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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Publisher’s Notebook

• Is Malibu Communicating? •


We all have become such appendages of things electronic that it is easy to lose sight of the reality that the flow of information to each of us requires action on our part. We have to be turned on, plugged in, and a willing seeker or recipient of information if it is to reach us. A description of the news gathering process can be found as far back as the writings of Plato. One has to go out and look for news in order to find it.
How does a community respond to the occasional need for rapid widespread communication, such as this week’s law enforcement incident at Corral Canyon? Although there are numerous warning systems, such as those for tsunamis and avalanches, they are limited. No one means of transmission guarantees instantaneous saturation.
It may not be possible to transmit simultaneous customized messages until we are all individually hard-wired and can be interrupted by those with access to the information pathways of our brains and the ability to awaken us or otherwise redirect our thought processes.
I’m not ready or willing for anyone or anything to have that kind of power. While still allowing the retention of some semblance of individual thought self-control, sufficient simultaneous text-email-voicemail alert options are available when the public needs to be apprised of something out of the ordinary.
Malibu should and can afford to be in the forefront of these technological options. Because of the tremendous differences between some areas of the community—including population, access, climate, etc.—there is the need for centralized and localized community information relay.
Contact of the city manager and key officials, many of whom do not live in Malibu (an issue in its own right) is paramount, but there should be neighborhood contacts—Broad Beach is different from Corral Canyon is different from Big Rock. There is a need for there to be someone who knows each area well, and that person isn’t always the one at the top of the chain of command.
The email alert system now in use may have sufficed in the current episode, but how much of that was random chance? It is easy to forget there are circumstances under law enforcement agency scrutiny surrounding us all the time that we don’t know about, but that doesn’t negate the need to be able to get word out when public awareness is warranted.
There should be a formal public protocol. Who makes the decision to implement what? How few times a year might a city or county official have to respond to a law enforcement issue at two in the morning? Crises are not limited to traditional office hours, how do we ensure 24-7 coverage so there is a clear prioritization of public safety?
The Nixle community announcement this morning for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was that Chief Roberta Abner would be “Freezin’ for a Reason” and submerging in the chilly waters of Gangneung at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea this week.
If someone was believed still to be hiding in the brush in Corral Canyon trying to evade arrest, that would have been a better local news update for 90265 recipients. But, even so, they would have to take the initiative to check what was happening on the news front.
Issues of poor communication are often due more to perception than reality, but a clear communications protocol should preclude that. Who learns what when and is expected to act in which way means there is a prescribed information flow between all of the entities involved in a public crisis.
This may be one of the few instances when redundancy is cost-effective. There are assurances that alternatives will kick into gear if the first notice is not acknowledged. There always is an element of chance in everything in life, but the right communications protocol will improve the odds.

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