Emergency Communications Academy Trains Public Information Professionals In Crisis Communications


Working to build a more resilient and prepared state, the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) partnered with the California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO) to train more than 100 communicators in disaster messaging and emergency management.

The two-day Emergency Communications Academy brought public information professionals from across the state to experience hands-on training, effective risk and crisis communication tactics, and lessons from real-world events. This academy, taught by public safety officials from federal, state, and local government agencies as well as experts in the communications field, explored the basics of crisis communications, while expanding on messaging skills for natural and manmade disasters.

“One of the main things I want communicators to come away with, not only the technical capacity of doing the job as emergency communicators, but also having the skills and the confidence to be able to charge forward so when they’re in moments of crisis or emergency communication, they can react,” said Maurice Chaney, Public Information Officer for City of Roseville Department of Utilities and Past President/Northern California Regional Chair for CAPIO.

Dr. Vincent Covello, Director of the Center for Risk Communications, was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference.

“So the question is, why is this academy important? And I would argue it’s important for three reasons,” Covello said. “Number one is, we want to know the most recent research on how we establish trust. Number two, we want to know the most recent research and practice of how we overcome anxiety, stress. And number three, we want to be on top of the research that indicates what are the changes we have to make in our communications in a crisis situation.”

He went on to say the academy keeps communicators up to date and affords them with front-line knowledge to incorporate into their practice.

The second day of the academy put attendees in real-world exercises, including a press conference, a Joint Information Center, and on-camera interviews.

“I’ve really learned about the industry standards around emergency communications. That’s something that I have now in my toolkit to bring back to the city of Long Beach,” said Joy Contreras, Community Relations Officer for the City of Long Beach, Department of Public Works. “I haven’t worked in any emergency communications before, but now with this training I’m able to come back and be prepared. Prepare my team, prepare my department, and my city on how to handle an emergency whether it’s earthquake, or a wildfire, or even drought.”

The main goal of the academy is to empower communicators so that in moments of crisis and emergency response they are actively prepared and ready to engage their communities. But it is also an opportunity for communicators to establish relationships with like-minded people all over California.

“Relationships are so important in disasters and by working closely with our local government counterparts from all across the state at this training, we’re actually able to build capacity for not if, but when a disaster happens locally,” said Brian Ferguson, Deputy Director for Crisis Communication & Public Affairs at Cal OES. “So we’re actively training local government public information officers, working with them on the basics – the building blocks of how we communicate during disaster with the ultimate goal being to be how do we better serve the public and keep them safe during a time of crisis?”