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Too many swine flu experts hyping it up?

28 Apr

I have seen a flurry of responses to the outbreak of swine flu over the past few days, and have to wonder if our ability to monitor and repeat information often overstates the situation /crisis. Or exploit it.

I can say this with some confidence since:

(a) I work at a the Decision Theater, where we have conducted three pandemic flu exercises –the last of which was in February this year.

(b) We have to caution many people who ask, because everyone’s in reactive mode, not realizing that this is still an outbreak, not an epidemic, and still far from being declared a pandemic.

I suppose we could hype up the situation, and claim to be ‘experts’ in the field, just to get media attention. But we won’t go there. It is not in the public interest to add to the uncertainty.

Down-playing. Sort of. If at all, I have had to tell media who call that guess what, Arizona was recently ranked the most prepared state as far as pandemic plans. I also sat in a meeting where one researcher in this field noted that Mexico has some of the most advanced epidemiologists, and that their health care monitoring system was not to be doubted.

I have seen communicators jump into this space. Some in a good way. But as Evgeny Morozov of the Open Society Institute noted, “too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one’s friends do (i.e. tweet about it) or simply gain more popularity.”

Here’s a short list of how some in the industry reacted:

  • On Sunday, while I was monitoring the information on the outbreak (at 10 pm Mountain Time), Gerard Baud pinged me about how his outfit is looking at the crisis, with a short podcast. Unfortunately it was an ad for a tele-seminar that you would have to pay for. I would have preferred if the response, in the public interest, was a free ‘seat’ at the teleconference for at least one person in the organization.
  • Melcrum today published a short but intelligent piece in the Melcrum Hub about an effective crisis communications plan. One of the points they raised seemed so pertinent to the present situation: Stick to the known facts. It’s so easy to go on anecdotal evidence –as in stuff you saw online, repeated by someone who thought she had heard it from a ‘source.’
  • Ragan Communications also published a good piece on it but unfortunately they too have connencted it to a webinar that will cost you $99.
  • Happy to note that IABC is making a teleseminar available free. Details here.

Bottom Line. I know times are tough. But people are also getting sick. There are lots of cities, school districts and healthcare systems who have plans but will like to see what else they could do. I don’t think at this time they should pay for learning about better communications to help their local community and their country.

Hey, that’s just me.

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2 responses to “Too many swine flu experts hyping it up?

  1. Pat Elliott

    April 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    As a healthcare public relations expert, I applaud your post. Clinicians and others involved in protecting public health prepare for these situations, hold drills as part of the preparation, know what to do and are ready to go into action when and if needed. It’s one thing for “citizen journalists” to air their opinions on Oprah’s twittering, Britney Spears’ underwear habits and other trivial matters – it’s quite a different matter to misinterpret and misinform the public to boost the volume for one’s personal gain.

     

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