From the committee
Chair's column- comms teams step up following seismic events
It is a mark of the sheer magnitude of the incident that it is already hard to remember a time before Grenfell Tower.
The last FirePRO newsletter highlighted the raft of changes taking place across the fire sector at the start of 2017, yet all of that has been dwarfed and superseded by the events of June 14.
There are few words left to write about the event itself and if you’ve not yet had the privilege of reading the column from London Fire Brigade’s head of comms Glenn Seabright on their team’s response to Grenfell, then you can read them in this newsletter
As Glenn highlights, Grenfell followed quickly off the back of the terror attack in Borough Market and was then followed just as quickly by another attack in Finsbury Park. Blue light colleagues in Manchester had also barely drawn breath from dealing with their own major incident at the Manchester Arena.
Watching from a distance, it was hard not to be in awe of the response of the comms teams to these seismic events. The speed of response on social media. The continual updates and provision of information as soon as it was readily available. The regular media interviews and flawless spokespeople.
And this was what we only saw in public. Behind the scenes, there was doubtless an endless stream of staff comms, briefings and advice being produced too.
To a lesser extent, this was a picture was being repeated in FRS comms offices across the UK. High-rise advice. Reassurance for residents. Briefing media on evacuation policies (and myriad other complex fire safety matters). Public meetings. (It’s worth revisiting this post on the FirePRO forum to marvel at what the Essex FRS team, among others, had managed by 4pm on June 14.)
Anyone ever need to explain why comms is an indispensable frontline function? Replay them the days after Grenfell and you’ll have few people argue back. I revisited our Service’s action log for the first five days after the Grenfell fire - 32 out of 42 actions were comms or comms-related.
The fire sector has been changed irreversibly by the events at Grenfell Tower but one thing that won’t change is the commitment and professionalism of the comms teams who face up to these monumental challenges.
- James Morton is External Communications Manager at Hampshire Fire & Rescue and Chair of FirePRO
Public Sector Communications Academy - have you booked your place?
This year’s Public Sector Communications Academy in Leeds on October 18 and 19 promises something for everyone.
Crisis communications, campaign planning, best in class social media, place making, evaluation, behaviour change, culture change and income generation are all major themes of Academy, with changes in the format meaning that delegates will be able to build their own agenda based on what is right for them.
Major names confirmed so far include ex-editor of the Sun David Yelland, Anastasia Knox of Britain Thinks, Conrad Bird of the Cabinet office, Professor Paul Willis and senior government advisor John Mcternan. Other big names are expected soon.
Delegates will be able pick and mix events and activities over the two days which will include emergency comms, role playing, spot mentoring, practical workshops and masterclasses. They will also be able to hone their skills in a number of leadership sessions which will provide advice and guidance on how to boost your career.
This year’s Academy is brought to you collectively by LGcomms, LGA, the Government Communications Service and Comms 2 Point 0.
OFCOM Communications Market Report published
OFCOM's Communications Market Report has recently been published and it contains a wealth of information to help fire service communicators in our day-to-day work.
Key insights include:
- The most used social media platforms
- Which generations access which media the most
- Ownership of different devices
You can download the full report here
Case studies and interesting reading
Grenfell: An unprecedented fire
A version of this article first appeared in Comms2Point0 in July
Four weeks on and the devastation caused by the Grenfell Tower fire is still unfolding. The demands on my team have been such that only now, sat here at midnight, my house silent but my brain still buzzing, do I have time to reflect on all that’s happened. The communication challenges are endless, and as new issues morph into existence the potential to confuse people with information overload is in itself a fire safety concern.
We know at this point at least 80 people are feared to have died. We know we have never experienced a fire like this before. A national programme to test Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding on buildings is being carried out by government and one London local authority has taken action to evacuate hundreds of residents to ensure essential building safety measures are in place. We know there is a demand for answers, and that until the fire has been officially investigated we face a race for unverified information to be reported.
The word unprecedented has never felt so entirely appropriate in the case of a fire.
The incident has been a considerable communications challenge from the moment the duty press officer took that first alarming phone call.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are as a communications professional or how hard you prepare to manage major incidents, the reality of such an awful situation happening in real-time is stomach churning.
Our priority was to provide the most accurate information possible as quickly as possible. What was happening? Were people injured? Were firefighters safe? What level of resource was on site and what was it doing? These were some of the questions we were asking in preparation for the wave of international media interest we knew the fire would create.
Then there was the urgent need for other agencies to be informed, messaging coordinated, facts released properly and confirmed by the correct organisation.
While most of the country slept and even 24 hour news were realising the severity of the fire, the communications team were pulling initial media statements together and posting updates on social media, arriving on site to manage interest and joining operational meetings at Brigade headquarters in order to understand what was going on and what facts could be shared.
Day one was hard and very long, filled with updates confirming the severity of the fire and tragic loss of life, passionately delivered to a media cordon by a London Fire Commissioner who had been in post less than six months. As well as speculation spreading on the number of people involved, there was concern throughout the day that the tower itself was unstable and might collapse causing further devastation.
By day two and against the backdrop of Grenfell Tower we needed to explain why ‘staying put’ is usually the safest advice to follow, based on how most fires in high rise buildings are contained. The first weekend was a haze of relentless media interest, if not demands to interview firefighters who hadn’t had time to provide official statements, let alone process what they had been through.
Just a week after the blaze we were reissuing essential white goods safety advice after it was confirmed the fire had started in a fridge freezer.
As with all major incidents an endless list of questions continue, most of which can only be answered by the police investigation and public inquiry.
We have proactively tried to explain fire safety legislation and why housing providers are responsible for making or declaring a building safe, and not London Fire Brigade. Too many people still haven’t caught up with the fact that fire safety certificates issued by fire and rescue services are a thing of bygone years and the ‘responsible person’ has held legal accountability for fire safety for over a decade.
Opportunities to clarify the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) have been taken as often and sensitively as possible. Information and advice from a fire safety enforcement perspective has been reissued.
Our animations to explain what to do if there is a fire inside your home, and the different actions to take if there is a fire somewhere else in the building have been widely shared on social media channels. If anything can come of this tragedy immediately, it is that people invest in buying or testing smoke alarms, think about their escape plans – Know the Plan - and consider advice that is sadly all too often ignored.
And we have, where we can, verified information about how London Fire Brigade responded. A police investigation and public inquest free from influence and based on facts being of paramount importance.
So many staff from different departments at the Brigade support the response to disasters such as the Grenfell Tower. Control staff who took so many calls that night and the firefighters, many of whom are specially trained in Urban Search and Rescue, are rightfully receiving the praise and recognition they deserve. The Fire Investigation Team have been fully involved since day one, with later focus and demand on Fire Inspecting Officers who have been working tirelessly with housing providers and local authorities.
The professionalism of all the emergency services and partner agencies involved must also be recognised, including our colleagues in the communications teams who work so hard.
My team not only managed the Brigade’s communications to this horrific incident, but also the terrorist attacks in Westminster, London Bridge and Borough Market and on top of the Grenfell Tower fire, the attack just five days later in Finsbury Park.
Perhaps not enough is known about the specialist fire and rescue resources involved in those incidents too, but having spent a number of nights awake and working alongside my on-call colleagues, I can tell you that London Fire Brigade communications have been doing all we can to provide accurate media updates, event management, public affairs, staff communications and as much public information as possible to demonstrate everything the Brigade has done, will do and is doing to help the affected communities we are here to serve.
This was a terrible fire, which London Fire Brigade declared a major incident. Nobody working at the Brigade will ever forget it. Our thoughts remain with all those affected and especially the families and loved ones of those missing or confirmed dead.
Glenn Sebright is Head of Communications at London Fire Brigade
Video first for Welsh smoke alarm testing campaign
With a switch in emphasis from promoting free ‘home safety checks’ to ‘safe and well checks’ and the importance of regular smoke alarm testing, the three fire and rescue services in Wales have been working on a collaborative campaign during 2017 aimed at capturing the imagination of residents.
We’re all aware that people tend to think they’ll never be involved in a fire but that in fact a fire can strike anytime, anywhere when you least expect it.
This was an opportunity to get in on the act with the recent explosion in popularity of using video content to boost our important message.
The first strand of the campaign kicked off in January with a new ‘When do you do it?’ video, led by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which was promoted across Wales on fire and rescue service websites and social media – this was a tongue in cheek reminder highlighting the importance not just in owning a smoke alarm but also in testing it.
This was followed by the ‘Reasons to Test’ strand of the campaign in May. Led by North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, this took another fun and light-hearted approach to regular smoke alarm testing, aimed at engaging with young and old audiences alike.
An innovative short animation was produced by teaming up with students from Wrexham’s Glyndwr University, whose cartoon scenes and characters took another look at the same message, brought to life by an original soundtrack, with music composed by established local singer-songwriter Daniel Lloyd.
The challenge of this strand of the campaign was to produce something completely original to build on promoting the same message, whilst also championing local talent and forging new local relationships. The work provided an excellent platform to showcase the skills of the visual effects students, helping to further their future careers, and staging a premier showing of the new animation to local primary school children helped to gain some excellent local publicity.
The animation was promoted via social media and websites across Wales and also, as a third strand of the campaign, was taken to summer events and county shows to sit alongside a quiz and competition to further promote the smoke alarm testing message. Life sized cut outs and selfie frames featuring the animated characters, together with similarly branded give-aways, helped to capture the attention of visitors to the events.
The campaign will be evaluated fully in the autumn but viewings of the videos, hits to our websites, social media statistics as well as engagement figures at events to date all providing positive indications that the campaign has hit home within our communities. Both videos were also accompanied by a national radio campaign, with strong listener figures further extending our reach – representing the first time we had done this across Wales.
Some early learning points included overcoming technical challenges associated with ensuring videos are embedded within Facebook and Twitter posts as opposed to using a link, including subtitles to videos so that social media posts can still be understood when people don’t click through to them, and how best to use a website landing page to drive people to your campaign.
But there is no doubt that the appeal of videos in marketing is here to stay for the time being and that they don’t have to be perfect to be able to get the desired effect!
- Tracey Williams is Corporate Communication Manager at North Wales Fire & Rescue
Taking a Stormzy approach to cut deliberate fires
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service have used an innovative approach to refresh their annual summer Flames Aren’t Games campaign.
Each year as temperatures rise typically so do the number of deliberate outdoor fires, increasing the operational demand on firefighters. This year has been no exception with figures showing that during early summer reports of these types of fires had tripled in Staffordshire.
The primary audience, or suspected culprits (to us), for these incidents are teenage boys so the Service needed to find a way to reach out to them. An idea was born to create a spoken word song and video, inspired by the likes of Stormzy and Skeptor. The rapper would tell the story of how their fire starting caused havoc and disaster, leading them to change their ways. The idea was sounded out with local teenagers who agreed that a video would catch their attention far more effectively than any other visual digital marketing material.
Working with a local charity, the Urban Arts Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, and an aspiring artist, the Service produced and recorded the song Flames Aren’t Games.
Although the video is at the heart of the campaign, it is just one element of it and was complemented by ongoing diversionary activities throughout the school summer holidays which were delivered with partner organisations. Additionally young people were encouraged to engage with the campaign and us using a Snapchat Flames Aren’t Games filter, and like and share competitions offering the chance to win football game tickets and theme park tickets, along with regular eye-catching campaign posts intended to deter would be fire starters.
The campaign was also backed by a Prince’s Trust graduate who went on camera to talk about how he used to set fires for fun until he was arrested and how negatively this has affected his life.
To date the video has been viewed over 132,000 times. With the school holidays drawing to a close the final push of the campaign will see more hopeful competition entrants liking a sharing the pinned video post, which will hopefully prompt more views of the video.
- Sarah Davison is Senior Communication Officer at Staffordshire Fire & Rescue
Feel good factor back thanks to Cleveland vintage films
When Cleveland Fire Brigade moved out of its old headquarters last year we unearthed some long forgotten film reel footage of firefighting in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
In a matter of weeks they had gone from sitting on a dusty shelf to being digitised then preserved in special climate-controlled vaults at Teesside University where the North East Film Archive is based.
Shot in black and white and colour there is some great training footage of crews putting out a plane fire in the drill yard (yes, really) and using the old (and very scary looking) hook ladders.
Local media gave the films a good showing with BBC Look North admitting they were suckers for old footage and the local paper The Gazette running a double page spread in its nostalgia section.
We’ve had an excellent response from other fire and rescue services with Hampshire showing it to their new recruits to give them an idea of how it was all done more than 50 years ago.
And it was feel good factor all round when a member of the public emailed to say she was thrilled to see that her late grandfather, who died when she was only six, appears almost straightaway on the footage and regularly throughout. She couldn’t wait to show her dad who was also a firefighter.
You can join more than 12,000 other viewers by watching the film reels here: www.clevelandfire.gov.uk/about/firefighters-on-film/
- Jill Barber is Communications Manager at Cleveland Fire Brigade
Hampshire graduation day goes live
As Hampshire’s first new firefighter recruits in almost a decade approached graduation day, it felt an event worth celebrating.
So the Media and Communications team swung into action to provide the profile and pzazz the historic moment deserved.
First, a video – No Greater Gift - was produced chronicling the recruits’ journey from application to graduation, featuring interviews with the graduates and footage of their experiences during their intensive 16-week training course. This was shown to the attending friends, families and dignitaries to open the graduation ceremony.
Next, the team secured BBC Radio Solent to broadcast live from headquarters on the morning of the graduation. Reporter Hannah Bewley interviewed the Head of Training and Development, Ty Whitlock, as well as two of the graduates, Tom Hall and Natalie Bee. Tom’s story was particularly pertinent, having previously been part of the Media and Comms team but now finding himself on the other side of the microphone!
The team also then provided full live streaming coverage of the graduation event on YouTube, allowing friends and family of the graduates from around the world to tune in and join in the proud day themselves. To date, the stream has received more than 1,000 views.
Ty said: “This was a really proud day for the Service and for our newest recruits. The coverage and support the comms team provided gave the event the profile it deserved and really added an extra sense of pride for all the recruits and their friends and families.”
What's YOUR distraction?
That was the question asked of motorists last month as part of a joint motorway safety event that was, on the most part, pulled together by four different fire and rescue services.
The day-long initiative saw staff from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire join up with their respective Police colleagues, as well as officers from Highways England, at six service stations up and down the East Midlands stretch of the M1.
More importantly though, it also saw staff from each of the Services’ communications teams come together for a co-ordinated media campaign that included a joint press release, a joint case study and matching branding – which was applied to social media banners and a range of printed materials that were used to support staff engagement on the day.
There was also a joint hashtag for the initiative, #WhatsYourDistraction, which was used to link up all of the social media activity that took place before, during and after the event.
“The evaluation of the initiative is still on-going, but between all of the agencies I think it would be fair to say we engaged with hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the ground alone,” said Jack Grasby, Communications Officer at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service.
“We also collectively got coverage on BBC East Midlands Today, on our respective local radio stations and in our local papers. This is in addition to the vast amount of social media activity we did together.
“The best part, though, was the way in which we worked collaboratively. The M1 runs through all of our patches and, given that we all had the same focus (distraction), it made sense that we joined together.
“Having a joint press release and just one service taking care of the graphic design saved us all a great deal of time and effort – it also made our messages much stronger.”
- Jack Grasby is Communications Officer at Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue