Invasion of the PIOs — Let the REAL Spin Begin

Media matters: Finally, federal agencies have gotten their act together and have established a wireless command center brimming with laptops, cell phones and public information officers ready to meet the needs of the press. Now we’ll get some fair and balanced news for a change.

Ordinarily, following a natural disaster the Federal Emergency Management Agency sets up a shared command center with other federal agencies as a clearinghouse for disseminating information to the media. In the case of Katrina, the devastation was so vast that the feds couldn’t get it together for almost three weeks — after most of the reputation damage has been done.

“Although we are concerned about our image and want to give people information, we are really here to help people,” said Dean Cushman, an official with FEMA, an agency that has received the brunt of criticism. “Our image comes second.”

Uh-huh. What is that warm liquid running down my leg? Oh, it’s raining, is it?

Here’s what’s happening at the command center:

At the joint information center, which is housed at an old department store in Baton Rouge, La., officials have laptop computers with wireless Internet connections and cellular telephones to “rapidly respond” to media questions. In the media monitoring section, eight officials watch the news constantly and track stories online. Another group churns out press releases on the agencies’ efforts, while colleagues respond to inquiries from the media hotline.

Everyone is working 12 hour days, seven days a week, Cushman said.

FEMA has 2,000 laptops in the region, along with 1,000 cell phones and 1,000 land lines and another 2,000 laptops in transit. Let the spin begin!


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