Emergency responders should enhance communication

In an era of social media, when information – and misinformation, moreso – spreads like wildfire on the internet, it has never been as important for emergency responders like police and firefighters to communicate quickly, efficiently and as thoroughly as permitted with legitimate media.

Yet, for all the accomplishments of our first responders in our part of the state, for all the good work they do, they are not terribly adept at sharing or willing to share information with media at all that quick a pace.

Minot Daily News has encountered this reality on a regular basis. We have been, at times, deluged with calls inquiring about an incident that took place the day before, and which might be the source of gossip online, but it takes considerable time for authorities to pass on even basic correct information. This makes it a challenge to correct rumors and gossip online or to otherwise keep readers informed.

Misinformation and gossip can hinder actual investigations, create unnecessary fear or anxiety or make our institutions appear as if they aren’t doing their jobs – which virtually never turns out to be the truth. A lack of information prompts people to act in a way they otherwise wouldn’t, and this is rarely beneficial.

That said, emergency responders act for entirely rational reasons. They are busy addressing the actual issue, they are careful to collect solid data, they don’t want to be a source of misinformation, and North Dakota’s Marsy’s Law has dramatically altered the landscape when it comes to information release regarding crime. It’s thoroughly understandable that police, for example, have higher priorities in the aftermath of an incident.

It is also undeniably true that the departments in which populations have the most faith and confidence are those that communicate well with media, and thus the public. It is also intrinsically true that authorities getting information out as quickly as possible combats the scourge of gossip, innuendo and outright lies that circulate online.

Traditional media, local and regional, have not demonstrated the tendency to jump on stories without information. Nor have said outlets developed histories of being unnecessarily critical of emergency responders. On the contrary, most newsrooms seem more like that at MDN and are eager to work more cooperatively with police and fire. They’re essential partners in collecting and disseminating accurate information to the public. Most, also like MDN, move quickly into action when authorities ask for certain, specific information to be delivered to residents. The relationship is a two-way street, and it is one that needs nurturing. Withholding information beyond what is necessary creates suspicion in the minds of the public.

We are blessed with strong emergency responders. Taxpayers would be even more impressed with more, timely information. They are, after all, the ones footing the bill.