Public Affairs Support Annex
In PDF format
Updated: June 3, 1999
This annex provides guidance on carrying out the public affairs
function in support of the Federal Government’s response to a major disaster
The mission of public affairs is to contribute to the well-being
of the community following a disaster by disseminating accurate, consistent,
timely, and easy-to-understand information. Specific objectives are to:
Instill confidence that government will conduct response and recovery operations
fast, effectively, and efficiently;
Provide critical information about how to apply for assistance and the
location and status of life-sustaining shelters and resources; and
Provide authoritative information to deal with unsubstantiated rumors.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for implementing
Federal public affairs activities after a major disaster or emergency.
FEMA will develop strategic plans and policies, provide liaison with the
directors of public affairs for other Federal agencies and the White House
press office, and determine the need for a Joint Information Center (JIC).
In a major disaster or emergency, a JIC will be established as a central
point for coordination of emergency public information, public affairs
activities, and media access to information about the latest developments.
The JIC is a physical location where Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) from
involved agencies come together to ensure the coordination and release
of accurate and consistent information that is disseminated quickly to
the media and the public.
A JIC may be established at both FEMA Headquarters and/or near the scene
of the disaster. Release of information between the two will be well coordinated
to the maximum extent possible.
Only one primary Federal JIC will be in a major disaster area, preferably
collocated with the Disaster Field Office (DFO), either in the same structure
or an adjacent structure. This close proximity is designed to facilitate
the JIC’s access to sources of information about the disaster operation
and enable leadership access to the JIC.
Headquarters and on-scene JICs may be established through the execution
of other Federal emergency operations plans or under special procedures.
Before its release, Federal, State, and local disaster information will
be coordinated to the maximum extent possible to ensure consistency and
All Federal agencies may use their own mechanisms for releasing information.
No editorial or policy control is exercised by the coordinating PAO over
other agencies’ release of information about their own policies, procedures,
State and local governments, as well as voluntary and private responding
organizations, are encouraged to participate in and share the resources
of the JIC. If collocating at the JIC is not feasible, all organizations
are encouraged to conduct their information activities in cooperation with
After a major disaster, normal means of communications in the affected
area may be destroyed or severely disrupted; therefore, only limited and
incomplete information may be expected from the area until communications
can be restored.
The period immediately following a major disaster is critical in setting
up the large and complex mechanism that will be needed to respond to the
emergency public information and news requirements generated by the disaster.
Concept of Operations
The primary organizational elements of a JIC may vary depending
on the size of the disaster and the location of the JIC (headquarters or
on scene). Generally, these elements include:
The chief spokesperson for FEMA in a headquarters JIC is the FEMA Director
of Emergency Information and Media Affairs, or a designee, who fields inquiries
from national news media. The chief spokesperson in an on-scene JIC
is the lead PAO, who may be operating from a Regional Operations Center
(ROC) until a JIC is set up in the disaster area. The lead PAO will consult
with the FEMA Director of Emergency Information and Media Affairs to ensure
a smooth transition to field operations.
Media Relations serves as the primary point of contact for the media for
information regarding all disaster response, recovery, and mitigation programs
provided by FEMA, the State, and other Federal, State, local, and voluntary
agencies. This includes providing the media with accurate and timely information
on disaster operations, working with members of the media to encourage
accurate and constructive news coverage, monitoring media coverage to ensure
that critical messages are being reported, and identifying potential issues
or problems that could have an impact on public confidence in the response
and recovery effort.
Creative Services gathers information about response, recovery, and mitigation
operations and develops and produces information for dissemination by the
JIC to the print and broadcast media.
Multilingual Operations ensures that non-English-speaking populations receive
accurate and timely information about disaster response, recovery, and
mitigation programs through appropriate media and in their languages to
the extent possible.
Special Projects plans and executes projects such as print and broadcast
media public service campaigns, video documentation, surveys, special productions,
and logistical support of public meetings and presentations.
The FEMA Director of Emergency Information and Media Affairs will:
Serve as the White House liaison for all media activities in major disasters
Coordinate public affairs policy, planning, and operations for disaster
response in consultation with other agency public affairs directors;
Represent FEMA on a headquarters interagency group, composed of the senior
public affairs representatives from each JIC member agency, which comes
together periodically to help guide the policies of the JIC and coordinate
significant JIC activities; and
Manage overall headquarters JIC operations and activities.
Federal information released after a disaster is coordinated by and disseminated
from headquarters offices through the establishment of a JIC in Washington,
DC, in consultation with the ROC media affairs team, until an on-scene
JIC is operational in the disaster area. Depending on space requirements
and availability, the headquarters JIC will be located at FEMA, with back-up
locations available at nearby agencies.
Once the on-scene JIC is operational, it will assume primary responsibility
for originating and coordinating Federal information released to the media
and the public. The headquarters JIC will continue to operate as long as
necessary as a satellite of the on-scene JIC, and will provide information
services to media in the Washington, DC, area.
FEMA Headquarters will provide centralized services to support the JIC
in the field. These services include production of the Recovery Times newsletter
and daily updates for the media, FEMA Radio Network, national media monitoring
and analysis, JIC reports, Internet services, and nationwide broadcast
The on-scene lead PAO serves as the primary point of contact in the field,
handling public information responsibilities in support of the Federal
Coordinating Officer (FCO). The lead PAO also oversees hour-to-hour JIC
operations (in a particularly large-scale disaster, a JIC Coordinator may
assume responsibility for JIC operations).
The on-scene JIC should be located where members of the news media are
likely to gather. If the DFO is at a remote site, a fully staffed satellite
JIC should be established to work with the on-site media. Authority to
release public information will remain at the primary JIC.
The primary functions of the on-scene JIC are to:
Provide response and recovery information to individuals, families, and
business and industry directly or indirectly affected by the disaster;
Monitor news coverage to ensure that accurate information is being disseminated;
Take action to correct misunderstandings, misinformation, and incorrect
information concerning the disaster response, recovery, and mitigation
operations that appear in the news media;
Ensure that non-English-speaking populations receive accurate and timely
information about disaster response, recovery, and mitigation operations
through appropriate news media and, to the extent possible, in their languages;
Use a broad range of resources to disseminate information to disaster victims
and the general public, including the Recovery Times newsletter, FEMA Radio
Network, FEMA Recovery Radio, Recovery Channel, broadcast fax, and the
Internet, as well as traditional print and broadcast news media;
Maintain contact with and gather information from Federal, State, local,
and voluntary organizations taking part in disaster response operations;
Handle appropriate special projects such as news conferences and press
operations for disaster area tours by FEMA officials and others;
Provide public affairs support and advice to the FCO and FCO staff; and
Coordinate with the Logistics Section to provide basic facilities, such
as communications, office space, and supplies, to assist the news media
in disseminating information to the public. (These facilities are provided
as long as the FCO determines their provision to be in the public interest.)
On notification that a major disaster or emergency has occurred,
the Director of Emergency Information and Media Affairs at FEMA Headquarters
Contact counterparts at other Federal agencies to determine whether there
is to be unilateral response to news media or a coordinated response, with
one agency serving to articulate the Federal response;
Determine the need for a JIC after consulting other Federal agencies;
Contact the regional PAO of the affected area (or some other regional official;
or, failing to reach the region, contact the State PAO), to relay information
on Federal interagency plans; and
Coordinate with the FCO and the Emergency Support Team in assigning a lead
PAO to deploy to the disaster site and assume public information responsibilities
at the JIC.
The Director of Emergency Information and Media Affairs will:
Provide advice and support to the Catastrophic Disaster Response Group
and keep it apprised of all public affairs actions;
Serve as the focal point for all incoming information from the on-scene
lead PAO and JIC; and
Ensure that JIC procedures in the FEMA Emergency Information Field Guide
are put into action.
The lead PAO will:
Assume the on-scene lead PAO role on arrival at the disaster area. At that
time the FEMA regional PAO will assume a key management position (either
deputy or special assistant, as specified by the Public Affairs Emergency
Response Team roster). A JIC Coordinator may assume responsibility
for the hour-to-hour operations of the JIC;
Represent the FCO (or FCO’s deputy) with the media, public, and other agencies;
Serve as an advisor to the FCO and implement public affairs policies and
procedures as established by the Director of Emergency Information and
Each person representing a JIC member organization will function in two
Represent the agency in carrying out its public affairs mission; and
Provide public affairs services in support of the various JIC missions.