Identify a command information bureau (CIB)
site ahead of time. More than 600 media, including
the White House press corps, gathered in Norfolk to
cover the Iowa's story on short notice. The logistics
alone of transporting that many people is
staggering, even with time for planning.
. Early in the crisis, identify a clear chain
of command, make specific personal assign-
ments (media officer, administration officer,
drivers, etc.) and create planning groups for
specific events, such as Iowas return and the
memorial service. Let these groups focus ahead
on the details for the events while the key decision
makers remain free.
. Identify goals immediately. In Norfolk,
Iowa's home port, there were two key Atlantic Fleet
public affairs goals:
to inform the families and
protect them from unwanted media intrusion and to
accommodate the overwhelming media interest in
the explosion, the ship and the families.
. Know how to communicate with the
Navy families. The Norfolk Family Services
Center and Commander, Naval Base Norfolk,
activated their crisis response plan immediately
after the explosion and offered a central gathering
place for families at the Norfolk Naval Base
gymnasium for counseling and information.
Unfortunately, the mechanism for getting
information to the families before they see it in
the media is weak. Family members who are
confused or scattered away from fleet locations or
perhaps do not trust or understand the Navy
follow news reports for the latest information.
Official information is filtered in the media and
mixed with speculation, misinformation and
There is no way to solve this problem
completely. Improvements can be made in the flow
of information between fleet commands and the
ombudsman and family services center, but the
media will always play a key internal information
role. It becomes especially important in these crises
to get the most complete and accurate facts as
quickly as possible to the news media and to
correct wrong stories as they appear. This implies
continual monitoring of coverage.
Carefully plan the physical arrangements for
the media at event sites and methods to keep the
media informed. When you make an honest attempt
to bring the story to the media, it reduces
speculation. An official spokesman must be
established as the best source of breaking news.
If the press has the available facts, they are less
likely to speculate, to go to think tank experts and
to hound the families. The first information about
the explosion was released to the press almost
immediately in Norfolk. The Atlantic Fleet sent a
public affairs assistance team to the Roosevelt
Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico within six hours
of the explosion and conducted a media availability
with the 2nd Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Jerry
Johnson, in Puerto Rico less than 24 hours after the
explosion. The draw of the press conference
permitted the ship to remain relatively undisturbed
off Roosevelt Roads while the remains were
transferred ashore by helicopter. The media were
then taken to the flight line to observe the
flag-draped caskets being escorted aboard a C-5 by
an honor guard.
It took Iowa five days to return to Norfolk after
the explosion. The CIB arranged a media
availability aboard Iowa's sister ship, the battleship
USS Wisconsin (BB 64), to give reporters an
opportunity to see the turret where the fire and
explosion occurred. This also enabled the media to
talk to battleship sailors about the routine operation
of the gun for perspective and background.
On the day of the Iowa's return, approximately
500 media were roped into an area at the end of the
pier, photographing the grim arrival from flatbed
trucks without interfering with the homecoming.
At the memorial service the next day, the
presence of the White House press corps swelled the
total number of media attending to more than 600,
in an aircraft hangar already crowded with more
than 5,000 people. Bleachers in the hangar, careful
selection of pool locations for cutaways and
separation of the media from the crew and more than
100 family members helped give the crew members
and families privacy, while giving the press as many
opportunities as possible to cover the ceremony.
Most of the needs of the media and the needs of
the families were met during the lowa crisis, but
there is always room for improvement. The reality
of the Iowa crisis is that any command, anywhere
in the world, can be forced to deal with a similar
crisis without notice. The biggest lesson learned is
that no one can plan or train enough for that day.