Allison Pennisi is based in New York and is the Executive Director of the Emergency Management Department. She talks about her challenging yet rewarding role in emergency management and how Hurricane Sandy taught valuable lessons in comms.
Give us an overview of your role and what it entails on a daily basis
I oversee internal and external public information efforts of NYC Emergency Management. With my team, I create, refine, and amplify a comprehensive, multimodal strategy to inform stakeholders of the agency’s mission and core values during emergency and non-emergency events, and ensure messaging is accurate, timely, consistent, and accessible to the whole community.
What do you love about about your job?
The field of emergency management is a shared responsibility; it provides you with the opportunity to work with different types of people across various disciplines and sectors. As a public information officer, I get to work with everyone across my agency and local government, but also have establish great connections with individuals across the country and even internationally.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
The last few years have been especially challenging as we have faced compounded emergencies like a global pandemic and severe weather events. This, coupled with a 24/7 news cycle, can make the job a challenging one.
What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your role and what lessons did you learn?
Every emergency I have responded to, from a building collapse to a hurricane, has demonstrated how important public messaging can be. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, we quickly learned that while technology afforded us to get out information quickly, it was still important to create materials like flyers to inform the public about recovery resources available to them, as well as in-person centers, and consider the needs of the whole community (e.g., language access, those with disabilities and other access and functional needs, etc.)
What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?
Communications combines my passions of writing, getting to know people, and problem-solving.
One piece of advice for those wanting to start a career as a Public Information Officer or comms professional
Be honest, be yourself, ask questions, and be respectful. I also think it’s important to trust your instincts but if you have any doubts or uncertainty, don't hesitate to seek out advice from others or take a step back when time allows and say, “Is this right? Will I want to stand by this decision in the moments/days/years to come?”
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
There are a lot but my recent favorite is “You’re It!” by Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn.
What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?
I love to research. Outside of things like media monitoring tools, I like to look at my favorite brands and organizations that I think do in affect a job at communicating their mission or work to others and see if there’s a way I could apply it to my role. There is no “one size fits all” solution, and that’s a good thing!
Don’t hesitate to seek out your fellow communications professionals to “talk shop.” You never stop learning!
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
Public information officers are critical to any organization. A leader of an organization may know what they do and why they do it but they may not be able to concisely explain these actions and core values. The moment you stop communicating what you do and why you do it is the moment your organization fails. Whether it’s for a strategic project or a crisis, a PIO is a lifeline. They can synthesize information in a way no one else can, and can share a story in a way no one else can.