Support Operations, Public Affairs Office
Extract from Center for Army Lessons Learned Initial Impressions Report 06-11,
Disaster Response Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
Figure 8-1: Public affairs interview in Mississippi
This article addresses the need for public affairs (PA) support during disaster relief operations. Public interest in how the U.S. government and the Army supports relief operations was significantly increased after Hurricane Katrina because this domestic disaster hit home in a monumental way. PA officers (PAOs) on the Gulf coast had to work closely with civilian media to ensure command messages and military information was disseminated in an accurate and timely manner. PAOs leveraged the power of U.S. media organizations to assist in information gathering and dissemination.
One National Guard (NG) division PAO in Louisiana conducted a vigorous media information program to get the command message out, despite staff shortages. The NG division, operating under the modular force structure, deployed with no organic staff. The modular force structure authorizes three officers and seven enlisted personnel in the PA section. The NG division possessed only one qualified PAO, who acted as the single point of contact for media operations within the division.
Through rigorous networking with military and civilian media agencies, the PAO was able to coordinate media coverage when opportunities surfaced. Most of this coordination was conducted while attending civilian news media meetings at the state emergency operations center. Command messages were disseminated via these meetings and with the military PA detachment (MPAD) located at Belle Chase, Louisiana, south of New Orleans. However, the MPAD was not part of the division. The division PA office had no tasking authority over the MPAD. Priority of media coverage was determined by the Louisiana NG chain of command, instead of the division-assigned command and control authority. If the MPAD was not available, the division PAO would cover stories on his own. These stories would be included in a newsletter that was distributed by the MPAD. The PAO also would arrange press meetings for the division commander. The PAO possessed 15 years of prior enlisted PA experience. This experience was critical in filling the void in staff structure.
In Mississippi, all intelligence/information was channeled through the joint task force (JTF) G2, who was also acting as the G5 and G7. As tactical-level units reported information about civil infrastructure and the status of services to the G2, this information was also passed to civilian media outlets by the JTF PAO. Initial military response priorities were communicated via press conferences and field media contacts at the local and higher headquarters levels. These priorities became part of the overall information operations (IO) plan and the media support plan. Sample talking points in the initial phase of the relief operation are listed below.
NG Support to Hurricane Katrina
- PA coverage while supporting domestic disaster assistance is vital in disseminating the command message and telling the Army story.
- The division PAO must be resourced with the authorized level of section personnel to properly conduct media support operations. Working one-deep has the potential to cause gaps in media coverage and may cause media opportunities to be lost.
- It is important for the PAO to be present in any disaster relief to act as a conduit for military and civil leadership.
Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, and Facilities (DOTMLPF) Implications
- Training: PA cells need to know and understand IO tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to take the lead when no IO personnel are present.
- Personnel. Commanders should place more emphasis on resourcing the PA office with the staff needed to conduct media operations during domestic disaster support operations. Deploying staffs should plan for the appropriate level of media support during domestic disaster support operations or identify civilian-acquired skills sets that will support the PA section.
Table of Supporting Observations
CALLCOMS File Number
Public Affairs Operations During a Natural Disaster
Intelligence Support to Effects