Monday, January 4, 2010

What the Underwear Bomber can Teach TSA Communicators

When the Underwear Bomber tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) scrambled to put new security measures in place to protect the flying public. TSA issued a security directive to airlines within hours of the bombing, but there was intense confusion because TSA didn't communicate anything of substance publicly following the incident.

TSA has a great blog, but the agency didn't use the site to get meaningful information to passengers quickly. The only substantive action TSA took regarding its security directive was to threaten two bloggers with jail time for publishing it on their respective blogs.

A blog post on The TSA Blog December 26 is identical to a post on the main TSA Website December 27.

Why is this called "Guidance for Passengers"? It is so vague and devoid of helpful information, it is essentially useless.

TSA needs to understand how people think in times like these. We need to know what we can do, what we can expect and what actions people at TSA are doing to make us safer. Instead we got a lot of government officials telling us how fabulous other government officials were during the crisis. But, it's not about them, it's about us.

Here's Bob Schieffer's brilliant take on the whole communications fiasco:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

What TSA should have done is virtually deploy a team of communicators to answer questions from flyers in real-time across multiple social media sites. TSA could have offered rationale for some of the restrictions they had put in place. Post answers to the TSA Blog, post them to Twitter, post to wherever there's an audience. If the same question gets asked again, answer it. TSA needs to understand that how it communicates is as important as how many of us get patted down.

TSA's communicators are public servants. It would be nice if they provided some actual public service.

Bill Salvin

1 comment:

  1. Bill, Having worked with this agency for the past eight years, I too occasionally find frustration with my own agency. However, one thing this agency does know how to do is communicate. August 10, 2006, we changed the way we do business all over the world, yes world, when word of the liquid bomb plot surfaced. I stayed all night at an airport, engaged media around the clock and took nearly 400 calls in two days. We know how to do what we are paid to do, and no one knows better than I that I am a public servant. I live to communicate ina crisis, as to my colleagues. SO what happened between August, 2006 and December, 2009? I know each of the people that serve as comms specialist for this agency around the ocuntry are dying to communicate. Fact is, they can't. Leadership, not TSA, has not allowed anyone to engage, preferring stead to issue statement after statement. Is this some type of grand cover-up? One of our key talking points for years now has been that security does not begin and end at the security checkpoint, it begins long before anyone gets ot the airport. It is based on intelligence. How our intelligence community missed this, or did not take the seriousness of this boy's father essentially turning him in into account is beyond me. Perhaps instead oh holding my friends accountabel, we should be asking those in the intelligence world why no ne is allowed to talk? Have you seen any of them out there explaining their missteps? Didn't think so.