Media monitoring process informs recommendations for public communications during H1N1

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In Brief

In response to misinformation circulating about the H1N1 virus and vaccine, the Florida Department of Health developed a targeted process to monitor news and opinion, while making these information sources the basis of daily recommendations. Incident command leadership found that the usability and timeliness of this process for synthesizing media reports informed their communication strategies and messages.

Background

During emergencies, jurisdictions operating under the National Incident Management System frequently establish a Joint Information Center (JIC) to develop and coordinate communications between various responders. Members of the JIC staff often also monitor news and information circulating within the community to ascertain if and how their messages are received by the public.

Specific issue

  • Maintaining credibility. During the H1N1 response in 2009, public health officials had to address a large amount of misinformation surrounding the virus, the vaccine, and fake remedies.

The practice

The Florida Department of Health developed a set of guidelines and tools to monitor news sources for information related to H1N1 and make relevant recommendations about future communications efforts.

As information about H1N1 vaccine became more widespread, the Florida Department of Health Incident Commander asked JIC planners to monitor H1N1-related news coverage and use the information they obtained to make salient recommendations to incident command leaders.

In response to this request, staff established a Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) within the center. The purpose of the unit was to monitor mainstream news media and social networking sites for information pertinent to the H1N1 response in Florida. An information triage analyst monitored sources including Facebook and Twitter, blogs, conference calls, professional meetings, and local news media, including ethnic media. Planners also used Google Trends to evaluate how H1N1-related communications and topics were circulating and gaining in popularity at the local level.

Planners developed media reports twice a day, at 10 a.m. to summarize the overnight and European news cycle, and at 2 p.m. to capture news from the west coast and Asia. Reports not only offered a glimpse of topics and stories present in the media that day; they also offered (1) recommendations on issues to which incident command staff should be paying attention and (2) potential strategies for future messages.

Based on their communication processes during H1N1 and rumor control during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon response, JIC staff developed a set of guidelines for media monitoring operations during emergencies. The "All-Hazards Media Monitoring Standard Operations Guidelines" formalized activities including:

  • Procedures for identifying mainstream and social media sources that can be relevant to a response effort, as well as tips for determining their credibility
  • An example of a social media report, including a summary of blog posts on a specific topic, a list and summary of trending topics on Twitter, and five sample Tweets related to H1N1 response
  • An example of a local media report, including numbers and summaries for newspaper, television, and Web stories

What made this practice possible?

  • Specialized responsibilities (ie, Information Triage Analyst) within an Incident Command Structure allowed information to be specially directed toward the planning needs of the incident commander and director of communications.

Results

  • Timeliness. Incident command leaders who received daily media monitoring reports stated that the timeliness of the information was useful for planning purposes. Leaders also liked being kept apprised of public opinion represented in some media sources.
  • Usability. Based on feedback from incident command leaders, planners revised the report to include information on how an emergency compares to current news trends, how to make information more readable on mobile phones, and how to combine media monitoring reports with rumor investigation reports.
  • Conserving resources. The process was given a Florida Davis Productivity Award for saving state tax money and conserving the time of state employees.

Notes

The Media Monitoring Unit was activated during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and subsequent response (please see associated Public Health Practices story) and an exercise about events related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  

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