If we set certain safety procedures at an incident such as establishing a safety perimeter around the incident, it not only applies to the public, it includes everyone that is non-essential emergency personnel, including the media.
After each one of my annual public information and media relations seminars, I review class evaluations that were submitted by the participants. One area that is covered during the seminar is "media safety." I was amazed at the overwhelming number that replied that they were not aware that they are responsible for the safety of the media while at an incident. This was true even of experienced PIOs. The answer is yes. Fire service personnel are required to ensure the safety of everyone, and that includes the media at incidents.
Some from the media might want to argue the point, but they are no different from anyone else and should be treated as everyone else. That means if we set certain safety procedures at an incident such as establishing a safety perimeter around the incident, it not only applies to the public, it includes everyone that is non-essential emergency personnel, including the media. Let's break it down into a few areas.
Access to the incident: Any incident whether large or small, should have a safety perimeter around it. Even at motor vehicle accidents, we park our apparatus to ensure that the victims and emergency responders are protected. If the incident is much larger, like a hazardous material release, the area will be much larger. Regardless of the size of the incident, a safety area should be established. Whether the media is permitted inside the safety area is another issue.
At first PIOs, should assume the "worst case scenario" and keep the media, as well any non-essential personnel and public at a safe distance from the incident. After the PIO has examined the area, they should discuss a move up by the media with the incident commander. Once that has been approved, then the PIO should establish an area where the media can access to and have it marked off. Then the PIO should meet with the media and escort them to the designated media area. The media should be constantly reminded that they are to remain in the area or they will be escorted back to the first established safety perimeter.
Media area at the scene: Once a media area has been approved by the incident commander and established, it should be clearly marked. In Las Vegas, the color "white" has been designated for public information issues. First, I have a white rotating beacon on top of my PIO vehicle for identification purposes. All of the media and law enforcement agencies know that the white light is for the PIO van and the media should report to that unit. I park the PIO van where I want the media to park their vehicles so I usually pick a parking lot or maybe one lane of a road. I have special orange cones and flashing LED lights to mark of the parking area for the media and warn motorists in the area. The rear of my vehicle has a flashing direction arrow on it, so if the media parks along with my vehicle and we use one lane of the road for the media staging area, it advises approaching motorists that the lane is closed. Some of the things I look for when I pick a parking area for the media are:
- Will it hamper fire or emergency operations? You should consider that the incident might go to extra alarms bringing in additional equipment and possibly more hoseline placements. If media vehicles are not parked in the right place, they could be surrounded by hoselines, which in some cases could be used for several hours or even days. As you know vehicles are not permitted to cross hoselines, so that means the media might lose the services of one of their live trucks or other vehicles if it is not placed correctly.
- Make sure there are no overhead power lines. Most of the media will be using telescopic booms or satellite dishes which could be hampered by power lines. Look out for trees especially if the incident is during a storm, trees could be blown over onto one of the vehicles.
- Consider traffic in the area. I use lanes of a roadway as a parking/staging area for the media as a last resort. Usually there is a nice parking lot nearby which is usually your best bet. But in some extreme cases, using the street is the only alternative or maybe you are at a large motor vehicle accident along a busy highway. I encourage the media to wear safety vests, which many have gotten on their own. Some news agencies have provided flashing/rotating yellow lights on their vehicles for safety.
- Make sure you have a clear evacuation route for you and the media in case conditions worsen, especially in wildland fire areas.