A special visit by one of America’s top emergency management and media experts has made Griffith University journalism and public relations students more aware of communication challenges in times of crisis.
Mr Robert Jensen met students at Nathan campus and shared lessons drawn from more than 30 years of dealing with disaster, military and incident communications.
The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs with the US Department of Homeland Security, Mr Jensen said issues including the 24-hour news cycle, shifting sources of information, the complexity of disaster environments, cultural and language considerations and message control and co-ordination all affected the flow and content of communications during emergencies.
Citing examples from his own experience, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon (BP) oil spill and stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Jensen identified the internet and rise of social media as having the greatest influence on changes to how information was prioritised and distributed today.
“The internet has meant that traditional forms of the media are no longer the first port of call for the delivery of information during a crisis,” Mr Jensen said.
“These traditional outlets, especially newspapers, are understandably worried about being scooped by social media, but that is the reality of the situation today.
“That is not to say newspapers and television, for example, do not have a role because they do provide important context and conversation. Communications personnel must realise the value of that.”
“However, while the spread of disinformation and counter-messaging is a concern with the internet and social media, they are now the most efficient tools for distributing vital information quickly and widely.”
During his career Mr Jensen has fulfilled executive roles for the US Government including Director for Public Affairs and Communications for the National Security Council at the White House in Washington, Acting Director of External Affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Director of Communications for the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan and Executive Officer for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Baghdad.
He visited Australia under the auspices of the not-for-profit group Emergency Media and Public Affairs and a Fulbright Specialist Program Grant.