Working with the public and news media are crucial elements of an effective emergency response. Realistic exercises and drills are the best way to test emergency public information capabilities. Our team at Argonne National Laboratory is familiar with a wide range of hazards and exercise strategies. By supplying virtual, tabletop or functional exercise platforms, we support scenario development, news media simulation, planning, evaluation and follow-up to ensure maximum value for participants.
Argonne brings experience, realism and insight to the process by using “mock media” to support exercise play, challenging players through live interviews and news conferences, and simulating comprehensive real-time broadcast, print and social media coverage. The mock media cover the “story” as if it were an actual event by gathering information and producing news stories and social media posts on the basis of what they learn, creating the most challenging and realistic exercise environment for players.
Who are the mock media?
Mock media reporters are former journalists and public affairs professionals with real-world experience in covering breaking news stories. The knowledge and style of mock media reporters vary, just as would be the case with the real media. Through the nature of their questions and the content of their news stories, reporters show players whether the information they are providing is accurate, responsive, timely and understandable.
The mock media consist of three components:
1) field reporters, videographers and photographers who represent media outlets that could quickly be on the scene and interact face-to-face with players;
2) reporters who represent local, national and international media via phone calls to players from the exercise control simulation cell (SIMCELL); and
3) off-site reporters who represent out-of-state media outlets via phone calls to players from remote locations.
What do the mock media do?
All mock media reporters make inquiries on the basis of exercise play as it evolves. Mock media phone calls are also made from the SIMCELL using written injects prepared in advance of the exercise. The mock media begin making inquiries as soon as something occurs to alert them of an incident, like the sounding of sirens or the receipt of an Emergency Alert System message. The field teams travel to locations such as decontamination sites, shelters, hospitals, emergency operations centers and the Joint Information Center to interact in person with players.
Throughout the exercise, mock media reporters produce real-time broadcast and print news stories and social media posts that are put into play to let players know what the media would be telling the public about the emergency. When appropriate, the stories point out gaps and inconsistencies in information provided by the players. This gives participating organizations the opportunity to recognize the need for corrections or clarifications. The mock media never make up information or intentionally include erroneous information unless the original source for the information is the players themselves.
How is social media simulated?
Simulated social media posts are generated by the mock media team to reflect what the public and media would be saying on social media during an actual incident. These messages are disseminated in real-time during the exercise using real-world social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). The social media accounts are set up in advance as “closed” groups so that only exercise participants are able to view and respond to the messages, allowing play to occur in a safe, controlled environment.
There are many strong benefits to using this approach in an exercise setting, including increased realism, universal accessibility, and the ability of players to gain experience and familiarity with real-world social media tools and practices.
What information do the mock media use?
The mock media limit their knowledge of the scenario in advance of an exercise. A representative attends exercise planning meetings and works with the exercise directors and trusted agents to ensure that mock media resources are deployed efficiently. The other members of the mock media team are not aware of the scenario and the only information they use during the exercise is what they learn from players. Reporters use the information from players as the basis for the questions they ask and the stories they produce.
During an exercise, the mock media use any information that is available to the public. While most inquiries pertain to the scenario, mock media reporters also ask about other relevant and related topics in the news, just as the real media would. For example, general terrorism and security concerns, effects of a hazardous materials release on the local environment, and historical site safety records would be issues the mock media draw from to ask questions in the context of the current event. In making inquiries, the mock media typically use phone numbers that are available to the public and/or news media.
How do players contact the mock media?
The Exercise News Network (ENN) is a password-protected website used to disseminate print and broadcast news stories to players. Players should login at the start of the exercise and regularly monitor the site, responding to the mock media stories as they would respond to actual news stories in a real event. ENN also carries live interviews, briefings and news conferences.
Phone numbers for the mock media are included in a Player Communication Directory. An e-mail address is provided for written news releases, media bulletins and other information that players would typically provide to the news media. If a player is unable to reach a particular reporter or has technical issues with ENN, the player should contact a mock media representative in the SIMCELL.
What do the mock media do post-exercise?
At the conclusion of the exercise, the mock media team provides written observations and documentation to assist in the evaluation process, including timelines, accomplishments of note, and recurring issues and trends. If players would like direct feedback from the mock media about overall emergency public information play, arrangements can be made during the exercise planning process.
Mock media representatives can also discuss available public affairs training opportunities to help address areas identified during the exercise as needing improvement. By developing a complementary and integrated cycle of training and exercises, players can maximize the value of their preparedness activities.
News Media Simulation
Scenario-based media simulations add realism and interest to any exercise, briefing or training activity. Argonne develops dynamic mock newscasts and other narrative videos that establish a scenario and help drive the action, allowing participants to work in a more realistic, fast-paced decision-making environment. Each video is fully customized to meet the audience’s specific learning needs. Below are just a few examples of media simulations that Argonne has developed for local, state and federal sponsors.
“Fire at nuclear waste site”
DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Exercise
**For Exercise Purposes Only**
“Political protest planned in Colorado”
CSEPP Pueblo Community Annual Exercise
**For Exercise Purposes Only**
“Extreme weather slams Las Vegas”
DOE Nevada National Security Site Exercise
**For Exercise Purposes Only**
Public Affairs Training
The National Public Affairs Academy is a leading research and training group at Argonne National Laboratory. Studies show that public affairs is much more than media relations; by taking a holistic approach to risk and crisis communication, we define our mission as “Bridging the Gap Between Research, Science and Practice.” Our group collaborates with practitioners, consults with leading scientists, and researches diverse topic areas, allowing us to offer the most advanced training to communication professionals.
Argonne develops enterprising workshops that address a wide range of emergency public information topics. All workshops can be customized to meet the specific training needs of your organization. Our commitment is to develop innovative tools, effective products and dynamic workshops for the public affairs community. From risk and crisis communication planning to the latest in social media methodologies and emerging technologies, you can count on Argonne to meet all your public affairs training needs.
For more information about the Exercise News Network and how Argonne can support your next exercise or training activity, please contact us.
Argonne National Laboratory
ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY 9700 Cass Ave, Lemont, IL 60439
BRETT HANSARD Tel: +1-818-906-2745 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Argonne National Laboratory Risk and Crisis Communication