Dionne Waugh, formerly a reporter and now a public information officer for the Boulder, Colorado Police Department, has deep experience helping police departments communicate with the public during critical incidents. That experience includes a mass shooting in 2021 when 10 people lost their lives.
In a recent article by Wayne Parham written for Police Magazine, Ms. Waugh offers 10 tips, all short and to-the-point.
Wrangling the media and informing the community following a critical incident can pose challenges for police. Dionne Waugh, public information officer for the Boulder Police Department (CO) knows that well. She had managed communications for other critical incidents previously in her career, but none that rose to the level of the March 2021 mass shooting at King Soopers, a local grocery store in the Table Mesa community of Boulder.
Waugh says she drew on lessons she had learned through other PIOs, trainings, and conferences, to get her through managing the crisis communications process following the mass shooting that included a duty death. Among the 10 victims lost that day was Officer Eric Talley, one of her friends and one of the first people she met when she took on the PIO role in Boulder.
The City of Boulder has a large communications team, but Waugh is imbedded at the police department as PIO. She assumed the role in November 2020 and previously had worked for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (CO) and the Richmond Police Department (VA). Prior to those public safety communications roles Waugh worked as a reporter covering varied topics, including crime and public safety.
“I’ve handled a lot of big incidents in my time and in the 12 years before I came to Boulder there was nothing like the King Soopers shooting. Everything is permanently etched in my mind,” Waugh says.
It had snowed a little that morning and Waugh had decided to work from home. A tone came through on her phone indicating a major incident had occurred.
“I just basically flew to the scene,” she says. “One of the best things was the city communications team, that I’m a part of, and the region has a PIO group that I’ve been a part of since I moved to Colorado eight years ago. Basically because of those two things, from a communications perspective, I was able to rely on those networks to help me manage the crush of inquiries that were coming in and the amount of workload that was required instantly and for many, many days and weeks after that.”
An example of how that broader city team helped is how someone at parks and recreation managed the police department Instagram content in the days following the mass shooting. Boulder at that time had about 26 full-time, part-time, and contract communications employees. The city has recently hired a crisis communications manager that will serve as both as a manager and a backup PIO for Waugh.
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