites for City of Alexandria and Arlington, respectively. The Alexandria site has brief updates front and center on a variety of topics related to both the hurricane and last week's earthquake. This info is supplemental in more real-time fashion by the city's Twitter page. Arlington's Newsroom page has been updated frequently with brief but essential bits of info. Arlington is also using social media to help in real time, answering questions about a variety of hurricane-related subjects on its Facebook page. The Facebook page includes a link to a YouTube video detailing damages as well as a slideshow from the county's Flickr page.

Have you seen some great communications examples from the hurricane? If so, please share them!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Charlotte Fire Department Embraces Online Video Revolution

Facebook and Twitter seem to get all the love, but YouTube is a great example of how online video content has changed the way we communicate.

Not soon after YouTube introduced us to skateboarding mishaps and ill-advised backyard wrestling stunts, the light bulb went off for many businesses and government entities as they began to realize how valuable this ability to post and share video content could be. Enhancing video sharing is the ease of using and low cost of purchasing video recording technology. You can record and upload a video on your smart phone in just minutes! You can raise the video quality bar by purchasing a Flipcam for $100 or less.

For many agencies, this is an area of untapped potential, but the Charlotte Fire Department is taking full advantage of this opportunity to communicate with the public through YouTube and other social media.

Mark Basnight, a 25-year veteran of the Charlotte Fire Department (CFD), is the Public Information Officer for the Office of Media & Public Affairs. He recently shared his experiences and expertise as a presenter at the 2011 NAGC Communications School.

Basnight serves as co-website manager for content & design, host of the Internet-based CFD Talk Radio show, co-producer for CFD Today "Live with Chief Hannan" TV show, and is responsible for the research, development, and application of social media technology.

“We've come to understand that our audience is a very visual driven community,” said Basnight. “The Flip Cam provided us an opportunity to capture video and make it available to a broad audience in a very timely manner. YouTube is certainly one of our most popular SM applications.”

In addition to YouTube, the Charlotte Fire Department currently makes use of several social media technology and applications including:
Yahoo Groups
Google Groups
BlogSpot (CFD News & Information)
Blog Talk Radio
Facebook (for communicating crisis messaging and safety information)

CFD also uses Google Translate to translate blog content into various foreign languages, and utilizes Skype video conferencing via desktop and iPhones to conduct live media interviews and press briefings.

“We've used video from the flip cam to compliment after-action reports, provide news footage for local and national media, and create public service announcements,” said Basnight, adding that CFD has had more than 91,000 views of its Flip Cam videos via YouTube.

So what’s next for CFD?

“We have been working diligently with a vendor to produce a mobile application that will enhance and foster our ability to reach our audiences wherever they are,” Basnight added.
“The app will utilize some of the latest GIS and artificial intelligence technology available. We hope to make it available sometime in the last quarter of 2011.”

Basnight also serves as the Chair of the Department of Homeland Security Virtual Social Media Working Group, a member of the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Network, and as a Disaster Response Public Affairs Officer for the American Red Cross.

He added, “One of the things I am most proud of is creating the term ‘social media cross pollination’ and the phrase ‘the message doesn't change, the way we communicate has.’"

Mark Basnight and the Charlotte Fire Department: Good Communications…Good Government.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Collaboration: A Tale of Two Floods (Part 2)

Last week, we looked at the Nashville flood of May 2010, and how collaboration between agencies helped to get quick and accurate information out to the public.

Down the road, in my neck of the woods in Memphis, we had our own flooding issues this past May. Unlike the Nashville floods, which were caused by a huge amount of rainfall over a couple of days, the Memphis flooding was slower to develop. Our situation was the culmination of heavy rainfall along the Mississippi in the spring, as well as a large volume of melting snow along the northern part of the river. Memphis was by no means alone, as the Mississippi River flooding took its toll on Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

While a relatively small geographic section of Memphis was affected, it still was a serious blow to those in the flooded areas, and the uncertainty associated with the flooding caused a huge amount of public concern.

The Mississippi continued to rise as April progressed, and as the month ended, flooding was a forgone conclusion. The flooding became a reality in early May and on May 10, the river crested at 47.8 feet, its second highest level ever. To date, 3,282 Shelby County residents have registered for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

As a utility, the flood brought new challenges for us. In April, we were hit by three separate large storms that knocked out power to 50,000+ customers each time. We had never experienced more than two storms of that size in a year previously. For outage restoration, our communications are both proactive and reactive, and we use a variety of mediums to keep customers updated. In short, it's a response system we're very familiar with. The flooding was a very different creature.

MLGW was more of a supporting cast member in the flood response, but it seemed that rumors and emerging issues kept popping up, increasing the unpredictability factor. Our communications included:

  • Information about areas where we were shutting off utilities due to the flooding.
  • A YouTube video showing customers how to turn off their gas services if they were evacuating.
  • Safety information about water damage to electric outlets, reporting gas leaks, and more.
  • Assuring the public that our water pumping stations were all above the flood areas. A downtown water main break really didn’t do us many favors at one point, with customers in one neighborhood associating the discolored water with flood water contamination!

Collaboration with other agencies became extremely important to our messaging during this time. We had to pass along information like road closures to help our employees navigate their way around town. For customers, we also passed along information from the Shelby County Code Enforcement department, Emergency Management Agency, the city and the county. Having quick access to accurate information from these entities was a tremendous boost to our efforts.

At the center of the communications coordination for the Memphis flooding was Steve Shular, Public Affairs Officer for Shelby County, Tennessee. For Shular, his goal was to “ensure the public had the latest and most accurate information. To accomplish this, news releases were written in bullet points with specific information linked to particular parts of the emergency. For example: flood conditions, homes damaged, shelters opened, people rescued, health concerns, etc.”

To coordinate the response from multiple agencies, all agencies involved in the flood reported to the Shelby County Office of Preparedness Emergency Operations Center to share facts and statistics before they were released to the public.

In terms of sharing information with other entities, Shular said his goal was simple: “Ensuring the public knew the dangers of the flood so they would have adequate time to act. It was also vital to keep information flowing about the response and recovery effort through daily updates broadcasted and delivered each morning, afternoon and evening during the crisis.” Weekend updates were also provided, allowing for other agencies to have continual accurate information about the flood response. Shelby County also created a special phone number and e-mail address for citizens to call that helped them get answers and info.

One of the key communications components for Shelby County during the flood was a special website the agency developed, The website was staffed by an on-site webmaster who immediately posted news releases and other information, and the site became a central source of flood related information for the public.

In reflection of the lessons learned from the flood, Shular said, “We learned that information technology and a spirit of openness by the Director of the Office of Preparedness determined much of our success.”

He also saw some opportunities to improve, stating “for the next community crisis, we'll have some additional people cross-trained to check/field messages and answer the large volume of calls that we’d expect.”

Shelby County, Tennessee: Another example of Good Communications....Good Government

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Collaboration: A Tale of Two Floods (Part 1)

Over the course of the past year and a half, we’ve seen a number of natural disasters in the U.S., particularly in the South. Tornado and storm outbreaks, along with flooding, have carved a broad swath of damage. For government communicators, these types of events are extremely challenging when it comes to disseminating information quickly and accurately. In these situations, collaborating with other agencies and communicators is essential.

One example is the flooding that hit Nashville in 2010 after heavy rains drenched the area the first two days of May. The record setting rainfall approached 20 inches in some areas during that two-day period, and the Cumberland River reached its highest level since 1937. The heavy flooding that ensued was responsible for the deaths of 10 people in Davidson County (21 total fatalities were reported in Tennessee). Downtown Nashville was flooded heavily, and Davidson County was declared a Federal Disaster Area on May 4.

As the sole Public Information Officer for Nashville’s Metro Water Services, Sonia Harvat has her hands full even under normal conditions. She’s literally a one-person PR department, which isn’t unusual in our line of work. Metro Water Services provides water to more than 174,000 homes and businesses in the Nashville area, and is also responsible for collecting and treating wastewater and providing stormwater services.

“Throughout this crisis, I felt the most important message for us was ensuring that our customers knew that their drinking water was safe and encouraging water conservation due to the fact that we had lost one of our two water treatment facilities,” said Harvat.

However, in addition to her duties as PIO of the water company, she was also part of the PR team in the Office of Emergency Management "war room.” The team was responsible for disseminating information from all of the agencies represented at the emergency center. This included collaborative news releases that included information from all of the agencies.

Harvat says that collaborating on these news releases helped cut down on (not eliminate) rumors and speculation.

“It was not uncommon to send out a 10–12 page press release and at least three releases were sent a day.”

Harvat found information from several entities to be critical to her own communications:

  • Power outage updates for water/sewer facilities from Nashville Electric Service.
  • Information from the National Weather Service and Corps of Engineers was instrumental in determining areas to evacuate and in planning sand bagging operations.
  • The Sheriff’s Department and certain volunteer organizations provided the manpower necessary to sandbag the Metro center levee and critical infrastructure.
  • The Metro Planning Department provided GIS services and maps instrumental to response and recovery.

In return, she provided critical information to other agencies:

  • Road closure information to the fire and police departments to assist with emergency response.
  • The fire dept also looked to Metro Water regarding water availability in the event of a fire.
  • Continuous communications with the Metro Health Dept regarding the safety of the tap water and service availability for hospitals, etc.
  • Sharing of information with outside organizations such as environmental groups, advertising agencies and the restaurant association that proved instrumental in helping spread the word regarding water conservation.

One stroke of good fortune for Harvat was placing the agency’s Director, Scott Potter, in front of the camera and convincing him to speak directly to the public rather than reading a prepared speech. This gained the communities’ trust and understanding.

Another lesson learned was in how the agency connected with the community. For example, Director Potter went days without a shower, even as he spoke at one press conference after another urging customers to conserve water. As a result, said Harvat, “the community understood that Metro Water Services was affected by the flood just as they were – we were in it TOGETHER.”

“We used all the resources at our disposal in reaching out to the public and found that the community was more than willing to help,” Harvat observed, giving examples such as public service announcements on local radio stations, an ad agency that designed and posted free billboards, and taking advantage of community groups and homeowners associations willing to spread valuable information.

“There is no such thing as too much information or too many forms of communication,” added Harvat.

Metro Water Services: Another example of “Good Communication… Good Government.”

Next Week: Part II as we examine how Memphis responded to flooding in May 2011.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Movin' On Up...

We'd like to periodically salute government communicators who have recently received promotions or appointments, as well as post job opportunities in the field. If you have any news of this nature to share, e-mail me at

NAGC congratulates our fellow communicators in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve who were recently selected for promotion:

To the rank of Lieutenant Commander (active duty)

LT Charity Hardison, Naval Service Training Command

LT Zach Harrell, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

LT Paul Macapagal, CHINFO

LT Stephanie Murdock, U.S. Strategic Command

To the rank of Lieutenant Commander (Navy Reserve)

LT Kristine Garland, Naval War College (also a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center)
LT Ralph Hooper, Joint Public Affairs Support Element
LT Heather Paynter, CHINFO

To the rank of Mass Communications Specialist Chief Petty Officer (Navy Reserve)

MCC (Sel) Johnny Michael, Fleet Forces Command

MCC (Sel) Wendy Wyman, Expeditionary Combat Camera

MCC (Sel) Eric Beauregard, Expeditionary Combat Camera

MCC (Sel) Oscar Troncoso, Expeditionary Combat Camera

As our Navy friends say, “BRAVO ZULU!” Congratulations!

Secretary Panetta Announces Appointments to Key Defense Public Affairs Posts

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced the appointment of two well-known and respected government communications professionals to key Department of Defense public affairs positions.

George Little, who served as director of public affairs during Panetta's tenure as CIA director, moves to the Pentagon to be deputy assistant secretary of defense/press secretary.

Capt. John Kirby, currently special assistant for public affairs for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will become deputy assistant secretary of defense/spokesman and director of media operations.

Kirby and Little will fill top slots in the department's Office of Public Affairs, headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson, the department's senior communicator.

"I am honored that these two talented individuals have decided to join my team and serve our department and our country," said Panetta. "I look forward to working with them in the weeks and months ahead."

QR Codes? Crowdsourcing? City of Manor Texas Raises the Communications Bar

Just when many people are finally figuring out how to take back a Facebook friend request (FYI -"Cancel Friend Request" is in the bottom left corner of the person's profile) or whittle down diatribes to 140 characters for a tweet, more technology comes along and changes the game again.

The City of Manor, Texas is raising the communications bar.

As highlighted in a recent interview with Federal News Radio, the City of Manor is a great case study in crowdsourcing and the use of Quick Response (QR) bar codes. According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing asks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a "crowd"), through an open call. In the case of Manor, they're literally soliciting and using their community's ideas.

By now, most of us are familiar with QR Codes, as they've become quite a useful tool for activities like shopping, but businesses and organizations are warming up to a variety of uses. Social Media Examiner did a pretty good "101" overview of QR Codes in February. In most cases, using QR codes is as simple as scanning them with your smart phone and seeing what pops up.

Manor, a small town on the eastern portion of the Austin metropolitan area, was the first government agency in the United States to deploy a QR Code program to disseminate information to residents and tourists. The idea came to them when they were looking at ways to improve their filing system, and an employee suggested that they use them as a means of branding the city. It worked. Since then, Manor has used QR codes and crowdsourcing as a means of increasing transparency and getting around a tight budget. What they've done is add QR codes around town, placing them on signs, vehicles and historical landmarks, in order to give the public quick access to more information. City Manager Phil Tate says that the start-up costs for the QR Codes were low, about $400, and almost all of that was the cost of the signage.

One of their more interesting examples: a water tank that was climbed by Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene in the film "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," which also starred Johnny Depp. Scanning a QR code at this location brings up photos and info from the movie. A visitor can scan the QR code at City Hall and view pics of downtown Manor in the 1880's and other historical information. A QR code at a construction site gave updates on the cost, the company hired to do the work, and estimated time of completion.

"Overnight, it grew beyond anything we could have dreamed,"says Tate. "We had people coming from all over the world to look at these signs." More importantly, the program served as a model for other cities, like De Leon, Texas and Long Beach, Washington, to follow suit. The project also drew significant interest from the Smithsonian Institute, Illinois State University, Stanford University, and South by Southwest, all of which have implemented their own types of QR code systems.

Tate says that at its peak, there were about 450 QR scans a month.

In addition, Manor has created a unique crowdsourcing platform with Manor Labs, a platform designed to solicit ideas from the public and create conversation about improving the local government. With only 35 employees, getting citizens involved in, engaged with, and contributing to the city's efforts is a great way to fill voids created by staffing and budget issues.
To increase public awareness of these initiatives, the City of Manor employees created a series of newspaper articles and spoke at area community meetings.

Manor Labs allows citizens to submit ideas, and these ideas are voted on by other citizens. Once the number of votes and page views reaches a certain level, city officials review the idea and determine if more info is needed or if it can move closer to implementation. A really unique aspect of Manor Labs is that they've created a virtual currency that citizens can earn by submitting ideas, voting on them, and having the ideas implemented. The currency can be used to purchase by tangible donated products and virtual honors.

Tate points out a few implemented ideas that really stood out: an automatic debit system for paying utility bills, a streetlight reporting program, and adding the QR codes to uniforms and vehicles of city employees that includes additional info about various departments and services.

The City of Manor: Good Communications, Good Government.

Monday, July 18, 2011

NAGC News & Member Spotlight: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By all accounts, the 2011 NAGC Communications School was a success, especially considering that a few weeks before the conference, we were thinking that the government shutdown could wreak havoc on the event, especially in terms of the number of attendees. In the end, the shutdown was averted and many of you were able to come at the last minute, as evidenced by our surge in attendees in the final days before the school.

NAGC recently distributed a survey to attendees to get a read on what you thought worked, what didn’t, and ideas you have for future events. Thanks to all of you who responded. As we look to next year’s NAGC Communications School, some of the thoughts you shared in the survey will help shape the agenda in 2012.

A few things stood out as we begin planning for 2012 and review 2011:

  1. The Blue Pencil/Gold Screen Awards are complex! We get widely varying opinions and suggestions on the categories, the time and format of the event, and other details. This year, we conducted the award ceremony at a luncheon rather than dinner, which drew both positive and negative feedback, but in the end, the overriding sentiment was that a dinner event provides more prestige for the winners, so we’ll return to that format in 2012. We also know that you don’t want an event that lasts longer than a Harry Potter movie, so we’re going to address that as well.

  2. Top suggested topics for 2012, in this order: Advanced Social Media, Leadership, Professional Development, Public Involvement/Outreach, and Emerging Technology. This is an interesting mix of subjects, and the Programs Committee will look at adding sessions and workshops that cover these topics next year.

  3. Other suggestions were to incorporate more variety in basic and advanced training levels, so the Programs Committee will be looking to add more sessions in the intermediate and advanced levels of expertise.

  4. You want more opportunities to interact with other communicators. Networking is a huge benefit of the Communications School, and we’re going to step it up in terms of increasing your opportunities to mix and mingle with your fellow communicators.

And remember, if you want more involvement with NAGC, serving on a committee is a great place to start. Right now, Professional Development Director John Verrico is looking to recruit the Programs Committee for next year. The Program Committee selects our General Session and Keynote speakers, Break-Out Session Presenters, Training Workshops, Optional Activities and Educational Tours, menus, entertainment, and Fundraising Events. Interested? Contact John at or

Member Spotlight: Derrick Silas, Sr.
As Communications Director, I too have been looking to form a committee in order to maximize our communications with NAGC members. I’m happy to announce that the first member of my committee is Derrick Silas, Sr. If you were following our social media traffic during the Communications School, you will probably remember Derrick, as he was tweeting throughout the conference. Derrick is the web communications developer and social media strategist for the City of Enid, Oklahoma. When Derrick joined the City of Enid in 2008, there was no social media presence for the city and the websites for the library, fire, police, and municipality were outdated. During his first year, he successfully aided in a 25% increase in website visitors through social media and customer service relations marketing techniques. Additionally, he led the city in a facelift of the website. With this kind of background and experience, Derrick is a natural fit for his new role as the administrator of NAGC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, and he’ll bring more continuity and interaction to these mediums.

He has used his futurist abilities to lead the City of Enid into the forefront of mobile, innovative, social media, crowdsourcing, gov2.0, and other government technologies, including:

  • WEBQA - A customer relations management (CRM) system that allows citizens to request services, report issues, and CityReporter - A mobile app that works with WEBQA.

  • CrimeReports - An interactive map that shows current crime stats.

  • Live Chat by LivePerson - The Enid website provides live chat with its citizens from 8 am to 5 pm CST, Monday-Friday.

  • Nixle - A system that uses text messages (SMS) to alert citizens of public safety issues.

  • "Innovating Enid Idea Market" by Spigit - Two communities (internal/external) that crowdsources ideas with employees and citizens.

  • Social Media - Engages citizens, visitors, and businesses through the city's social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr).

  • YouTown - A free mobile application that shows the city's events, news, maps, and services offered.

Derrick enjoys writing poetry, hymns, psalms, and musical compositions. In addition, in his spare time, he gives voice and musical lessons (piano, guitar, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, flute, drums) to children and adults.

You can interact with Derrick on Twitter - @derricksilas.

By expanding our Communications Committee, and with additions like Derrick, we’ll be able to have more consistent social media communications through NAGC, share more information like case studies, best practices and job opportunities, and help you network better with your NAGC peers.

If you are interested in joining the Communications Committee, e-mail me (Glen Thomas) at

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Governor Can Beat Up Your Governor

In these days of passionate, often bitter political division, a good old fashioned, no disqualification cage match between two governors could well be just we need to bring unity the country. I’m not 100% sure if Tennessee’s Governor would be up to such a challenge, but in 1998, people in the state of Minnesota were probably pretty confident in their governor’s chances, thanks to the election of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura.

I’ll admit, I know far more about 70’s and 80’s pro wrestling than I should. As a youngster growing up in a small Arkansas town of 5,000 people, the hobbies were limited. For example, when this location was announced for the 2011 NAGC Communications School, I immediately thought of the “Minnesota Wrecking Crew” tag team of yore. Now that you’ve lost all respect for me as a professional, I’ll move on, but I will say scripted entertainment isn’t as far away from our daily lives than you would think. Have you ever seen “The Bachelor?” Come to think of it, wouldn’t “The Bachelor” be much more entertaining if a jilted contestant performed a pile driver on her prospective beau? Think about it.

Today, the NAGC Communications School kicked off with John Wodele, who served as Jesse Ventura’s press secretary during his wild ride to the Minnesota Governor’s office. Ventura’s campaign was a textbook example of a successful “anti-political” political campaign, and prompted sales of merchandise featuring the slogan I used as the title of this post.

Highlights from Wodele’s presentation:

  • He wasn’t originally part of Ventura’s campaign, but joined in the winter of 1998 after traveling around the country.

  • A stranger at a roadside stand in Florida asked him about Jesse Ventura. He realized at that point that Ventura might be on to something.

  • Strangely, later that day, a former Congressman called him and asked if he’d be interested in working for Jesse Ventura.

  • Ventura caused a furor when he issued media passes with the title “official jackal” under the reporter’s name.

  • “It was a grueling four years, but it was invigorating and fascinating.”

  • He once found out at the last minute that Ventura had agreed to appear at a pro wrestling event.

  • Despite all the quotes and controversies, Wodele said that Ventura put together some good policies on public health, transportation and others.

  • The downside was that Ventura’s policies and message would often get muddied by Ventura’s controversial statements.

  • He once sat in with Ventura in an interview with Playboy for all but 10 minutes. In that 10 minutes, Ventura made offensive quotes about religion, obesity, and suicide. Ventura would not back off or apologize because he truly believed what he had said.

  • After that interview, he received 280 media calls in one day and Ventura's approval went from 78% to 30%.

  • Wodele wrote a letter about Ventura for the public and media, describing the kind of person Ventura was and how his background contributed to these views.

  • The two went on a tour of small towns, doing radio and print interviews about policy. That helped Ventura regain some good will.

  • Following Sept. 11, 2001, a memorial service drew 35,000 people. Unfortunately, Wodele says that Ventura lost his focus on policy because he was consumed with 9/11.

  • Ventura visited Cuba, but he and Fidel Castro didn’t like each other.

  • “I’ve never met a man more honest than Jesse Ventura, but he was so honest that he was too revealing with his comments.”

  • "To this day, I consider Jesse Ventura one of my very best friends."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mobile Warming: Time to Embrace Mobile Technology

Welcome to the re-launch of the NAGC blog, Adventures in Government Communications! This blog essentially replaces the NAGC Communicator newsletter. We'll have updates about NAGC, announcements and other types of information here, but most of all, we're going to have stories about government communicators like you! So, don't be shy, if you have a story to share, contact me at or NAGC at

This initial blog post is something that's taken over our culture, and I'll be presenting on this subject at the 2011 NAGC Communications School in May:

Mobile Warming

A couple of years ago, I realized I wasn’t cool. It’s a painful realization and one that’s hard to come to grips with. If you have ever stayed up all night to play Farmville on Facebook, you will probably face this realization soon if you haven’t already. Unfortunately for all of us with cable, Charlie Sheen has yet to confront this reality.

My moment of clarity came when I chastised my 20-something nephew for never responding to my e-mails. With a mixture of disdain and pity, he said, “Uncle Glen, nobody e-mails any more….we text.” And there it was, a cold splash of water on the “Cool Uncle Fa├žade” I had crafted so carefully. As I fumbled with my Van Halen 8-track, I realized that technology was one step ahead of me.

I was instantly put off by texting: the inconvenience of pecking through letters at a much slower pace than a simple phone call could provide. And the writer in me bristled at the slang. But a funny thing happened since then: not only did I get familiar with texting culture, but I got assimilated into it. Chances are you did, too. Why? Because it’s become a normal part of the way we communicate.

You know what the third most popular cell phone activity is? Talking on it! That’s right, the purpose for which phones were created is now #3 on this list. The top two? Checking the time and texting.

Simply put, mobile technology is here to stay, folks, and we have to change the way we think about it. It’s estimated that there will be 975 million mobile users by 2012. AP ran an article in February about how smart phones are now outselling personal computers.

Some other stats to consider:

  • 9 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a mobile device. (Experian Simmons)
  • 38 percent of U.S. cell phone users access the internet from their phones (Pew Internet and American Life Project)
  • There are more than 47 million daily mobile internet users in the U.S. (Pew Internet and American Life Project)
  • Mobile web is now more popular than reading (European Interactive Advertising Association)

As I said, if you haven’t done it already, it’s time to change the way you think about mobile technology. At MLGW, I think our moment of truth came in June 2009 after a tornado and straight line winds knocked out power to more than 140,000 customers, about one third of our overall base. We made the decision to utilize Twitter to help provide outage updates. In less than a week, our number of followers exploded from a little over 200 to more than 1,500. On June 15, 2009 at the height of the restoration process, we had a record 435,000 hits on and a record 10,000 visits to our blog. How was this happening with 33 percent of our customer base without power? Mobile phones.

Social Media

It’s easier than ever to access the web through your cell phone, and the influx of smart phone options will only increase these numbers. According to Nielsen, social media is the most popular online activity, and social media is very mobile friendly.

I’ve written in the past how important social media has become to MLGW’s communications efforts since that event, and it’s now a daily part of our communications routine. As of March 2011, we’ve got more than 3,600 followers on Twitter and about 1,100 “Likes” on Facebook.

But we’ve also had to take a step back and look at HOW customers are accessing social media and the web. There is a bigger opportunity to reach customers than simply interacting through Facebook and Twitter, and that’s reaching them where they are – through their mobile device.

Text Messaging

In addition to social media efforts, last year, MLGW took another step toward reaching customers via mobile technology. We launched MLGW Mobile Alerts, which allows customers to get text message reminders about bill due dates and/or impending cut-offs. Customers are able to sign up on our website, and the texting is a one-way communication from us. In order to reach multiple carriers, we utilize a third-part aggregator service. Thus far, we’ve got about 400 subscribers to the service, but it’s a step in the right direction. More importantly, our programmers have now purchased software that will allow us to expand these offerings to possibly include things like outage updates.

iPhone Appl

Our newest and most ambitious mobile venture is our iPhone application, which will be submitted to Apple this month. Our goal in creating this app is to save our customers time, give them quick access to information via their phone, and in the process improve customer satisfaction. You can’t create an app that just has links to your website, and we worked hard to create the types of time-saving, shortcut kinds of features that make apps so handy. And, to illustrate my previous point, you can’t just try and be the “cool uncle” and put some bells and whistles out there without functionality.

Our features in this initial version include a bill due date and amount, news and blog feeds, important numbers, office and payment locations, energy tips, payment arrangement request, and our “crown jewel,” outage status. A customer can actually enter their address information and get an update on the status of their outage. We’re already looking ahead to “Version 2” as well and are considering online outage reporting, streetlight outage reporting, a mapping function for our community offices, and more.


The creation of the app hasn’t been without its challenges and it’s taken longer than we anticipated to roll it out. We’ve had to collaborate extensively with our IT department, which is responsible for creating and submitting the app, as well as our Legal area. One feature that would undoubtedly be popular, bill payment, isn’t available at this point from our third-party online bill payment vendor though it’s on the radar. We also know that we’ll have to work on apps for Android, Blackberry and maybe other platforms as well.

Mobile-Friendly Website

Finally, we are in the process of doing a full redesign of our website. In the process, rather than creating a mobile version of our site, we’re creating a mobile-friendly site to kill two birds with one stone, plus save some budget dollars.

Technology as a whole is moving so fast it can make your head spin. It’s hard enough to keep up, much less try to stay ahead of these trends. However, knowing what we know about where mobile technology is going, as communicators we owe it to our customers to at least investigate how we might interact with them through this medium. So maybe we aren’t “cool” any more, but at MLGW, we are on our way to better communications with our customers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to answer a text from my nephew.