Communicating the Fort Hood Shootings


Amid the worst shooting on a U.S. military base in history, the Pentagon, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and FBI face the challenge of balancing a public hungry for up to the minute news with making sure they always have 100% correct information.

This was the first major news event in which media organizations used Twitter lists to get the news out. The Austin American-Statesman was among the first to set up a list.

PRNewser spoke this morning with Dallas Lawrence, Chair of Social and Digital Media Practice for Levick Strategic Communications. Lawrence previously served as director of the Office of Community Relations and Public Liaison for the United States Department of Defense and also as spokesperson for Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

We asked Lawrence what the chain of communication looks like internally in a crisis situation such as Fort Hood, now that multiple government agencies are involved. Based on his past experience, Lawrence said, “by now, you’re probably seeing communications fully coordinated by the Pentagon.”

In terms of communications tactics, Lawrence stressed that accuracy is key. “While you need to calibrate that response, you also need to get it right. You can’t fall victim to what some of the cable networks have fallen victim to, which is putting first story you hear you out there and then finding out it’s wrong. The military has found a very good balance between rapid response but also making sure they get it correct,” he said.

If anything, the military is best organization to handle crisis, said Lawrence. “One of the benefits the military has is having professional public affairs staff on every base. Some organizations may experience a crisis for first time, and don’t have people that have crisis reflexes. Every person in public affairs is an enlisted person that has experienced crises.”