Date: Sept. 24, 2009
Contact: Maureen O’Leary, Director of Public Information
Office of News and Public Information
DHS Secretary Speaks at Workshop on News and Terrorism
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered an address Wednesday to participants at the 17th “News and Terrorism: Communicating in a Crisis” workshop in Baltimore co-hosted by the National Academies. Napolitano talked about the vital role media play during a crisis.
“The plain fact of the matter is that the media – and when I say the media, I mean all forms of media: hard print, television, radio, text, Twitter, etc. – can and need to be an accurate source of information so that as rumors spread or conspiracy theories abound … we can begin jointly to get accurate information out about what the risks really are," she said.
The workshop, moderated by Aaron Brown, former ABC News and CNN anchor, was designed to analyze communication of information among local leaders, journalists, scientists/engineers, and the public during an emergency. Using a terrorism scenario exercise, panelists had to respond to information that was presented to them.
The scenario in this workshop was a coordinated terrorist attack in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. There were massive explosions in the Inner Harbor and at Baltimore's City Hall from ammonium nitrate fertilizer bombs. Gunmen fired on police and pedestrians. Terrorists utilized live information and images broadcast by the media to target first responders and on lookers. The scenario also involved speculation that the terrorists had anthrax or biological weapons, calling HAZMAT responders to the scene. Social media was used by the terrorists as well as the public to share information.
Several reporters who participated in the three-hour exchange spoke about the lessons they learned. In particular, they said social media could be useful during a crisis. They expressed the importance of knowing the chain of command at federal agencies as well as having trust among agency staff, media, and experts, and that preparation for emergencies in advance is necessary.
Charles Vest, president of National Academy of Engineering, told the participants, “When catastrophe strikes, when we have a terrorist attack, we turn to the media, we trust the media as our source [of information], and all of a sudden you folks are really on the hot seat. … That puts you suddenly in the position of having to be an expert on things you’ve not necessarily thought about before – maybe things like radioactive isotopes or chemical poisons, biological pathogens, or even computer viruses – complex issues that have a lot of science or technology at their root."
Among the panelists were Matthew Baise, The Baltimore Sun; Gail Bending, WJZ-13TV; Frank DiFalco, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore Police Department; Richard Kolko, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Robert Maloney, City of Baltimore’s Office of Emergency Management; Mark Miller, WBAL radio; Richard Muth, Maryland Emergency Management Agency; and Christopher Thomaskutty, deputy mayor, City of Baltimore.
Napolitano called the workshop series "an important investment" and hopes it helps develop more effective ways to collaborate during a crisis.
The project is a joint effort of the National Academies, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation.