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Media is the Battlefield

Newsletter 07-04
October 2006

CALL Handbook No. 06-08: Catastrophic Disaster Response Staff Officer's Handbook Cover

Support Operations, Public Affairs Office

Chapter 8

Extract from Center for Army Lessons Learned Initial Impressions Report 06-11,
Disaster Response Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Photo of public affairs interview in Mississippi
Figure 8-1: Public affairs interview in Mississippi

This article addresses the need for public affairs (PA) support during disaster relief operations. Public interest in how the U.S. government and the Army supports relief operations was significantly increased after Hurricane Katrina because this domestic disaster hit home in a monumental way. PA officers (PAOs) on the Gulf coast had to work closely with civilian media to ensure command messages and military information was disseminated in an accurate and timely manner. PAOs leveraged the power of U.S. media organizations to assist in information gathering and dissemination.

One National Guard (NG) division PAO in Louisiana conducted a vigorous media information program to get the command message out, despite staff shortages. The NG division, operating under the modular force structure, deployed with no organic staff. The modular force structure authorizes three officers and seven enlisted personnel in the PA section. The NG division possessed only one qualified PAO, who acted as the single point of contact for media operations within the division.

Through rigorous networking with military and civilian media agencies, the PAO was able to coordinate media coverage when opportunities surfaced. Most of this coordination was conducted while attending civilian news media meetings at the state emergency operations center. Command messages were disseminated via these meetings and with the military PA detachment (MPAD) located at Belle Chase, Louisiana, south of New Orleans. However, the MPAD was not part of the division. The division PA office had no tasking authority over the MPAD. Priority of media coverage was determined by the Louisiana NG chain of command, instead of the division-assigned command and control authority. If the MPAD was not available, the division PAO would cover stories on his own. These stories would be included in a newsletter that was distributed by the MPAD. The PAO also would arrange press meetings for the division commander. The PAO possessed 15 years of prior enlisted PA experience. This experience was critical in filling the void in staff structure.

In Mississippi, all intelligence/information was channeled through the joint task force (JTF) G2, who was also acting as the G5 and G7. As tactical-level units reported information about civil infrastructure and the status of services to the G2, this information was also passed to civilian media outlets by the JTF PAO. Initial military response priorities were communicated via press conferences and field media contacts at the local and higher headquarters levels. These priorities became part of the overall information operations (IO) plan and the media support plan. Sample talking points in the initial phase of the relief operation are listed below.

NG Support to Hurricane Katrina
As of 2 September 2005

Key Messages

  • This is what we do. We are trained and ready to help others, whether they’re overseas or in the United States. These are our neighbors we’re helping now. We’re looking forward to getting there and doing our part to help.
  • We’ve been deployed before, so we’re used to being away from home for months at a time. No one likes to be away from his or her loved ones for too long, but we feel fortunate that it is for a good cause. The sooner we can get there the better for everyone. I’m ready.
  • These National Guardsmen are trained professionals who bring great expertise and sensitivity to their mission in support of local law enforcement.
  • NG helicopters have evacuated hundreds of sick and injured persons out of the devastated greater New Orleans area.
  • Over the next few days, that number will rise to nearly 30,000 as we continue to deploy personnel and critical equipment to the hardest hit areas.
  • These are National Guardsmen saving, protecting, and serving the American people. They are committed citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, gathered from communities across this country.
  • The NG has a tradition of responding during natural disasters.
  • More than 320,000 NG Soldiers and Airmen and their equipment from all states are ready to mobilize into the disaster-struck area.
  • We understand the mission that lies ahead of us. This is why we serve – to help the nation in times of national crisis.

Insights/Lessons learned

  • PA coverage while supporting domestic disaster assistance is vital in disseminating the command message and telling the Army story.
  • The division PAO must be resourced with the authorized level of section personnel to properly conduct media support operations. Working one-deep has the potential to cause gaps in media coverage and may cause media opportunities to be lost.
  • It is important for the PAO to be present in any disaster relief to act as a conduit for military and civil leadership.

Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, and Facilities (DOTMLPF) Implications

  • Training: PA cells need to know and understand IO tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to take the lead when no IO personnel are present.
  • Personnel. Commanders should place more emphasis on resourcing the PA office with the staff needed to conduct media operations during domestic disaster support operations. Deploying staffs should plan for the appropriate level of media support during domestic disaster support operations or identify civilian-acquired skills sets that will support the PA section.

Table of Supporting Observations

Observation Title

CALLCOMS File Number

Public Affairs Operations During a Natural Disaster


Intelligence Support to Effects




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