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From the author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes a novel about music, love, friendship, and freedom. Hurricane Katrina is the latest in a series of major disasters that were not well managed, but it is not likely to be the last. Today, Kayyem owns Juliette Kayyem Solutions, a Massachusetts-based consulting and analysis company, and lectures on public policy as part of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
As part of Journalist’s Resource’s ongoing “research chat” series, we recently sat down with Kayyem to ask her about the media’s role in covering crises such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Familiarize yourself with the federal government’s Incident Command System (ICS) and that of your local and state governments. Develop relationships with officials who oversee emergency management before an emergency occurs. Review local governments’ emergency-management plans to understand their individual roles better.
Journalist’s Resource: As you know, journalists often are among the first responders to the scene of a tragedy, whether it’s a major accident, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster such as a tornado or earthquake.  Can you share your thoughts about this and help us understand government and emergency officials’ perspective? So one of the first things that I always recommend to journalists is to familiarize yourself with the basic attributes of disaster management.
I think there has been a tremendous change in disaster management vis-a-vis journalists, mostly because of the feeling that what you can’t beat, you better join.
JR: At Harvard, you teach graduate students who will be new leaders in the areas of emergency management and homeland security. Juliette Kayyem:  I talk to them mostly about mistakes because I think that’s the only way you can have lessons learned. JR: What websites, blogs, journals or other resources would you recommend to journalists who write about emergency management as part of their beat or who are required to write about a tragic event on occasion?
Juliette Kayyem: People don’t realize disaster management is a policy and it’s called the Incident Command System or NIMS, which is the National Incident Management System. The other thing is I think most people view homeland security at large as simply TSA [Transportation Security Administration]. Juliette Kayyem:  The academic literature is just starting to be a more rigorous academic discipline in the homeland security field.
JR: As someone who has spent many years organizing government responses to major crises in both state and federal government, I’m sure you’ve made observations about what journalists generally do well and what they generally don’t do well when covering such issues. Juliette Kayyem:  Well I mean, look, there is going to be the formal joint-information command system through which they are going to be getting information. JR: You recommend that journalists pair up with officials from emergency management to learn how things are done. Juliette Kayyem: Before hurricane season, if you’re a local journalist, don’t wait to go to the bunker of the emergency-management agency.
JR: There has been a lot of discussion about how Mexico, in October 2015, was able to escape the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere with no deaths.
JR: Are journalists asking the right questions when it comes to emergency-preparedness issues? A project of the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, we're an open-access site that curates scholarly studies and reports. Unless otherwise noted this site and its contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site.
Body and Mindwas created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to answer kids' questions on health issues and recommend ways to make their bodies and minds healthier, stronger, and safer.
When she served as President Obama’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. An ICS is a hierarchical management system that allows governments to respond to emergencies through the coordination of various agencies, personnel, equipment and facilities. Government leaders read case studies to understand the dynamics of emergencies that already have occurred and to scrutinize governments’ past responses to those emergencies.
This will give you a chance to identify potential problems and ask questions before an emergency occurs. Journalists who are under intense pressure to get information quickly sometimes make assumptions and present them as facts.
The joke is because in 15 minutes, the news you heard will either be proven false or you will have needed those 15 minutes to regroup and then go out and deal with the disaster. I think because of the onslaught of Twitter and Facebook and, you know, no one really waits for the press conferences anymore, I think people in my field are much more receptive to the power of the media to get information out. I think, in some ways, there is a philosophical challenge between the media wanting to focus on the bad and disaster management being about trying to minimize the bad.
Well, you know we had 29 days between the time the rig went down and the time oil hit shore. But, basically, if you type up “Incident Command System,” I think you can take an online tutorial for like an hour and it’s free. Can you share some examples of what journalists don’t usually do well and how they might do things better?
Can you offer some tips to help journalists work better with emergency officials and government officials to get accurate and up-to-date information?


Ask: “Can I go through a walk through?” and “How are you gearing up for this?” Ask to sit in on a table top.
Because for the most part, our jobs are waiting and they’re exercising and planning and figuring out budgets and getting people trained.
Some say the country escaped serious tragedy because it had prepared well for Hurricane Patricia. In addition, it is often said that another terrorist attack on the United States is inevitable; that it is a question of when, not whether. Be a DISEASE DETECTIVE!Become a Disaster Action Kid You can become a FEMA Disaster Action Kid and get a certificate! Department of Homeland Security, she played a key role in the government’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. She also gave us a number of tips on how journalists can do a better job covering these high-profile events, including taking a more critical view of government’s actions and decisions. Being familiar with these systems will help you understand what you are observing when you are in the field covering an emergency.
Often, the top-level officials who coordinate emergency responses will not be law-enforcement officers or firefighters. A good resource is the book Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies, edited by Arnold M. It is a good idea to also sit in on some of the regular meetings that government officials hold to discuss and fine-tune their emergency-management plans. Not only can this mislead your audience and hurt your professional reputation, but it also could have unintended consequences in terms of audience reactions to the bad information. You can just go online and I think there is an “ICS for non-first responders.” It just explains how an incident-command structure looks so that when you come to the disaster, it may look like a bunch of parallel things going on, but they’re actually managed through quite a hierarchical system run by an incident commander.
So there is always going to be a disconnect because, obviously, there is going to be bad news.
Anyone who has worked with oil and water knows to dream on if you think you’re going to capture everything. I think understanding that government never would view itself as being the sole first responder.
How are non-governmental entities engaging in the disaster and the response?  How are individuals engaging in the response and then also the private sector?
Government agencies with NGOs [Non-Government Organizations] and private-sector partners constantly are exercising, doing simulations, exercises — what we call table tops.
You know, we spent 15 years talking in a way that either made people freak out or tune out — one or the other, and nothing in between. Disaster Action Kids also get to be part of a special E-mail group, and will receive exciting news and information directly from FEMA on a regular basis.Ben's guide to US Government for Kids This site provides learning tools for K-12 students, parents, and teachers. Knowing how these systems are set up and work also will help you spot potential problems and ask more probing questions. They unfold in organized ways in a lot of circumstances, but also require a lot of pivoting by first responders. And when the incident commander is weak like in Hurricane Katrina, that’s when you see the system fall apart. So I think that there has been a change and so people in the field now are much more receptive. So we, unfortunately, set the criteria of success as no oil on shore – no oil on shore is failure, instead of [saying] “Look, everyone, oil is going to hit shore because anyone who mixes oil and water knows it’s impossible to get oil out.” So our standard of success is less oil hitting shore than would have but for our effort. The National Governors Association has written a new governors’ guide to homeland security that sort of lays out every piece of homeland security because it’s such a big docket. But going back and seeing, you know, what does resiliency look like and what actually was the story there? I often tell journalists coming to disasters: “Do you know how many people work at FEMA?” And they are always off by multiples of thousands.
What Walmart did during Hurricane Katrina that FEMA couldn’t was just absolutely remarkable. Because then what happens, after a bad thing happens, it’s a freaking disaster and everyone knows it’s bad.
Does the news media do a good job preparing communities for the kinds of disasters for which you can prepare on some level?
These resources will teach how our government works, the use of the primary source materials of GPO Access, and how one can use GPO Access to carry out their civic responsibilities.Blizzard Safety Blizzards are severe winter storms that pack a combination of blowing snow and wind resulting in very low visibility. So the lack of clarity to a journalist looking at it does not mean that there is a lack of clarity. Now look, there are still those traditional cops who are like “Ah, I hate the media.” But, for the most part, I think people have come to accept the need to engage the media because bad information on Twitter or wherever else can actually risk lives. What does this system look like?” In short, the Incident Command System is a hierarchical system run by an incident commander who may be a cop, but may be a fire chief, may be an emergency manager. And it’s something to look at to just sort of see, from the states’ side, what it looks like. During the Boston Marathon, I was on air with John King when he falsely stated an arrest had been made. You know, it’s often viewed as “Walmart came to the rescue.” I don’t think Walmart saw it that way.


Just to get a sense of “Oh my gosh, how would this actually work?” And get a sense of the gaps in the planning. Child Passenger Safety National Highway Traffic Safety AdministrationCitizen Corps : Youth PreparednessIt is important that children know what to do in an emergency. I was director of incident command for the BP oil spill and I look back at that now and I think, operationally, it wasn’t ideal.
I think [for] leadership and disasters, understanding disaster, you just have to look at old disasters. Now I knew an arrest had not been made because I’d been in major cities where an arrest had been made and it did not feel like it. FEMA is an organizing entity that brings together all the different stakeholders at a disaster, including private sector — like a Walmart or nonprofits, like churches, synagogues, others.
And so, have a strong working relationship with the emergency-management apparatus as compared to the police officers. And the incident command officer is there saying: “Where the heck were all of you when we were saying, ‘If something bad happens, here’s how it’s going to work?’” You know? Part of it is having the journalists understand the standards of success, knowing we start from a bad-news story. So holding government accountable to the delivery of services, to the training and practices that they hold themselves to is really important. If there’s anything to learn it is to educate or at least try to amplify what the conditions of success are. They’re called  … you know, like housing, transportation, public health, sheltering — all the different pieces that you’re going to want to focus on in a disaster. Now those are all government resources, but at least it will give reporters some understanding of how the system works. You know, when a major arrest has been made, there are helicopters everywhere and everything. The reporters that stick around past the limelight are the ones who I think get the most honest stories. So a lot of times, I think reporters can think ‘government’ or ‘not government’ and think that there’s a gap or a tension. We’re going to engage in this enterprise to try to save people.” So I think that that’s an interesting way to see these dynamics.
Department of Health and Human ServicesDog Bite Safety for Kids Preventing and Avoiding Dog Bites! You know,  in my field,  let’s just be honest here – it’s totally legitimate to say only 3,000 people died in the Twin Towers when you think there might have been 47,000 people there on any given Tuesday morning.
I think one way is to go out and see that government can create the web where others engage.
It just describes sort of how this hierarchical system folds out so that when someone comes to a disaster and they see a bunch of people who look like they’re not doing anything, they may be the people running finance, which is really important in a disaster.
But I think that sort of stands as a perfect example in which a mayor or a leader will talk in a certain way. Miskel examines the effects that operational failures after Hurricanes Agnes, Hugo, Andrew, and Katrina have had on the organizational design and operating principles of the disaster response system program. They just sort of lay out all of the dynamics that were happening that explain why some things weren’t working and others were and some of the challenges for leadership.
It means, actually, that they are working together or that they are trying to work together. So make sure that reporters access the right piece of the apparatus.  And, for example, if you are in a maritime community, get with the Coast Guard. But in a world in which fewer people dying, less oil hitting shore is success, we’ve got to learn to communicate that better. So the fact that it looks like they’re just on phones or they’re waiting for something — it means nothing. I think the way that the media amplified it was really important because I think it just told people there’s no messing around here. So I would say to journalists: Are you speaking the same language as the person who’s talking to you? So that really hurt a company that has been very good to me, a media company that’s been very good to me — a media company that, whatever its flaws, people turn to CNN. Parents are responsible for first taking care of a child’s hygiene needs, and when the child’s age allows, they are responsible for teaching them how to do it themselves. Children should understand that good hygiene not only affects their appearance, but it also reduces the risk of infection, the spread of illness, and even the spread of parasites. Rogers If your child has seen something scary on tv, this activity may help them turn it into their own story about "taming" the scary thing.
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