PUBLIC AFFAIRS IN
The Navy is without a doubt a news maker, and with
little question the news it makes is sometimes adverse
in nature. When a fire rages aboard an aircraft carrier
and there are mounting casualties or when a recruit dies
of injuries received during training, the PAO and senior
journalist find themselves in the middle of a news story.
These news incidents contain the elements of a good
news storyimmediacy, consequence, drama, conflict
and emotion. People are interested in these stories and
may often be directly affected by them.
The events that affect the Navy and its personnel are
generally matters the public has an inherent right to
know, whether the news is good or bad. Principally, this
right can be abridged in very few cases if security is
involved. The fact that bad news is embarrassing does
not mean we should not release it, because this fact does
not curtail the publics right to know. The stories
concerning this nations military establishment and the
lives and welfare of U.S. fighting forces must be told.
Another reason to tell these stories is a purely
practical one in that bad news cannot be suppressed.
Attempts to hide bad news make the Navy look
dishonest because guesswork is stimulated. This is often
worse than the truth and the agony is prolonged. Any
refusal by the Navy to cooperate with the news media,
for whatever reason, causes speculation, rumor and
conjecture to replace the truth and facts of a situation.
This is especially true in an emergency where things are
Even though there are effective methods of coping
with the public affairs problems that accompany nearly
every accident, public affairs personnel often make
mistakes in handling the news aspects of disasters.
Naturally, no two bad news situations are identical,
but public affairs practitioners can apply certain
principles in releasing information to the public.
Therefore, this chapter provides guidance to the senior
journalist to successfully handle public affairs in major
peacetime naval (and increasingly joint) disaster
ADVERSE NEWS SITUATIONS
POLICY GUIDANCE FOR DISASTERS
Learning Objective: Detail the basic disaster policy
guidance of the DoD and Navy.
The DoD formulates all basic policy regarding the
release of disaster information by the armed services.
The individual services, in turn, disseminate their own
policy instructions according to the basic DoD
directives. Neither the DoD nor any of the other armed
services issues a master disaster plan. Since the military
services, individually and collectively, are subject to the
many types of natural and man-made disasters, the lack
of a master plan is understandable. The Atomic Energy
Commission and NASA, for instance, operate in limited
areas of specialized activities with predictable accident
situations. The Navy can, by the same token, anticipate
certain disasters peculiar to specialized operations.
Individual naval commands, bases, installations, fleets,
and so forth, reissue policy guidance best suited to their
individual needs and circumstances based on these basic
Several basic DoD directives exist on individual
service guidance in the area of disaster information.
Implementation instructions are contained in PA Regs.
DEFINITION OF DISASTERS
Learning Objective: Identify and define the different
types of disasters.
The concept of disaster varies with the kind and
degree of involvement of the persons or groups
concerned. The word disaster signifies one thing to the
family or community involved, another to disaster
research science and still something else to the
governmental agency or voluntary relief organization
charged with relief and rehabilitation measures. Webster
defines disaster as a sudden and extraordinary
misfortune; a calamity. One sophisticated definition
states that disaster is a disruption in the normal flow of
energy that is uncontrolled.
Disasters, regardless of how or by whom defined,
have certain common attributes. They include injury,
suffering or death for several people and damage or
destruction to possessions and property. According to