Communicating in a Fog of War


In everyday life and especially an emergency or disaster there is always official channels of information and unofficial channels of information being relayed to the public. In public information officer training for government entities, they give a few key words of advice. First the microphone is always live, and second, it will take 24 hours to walk back one item of misinformation. When you hear of a situation unfolding you naturally turn to the media and now social media for information. In a recent local event with a school evacuation both social media and local media was running with various stories of misinformation. You expect social media to be rampant with misinformation but unfortunately, in the race to be first, local professional media ran with non sourced information also.

So this led me to think about our role as communication specialists and our responsibility in being the conduit of information to decision makers. Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz coined the phrase "fog of war" in stating, "War is the real of uncertainty, three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for, a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth". More modern day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated: "There are known known's, These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we don't know we don't know"


So how as communication specialists can we mitigate this fog of war in our role? We can prepare in advance to know and discern where official sources of information can be obtained. This can come in the form of emergency alerts on our phone or radio, official twitter feeds from public safety or government officials, and access to official briefings. Document the information, time, and source so you can disseminate official information when asked. Second, understand in your position you are an island in a sea of information. There are more things you do not know than you do know and try not to be frustrated by that. Feel comfortable when asked, to reply that you do not know the answer. Avoid the dangers of speculation or inference of non verified facts. Depending on your organizational role you may be asked to only communicate official messages. If that is your role adhere to it strictly.

When sending information it is important include the source of information. Was it from an official leader? Person on the street? Or our own personal observation? It is important to convey the time-lapse of that information since it may no longer be valid. For example, it would be appropriate to relay on an emergency net the following: "At 1015 hours today, an emergency alert was broadcast from national weather service radio stating that I-15 was closed at mile marker 154 to southbound traffic". Notice this information sequence: Time, Source, Information, and most importantly no inference of why or perceived estimation of opening. Let the person receiving the information assimilate it for their decision making. Lastly, observe and document all that you see and hear. If you document all traffic on the radio that may not seem important at the time, it may be valuable in the future.


In conclusion, our role as the conduit of information during a situation or disaster, is to recognize that there is a fog of war, do our best to mitigate the unknown, and be prepared to convey accurate information as possible.


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