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Muddy Waters The following slides represent a realistic public health crisis event and you are charged with developing first messages for the public.

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Presentation on theme: "Muddy Waters The following slides represent a realistic public health crisis event and you are charged with developing first messages for the public."— Presentation transcript:

1 Muddy Waters The following slides represent a realistic public health crisis event and you are charged with developing first messages for the public.

2 Setting the Stage Middletown Utility Services serves a community of 10,000 people in a suburban town that is 20 miles from a city of 500,000 people. Middletown Utility Services receives its water from two sources. The first water source is surface water supplied by North County Utility, a purveyor that sells water to dozens of local utility companies throughout its service area. The second water source comes from its own wells.

3 Setting the Stage The water is chlorinated and fluoride is added before it is pumped to several water tanks. All tanks are protected with chain link fences and monitored by video camera. Both the surface water and the well water are considered to be excellent quality. Water metals are well within permitted levels.

4 Setting the Stage Every few years, bacteria counts are measured above standards, requiring notification of customers. No pathogenic bacteria have ever been found upon confirmation testing.

5 DAY 1: Monday – 7:33 a.m. Middletown Utility Services A Middletown Utility Services worker makes a routine inspection of Water Tank #3 and notices that the locks on the chain link fence have been broken. The worker also notices tire tracks in the mud track leading up to the gate. The utility worker immediately calls his supervisor, who in turn calls

6 DAY 1: Monday – 7:53 a.m. Middletown Utility Services The police arrive and an investigation begins. –A heavy vehicle entered the area inside the chain link fence. –The cables to the video camera were cut. –An impression of a large, heavy, round container, approximately 2 feet in diameter is on the ground beside the tank.

7 DAY 1: Monday – 7:58 a.m. Middletown Utility Services The police investigation continues. –Brown glass is scattered around the area. –At the top of the ladder, the cover lock is also broken. –Water in the 100,000 gallon tank appears to be off-color. –The police notify the FBI.

8 Review the Facts What is currently known? –At 7:30 a.m. broken locks on the chain link fence surrounding Water Tank #3 were found. –A heavy vehicle entered the area inside the chain link fence. –The security camera was disabled by having its cables cut. –The cover lock on the tank was also broken. –The water in the tank appears to be off-color.

9 Review the Facts What is currently unknown? –Who broke into Water Tank #3? –Why Water Tank #3 was broken into? –Why the water is off-color? –Is the water safe?

10 DAY 1: Monday – 8:10 a.m. Middletown Utility Services Middletown Utility Services isolates Water Tank #3 so that no more water will enter homes or businesses. Middletown Utility Services calls the State Department of Health (DOH), which regulates the water system. The DOH Drinking Water Program staff notifies Middletown Public Health Department about the developing situation.

11 DAY 1: Monday – 8:15 a.m. Middletown Utility Services Middletown Utility Services hosts a conference call with both public health agencies and reports that it has conducted two on-the-spot tests – a pH test and a chlorine residual test. Both tests indicate that the water is unlikely to contain a harmful contaminant. All three agencies agree that further tests must be run to determine the cause of the coloration in the water.

12 DAY 1: Monday – 8:20 a.m. Middletown Utility Services The public health agencies and Middletown Utility Services decide to warn customers in the water service area of the situation (approximately 500 homes). A notice will be hand delivered by noon to all customers advising them to use bottled water until an investigation is completed. The agencies also decide to further test the water. Test results will not be available for at least 24 hours.

13 Could the Word Get Out? Although you have not made any public announcements, could the word get out? –Yes! How could the word get out? –Utility service staff –Water customers

14 DAY 1: Monday – 8:20 a.m. Middletown Public Health Department During the investigation, the reception desk at the Middletown Public Health Department is swamped with calls from the public complaining that the water coming from their faucets is brownish-red. The callers want to know if the water is dangerous or safe to drink.

15 DAY 1: Monday – 8:50 a.m. Middletown Public Health Department Before the agency conference call is complete, a reporter from a local television station calls the Public Information Officer at the Middletown Public Health Department and asks if they are aware that Water Tank #3 at Middletown Utility Services has been purposefully contaminated. The reporter says she received a tip from a utility employee.

16 DAY 1: Monday – 9:15 a.m. Middletown Public Health Department More reporters from statewide television stations and local newspapers begin calling to ask what is going on. They are demanding to know if the water is safe to drink.

17 Communicating With the Media What is the best way to handle the media during a crisis? Do you … a)respond to reporters on a one-on-one, first- come-first-served basis OR, b)issue a news release OR, c)hold a news conference?

18 Communicating With the Media The best way to handle the media during this crisis is to … c)Hold a news conference. –This is fast-breaking news, the public will want to know whats happening and whos in charge. –Talking to reporters individually could lead to inconsistency of information given to the public. –After the news conference, send a news release to your full media list with all of the same information that was presented at the news conference.

19 What Are You Going to Say? Break into groups of 4 to 6 people, develop your first messages using the six proven steps.

20 Deliver An Effective First Message 1.Express empathy. 2.Share what you know – only confirmed facts. 3.State what you dont know. 4.Describe the process and plans to fill in knowledge gaps. 5.State your agencys commitment to helping people through the crisis. 6.Guide people to where they can get more information.

21 Sharing Your First Messages Report to the large group the first messages your group developed.

22 Sharing Your Group Results Sample First Message:

23 Now … Anticipate the Questions In your groups of 4 to 6 people, develop a list of questions you would expect the media and the public to ask.

24 Anticipate the Questions What are the questions that are likely to be asked as a crisis unfolds? –Anticipate questions from the people that are directly impacted by the crisis. –Anticipate questions from the general public. –Anticipate questions from the media.

25 Share Your Group Results Sample questions: Has the water been contaminated? Is the water safe to drink? Is the water safe to use for showering or irrigation? Do you know who did this and why? Is this an act of terrorism? What symptoms should I be on the lookout for?

26 Muddy Water The FBI informs the state DOH that they are questioning three local college students who were seen in the vicinity of the water tank on the previous evening. In the trunk of the students car, agents found an empty beer keg, brown beer bottles, and plastic bags with powdered ochre residue. The college students confirm that the residue is from industrial quantities of food coloring.

27 Next Steps


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