City officials talk crisis communication in Columbia

City officials talk crisis communication in Columbia

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) – Grand Strand and Pee Dee leaders gathered in Columbia Tuesday to talk about police department best practices and crisis communication in the event of a disaster.

Emergency personnel with the cities of Conway, Florence and Darlington were panelists during the crisis communication segment. Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler talked about what his department went through during and after the deadly officer-involved shooting in October 2018.

"Well you have to prepare to take care of your folks. Certainly my biggest concern initially was the officers who had been wounded, the family of the officer who had been killed and then it flows down to the officers who were out there at the scene, to the officers who work the same shift with those officers, to the entire department,’ said Heidler.

He appeared emotional during the panel, saying that emotion still remains even months later. Heidler said he had to keep in mind the well-being of his officers while also keeping the public informed.

Heidler said in a time of tragedy, officers have to rely on the communication crisis plan they have in place, but also their experience and ability to make decisions.

Conway Fire Chief Phillip L. Hendrick Jr. was also on the panel. He talked about the process of communicating important information to the public during and after a disaster like Hurricane Florence.

"We're trying to get that one central message out to the community so there is no confusion throughout the community,” said Hendrick.

Social media was a crucial part of getting the message out. Hendrick said the city’s Facebook page reached 1.4 million people during Hurricane Florence and the storm’s effects. He said they found articles online that were in different languages, indicating the information from the city reached different countries.

"Whether it be through the website, social media, we have a city access channel. There are a multitude of ways you can find the information but we're just making sure everyone gets the same message,” he said.

Also on the panel was Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington.

Myrtle Beach city leaders were also in attendance. Mayor Brenda Bethune and some council members sat in to listen to the crisis communication panel. She said the city has a communication plan of its own.

"Every crisis is different and you never know what to expect. There's no way to plan for everything that could potentially happen."

Chief Mark Keel with the State Law Enforcement Division talked about law enforcement recruitment and retention, the hiring of police officers and the South Carolina Police Academy.

Keel said 50 percent of men and women that come to the academy leave the force in five years.

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