Check out our crowdsourced resources for local government wildfire response.

Registration is now open for #ELGL20: Local Gov Oktoberfest! Register today!

Podcast: Digital Communications & COVID-19 Response in King County, WA

Posted on March 27, 2020


Warren KagariseColette Cosner
Warren Kagarise
Digital Engagement Manager
King County, WA
LinkedIn | Twitter
Colette Cosner
Public Health Digital Lead
King County, WA
LinkedIn | Twitter

Strategy and public health information. Warren Kagarise, Digital Engagement Manager, and Colette Cosner, Public Health Digital Lead, from King County, Washington joined the podcast to talk about communicating during COVID-19. King County has been one of the epicenters of the outbreak and has been dealing with cases since February. They shared their tips for communication strategy, keeping residents informed, and self-care in a time of pandemic.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

Subscribe:Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyRSS Feed


Learn More

King County COVID-19 Communication

Take Your Agency’s Emoji Use to 💯

Census 2020 in King County


Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, ELGL co-founder and executive director, and today I’m talking with Warren Kagarise the Digital Engagement Manager at King County, Washington and Colette Cosner the Digital Lead for King County Public Health. Warren, Colette welcome to GovLove.

Colette Cosner and Warren Kagarise

Thanks for having us.

Kirsten Wyatt

Today we’ll talk to Warren and Colette about their work communicating on behalf of King County on the COVID-19 pandemic. For our listeners unfamiliar with the area, Seattle is located in King County. King County government offices are in downtown Seattle and King County and the City of Seattle were the first in this to address COVID-19. Since the first cases were reported, Warren, Colette and the King County team have been working with state and national officials on communications efforts. We’ll talk to them about this experience, what they’ve learned along the way, and what your local government can do to prepare for your own communication strategy, or COVID-19 and other emergencies. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. And Warren, you can go first on this one. What is your most controversial nonpolitical opinion?

Warren Kagarise

So I gave this one a lot of thought and I’m not backing down, but it is pronounced GIF not JIP. Yeah,

Kirsten Wyatt

I’m with you on that. Okay. That’s not controversial. That’s just right. [Laughter] But it’s good. I’m sure we have some of our listeners who would disagree. Colette, what’s your most controversial non political opinion?

Colette Cosner

Um, okay, so this is definitely a cop out, but it is true. My most controversial non political opinion is that there are no non political opinions.

Kirsten Wyatt

Oh, well, that’s good. [Laughter] But going back to Warren’s is that political or is it just political because there is a whole world of GIF…

Colette Cosner

Oh deeply. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

All right, Colette you can go first on this one? What is your favorite font?

Colette Cosner

I don’t know if it’s my favorite font, but at some point in our you know, in our ramping up of communications over here we started using a font that I think is called glacier, glacial indifference. [Laughter] And for some reason, that just like tonally was resonating [laughter] with me in one of you know, one of our darker moments and it I just sort of, it’s not so much that I like the font I just like the name. Glacial indifference.

Kirsten Wyatt

I do too That’s great. [Laughter] What about you Warren?

Warren Kagarise

So I’m gonna say Gotham. Apparently I’m stuck in 2008. [Laughter] But I still I love Gotham.

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay. And then what is your best self care tip in the time of quarantine?

Warren Kagarise

So I’m gonna say sleep, which I realize is not that interesting. But I’d say for the last month I’ve been out by 10 most nights. And you know, it’s such a cliche, like, get enough rest, especially now.

Kirsten Wyatt

For sure. Colette, what’s your best self care tip?

Colette Cosner

Well, it’s sort of related. I, especially, you know, when it’s very, very stressful, it can be very hard to sleep or, you know, wake up in the middle of the night running through all the millions of things that still need to get done or things that went wrong or you know, all the different stressful things about this response and I found really into this this app called Headspace that has all these different features for like getting you back to sleep and in a more meditative space, and less stressed out. They have these ridiculous sleep casts, where they have these sort of benign stories. Like just like one’s called, I think like Kitty Cat Marina. [Laughter] And it’s, you know, a soft spoken man talking about like, a bunch of different like cats on boats, and like, the sort of the sort of just what they’re up to, but like, there’s not like, the whole point is that like, the plot is not gripping. It’s just like, it’s just sort of there to calm your mind. And, I don’t know. It’s been sort of working for me, [laughter] so I guess that’s a self care tip.

Kirsten Wyatt

But that leads me to you know, so we can just kind of dive in. That leads me to kind of how, how you’ve been staffed during this time? I mean, are you all having to work night shifts? I mean, knowing the informations coming in at all hours, have you been able to maintain a pretty regular schedule? Like how has that affected your ability to get home and listen to kitty Marina stories and things like that?

Colette Cosner

[Laughter] Well, so I mean, I would say to that, you know, it is, you know, on a weekly, daily basis, our staffing structure and how we are in the response, you know, changes. You know, I think for us an important thing to sort of remember in all of this is that, for a lot of people, it’s what has changed in the last three weeks. Some things have really ramped up, but for us NCL in King County, folks and for our local health jurisdictions, in our in our area, we mark a lot of our time by January 21. You know, which was when we had the first confirmed case. And that wasn’t in, you know, not in Seattle King County, but you know, in Washington State and, and it has been sort of a ramp, you know, a big ramp up in different suburbs from then to now and our staffing structure has changed pretty significantly since that time.

Warren Kagarise

And you know, what’s, what’s interesting is, Colette, and I actually, don’t we we’re not on the same team. We sometimes go days without talking in regular life. But because of the crisis, we’re now like, we’re now this team with a bunch of other folks who are not public health communicators. I’m not a public health communicator, in my real life. So we’ve been able to carve out this team of expert digital communicators to respond to this crisis, and really hit as hard as we can. I think the the thing that the thing that’s been, I’m not going to say a challenge because I don’t think that this is the worst thing that can happen. But we’ve all been ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. And because the situation keeps changing, we just sort of roll with it, right? So if there’s a day where we’re going to have to work until 10 o’clock at night, then we work until 10 o’clock at night. If there’s a day we have to start at seven in the morning, then we start at seven in the morning. And it’ll all come out in the wash, right? But we’ve just sort of as this unit, dived in and figured it out.

Colette Cosner

Totally, I would say I kind of I kind of an interesting sort of staffing thing around social media and efforts in this too. We had to sort of build up a little bit of a social media Reserve Corps, for lack of a better way and sort of thing. Because there’s there is the need for strategy and content production constantly. But you kind of you can’t really do that when you’re, you know, inboxes on your various social media channels are also functioning as sort of an impromptu digital call center, essentially. And a lot of urgent questions are coming in. And so, we’ve had to do a lot of staffing to sort of address the different kinds of digital needs, not just what are we what are our messages putting out there? But also, how do we digitally staff the fact that we have, you know, a thousand more direct inbox questions on our social media channels that are, you know, with with critical questions that people need to have answers for. And so it’s sort of staffing it from a from a lot of different perspective.

Kirsten Wyatt

And which social media channels are you using?

Warren Kagarise

As sort of background, we’ve been using two primary channels. So one is, of course branded as Public Health, Seattle and King County. And we’ve been communicating through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And then we have our King County branded channels, which has been where we’ve been communicating through Facebook, Nextdoor and Twitter.

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay. And I want to get into how you’re using those tools. But for our listeners who have not yet met you or had the chance to work with you, can you each share a bit about your background and your career path, and how you got to the position that you’re in right now.

Warren Kagarise

So I’ve been with King County for about two and a half years now. Prior to that, I was in a similar role at the City of Issaquah, which is a suburb of Seattle, slightly less than 40,000 residents about 25 miles east of the downtown core. My background is actually in journalism. Before I, before I worked at the City of Issaquah, I was a reporter for the Seattle Times company, which once upon a time had a group of community newspapers on the east side of Seattle. And prior to that, I’m from Florida. So I was a journalist in Florida as well.

Colette Cosner

Yeah, and I am, I have come more from an advocacy and nonprofit background. And I’ve worked for a variety of nonprofits that do a lot of advocacy work around equity issues in the food system and around workers’ rights issues. Prior to this position, though, I was at the University of Washington for several years working with the College of Arts and Sciences on communications projects. And I’m actually relatively new to, to public health though. So it’s a, an interesting time to join a public health I, you know, I started essentially, you know, kind of like at the end of November. So, you know, new to public health, and then all of a sudden, you know, a pretty intense crisis. So, yeah, so, so, learning a lot as as I go, certainly.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, absolutely. And you briefly mentioned it before, but take us back to that, that first week in January when, you know, the first case was reported in the state, you know, very close to your jurisdiction and take us back in time and as your team started to ramp up. Warren I thought it was interesting how you mentioned that, you know, the two of you didn’t normally get to work together and then here, you’ve over the last, you know, a couple of months, you’ve put together this team that’s responding incredibly well. But let’s start at the beginning and tell us more about about what started all of this happening and coming together?

Warren Kagarise

It’s funny in hindsight. Colette mentioned that this actually started in in January. And I can remember that day of the first case in the Snohomish County. I remember it because it was a guy and he was my age. And that sent a lot of red flags for me. But Colette and I had this previously scheduled meeting to go and grab coffee, and we were going to talk about SEO and web analytics. And I remember we just sat down at this table. I remember it was like this cold, rainy day, and I was like, how is your day go. And it was just in hindsight, it’s so surreal because we didn’t really know each other. I was actually on Colette’s interview panel last fall and was really excited to be working with but we, we didn’t know each other. We didn’t know how we were going to work together. And it was kind of this odd sort of footnote like, oh, there’s a there’s a case. Wow, that’s awful. Good thing, they did all that contact tracing and good thing, he’s in quarantine. Guess we’ll keep an eye on that kind of thing. You know, vigilant and taking it seriously but also not thinking in terms of a global pandemic, just thinking in terms of okay, we’re going to have to prepare for this. And then fast forward about three weeks. I remember it being the last week of February and there was a call from, from public health, you know, hey, we’re going to need some, some additional communicators. We’re gonna need some, some digital folk, digital folks. And I remember it was February, I think, February 28. And three of us had a meeting to sort of sketch out the strategy, and stay February 29 is when we announced the first the first person who actually passed away from COVID. And going nonstop ever since. I haven’t actually worked at my desk or in my normal role since February 28.

Colette Cosner

Yeah. And I you know, and so they’re, we’re, you know, we’re surging up my face surging I mean we’re, you know, we’re bringing in folks from, you know, who are communicators from, from all over the county. For,sometimes for two weeks at a time, sometimes we have them for longer sometimes we have them for shorter. We’re going to make sure we kind of take people as we as we can get them. And it’s been really fascinating because, you know, at the same time that they are supporting, you know, our public health messages, what we’re essentially doing too is basically training all these other, you know, King County communicators to be public health communicators as well, because and so they’re sort of simultaneously amplifying our, you know, the messages that they’re helping us craft here on those channels too. And so it’s that that’s been very, very powerful to watch sort of take form to is just the way in which we are attempting to, to move as one.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and that’s, that’s a great segue into the next question. So you both work in digital, but obviously, that is but one of many of the components of a communications plan. So how does, how does your role working in digital and social media complement and enhance and be part of this larger communications team? And what does that team what does it look like? How many people and what specialties are they focused on?

Warren Kagarise

That’s a great question. So I think in terms of complementing, traditional, you know, I still think of a traditional, having been a reporter in a previous life, I do think of digital as complementing sort of traditional communications and where I think digital does a lot of heavy lifting for King County and for jurisdictions at all levels of government, is reaching people who don’t consume traditional media, who have never picked up a newspaper or watched an evening newscast. I think we do a lot of heavy lifting, frankly, with folks who don’t know that we exist. Counties are in kind of an odd sort of an odd sort of layer. Right. You know, people know, they have a sense of what the of what the city does, they have a sense of what the state does and what the federal government does. The counties which fulfill a lot of essential functions, including public health, in many cases, aren’t as widely known or as understood. So I think where we’ve really had to step up is just being clear about what we do and what we don’t do. And I think that’s been a big part of complementing the sort of traditional communication strategy, but also being able to engage in real time with those customer service questions. That has been that has been a real challenge. We’re fortunate right now to be staffed at a level where we can respond to DM’s, on social and to a lot of our questions that we’re receiving as, as you know, tagged inquiries. But in the beginning, we didn’t have the bandwidth. There were only a handful of us and we were moving at about a million miles an hour. So I think for, for people that are never going to pick up the phone and call their local health jurisdiction or, you know, their their local government or their regional government, we were the sort of front line of reassuring people of answering questions and then also disseminating the news.

Kirsten Wyatt

UmHmm. Anything else to add on that Colette?

Colette Cosner

Yeah. And that’s, that was great, Warren. And, I mean, I think it’s also just to, to, to be that, to be that sort of piece in the puzzle with all of the other, you know, the other all the other components of our team, the folks who are working on media, the folks that are working on other kinds of content production that aren’t necessarily, you know, for digital purposes, for all of our task force that are are working on sector specific communications and outreach. You know, I think part of what we what we have to do in the digital sphere is just have our foot in every single one of them to to be able to, to sort of provide that insight of, okay, like that’s for that audience. Like I see that that’s for that audience, and it’s been delivered in that particular way. But that information is also critical over here, and I know that because I’m seeing it on this channel and the questions and these trends are coming up on Twitter and we need to be able to respond to that. So it’s about a little bit of that sort of bird’s eye view, on, on on the trending critical questions that people have. And, and basically, you know, also and help and help identify the gaps of knowledge that we that we have and that we need answers to.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and you mentioned at the beginning, social media being like a digital call center, and, you know, having DM’s and messages come in and having that be the way that many people you know, people like me who hate to use a telephone, you know, seek out information, but, but how did you triage them all? I mean, are you using a separate technology tool? Is it really just, you know, just people power in their replying to each message and, and how have you managed kind of that just flood of of people using that as a digital call center?

Colette Cosner

So yeah, I mean, it’s it’s really hard. It is it’s over, it’s totally overwhelming. But the thing is, is that everyone knows that some, so many of the questions are so nuanced and personal to people that it’s not, you know, it’s hard to just sort of have a canned response. You know, that is, you know, information that we are maybe already have on the website or that is, you know, readily available. So it does require that sort of personal touch. And I actually think the personal touch aspect of this is really important because when you’re in a crisis, a lot of times the communications that kind of get surfaced are really are very technical, are very, you know, very sort of numbers oriented, I mean, especially, you know, in our early days of case count stuff that’s, you know, so much of what the media was talking about the fact that, you know, you on our on our social channels, you might get a little bit more of a human interaction. If you’re feeling you know panicked about a question you don’t have an answer to, is really, it’s really, I think, really important. Yeah. And adding the humanity back in, you know,

Kirsten Wyatt

Oh, for sure, for sure.

Warren Kagarise

One thing that I want to, I want to add, I think that Colette does a great job of keeping us aware of  engaging with people in a moment where they’re afraid and don’t really know what’s coming. And a lot of us are feeling that too. You know, this is the first pandemic that has reached this level in our lifetime. And I think in a century since the 1918, flu and people are scared and they’re angry. They have a lot of questions and we’re trying to be mindful of that. We’re, you know, triaging these questions and, and figuring out how to respond in a normal, human relatable way. We have a really great policy and content shop that is churning out what we call hot sheets. And I think of those as sort of the backbone as our customer service. So in the beginning, it was all very focused as Colette said, on numbers, and testing and contact tracing. And now it’s into, you know, every economic sector that you can imagine every sort of social interaction, I think we have one coming this week about dating, right, you know, if you’re just getting to know somebody, social distancing is not a good, not a good thing at this moment, but we’ve been able to sort of translate these policy documents into into language that we can share with, with, you know, the people that we’re communicating to on social and who are reaching out to us with questions.

Kirsten Wyatt

MmHmm. Well, and I’d like I’d like us to talk about kind of the empowerment of your digital team. You know, so if you have a hot sheet and it’s, you know, been produced by your policy team and has great information on it, and you’re seeing, let’s say on Twitter, you know, a topic come up and people are talking about it. Are you empowered to write that tweet that is going to speak directly to that? Do you have more formal processes for you know, what gets shared? You know, does it have to get levels of approval? Or in a time like this is it is it hey, these are our experts, like let’s let them run with it.

Colette Cosner

It’s a little bit of both, I mean, because because the information changes so rapidly and so quickly and so often, it’s not exactly a sort of a free for all of like, okay, we’ve got a hot sheet, and we can just, you know, push that out into the world. And we do have to be really thoughtful about the strategy and like the shelf life of a lot of the information that we have, you know, especially when, you know, when we’re talking a lot in about the realm of, of guidance, you know, and sort of managing, you know, the, you know, local health orders and now state orders and, and sort of changing big social policies. We have to, we have to be really careful about putting things out on social that, that don’t have this don’t have the shelf life. So you know, even when I’m thinking about for instance, like boosting messages, you know, and trying to you know put a paid strategy behind some of our social stuff, I have to think, you know, well, that message is true right now, it is possible that within 24 hours, the policy will change and therefore this message will become obsolete. So, therefore, I shouldn’t, I can’t just, you know, throw money behind this to like boost it for three days, because I will then be in the process and I will then be boosting information that is no longer correct. So, you have it is it is a, it is a really, it’s a really delicate thing around time sensitivity. That’s a part of our strategy with the hot sheet information.

Warren Kagarise

One thing that we’ve talked a lot about, as we’ve watched the rest of the country sort of prepare, you know, we’re in many ways a month ahead of where the rest of the United States is. And one thing that we watch with a lot of fascination, and in some ways, I don’t want to say jealousy, but maybe maybe we were rueful, like I’m gonna use that word we were rueful as we watched everybody have fun with hand-washing memes, and, you know, community building exercises. And there was a lot of back and forth on our team about, you know, how do we do that, you know, should we create a hashtag, you know, what song should be our hand washing mean, songs. And in the end a lot of those ideas, we just had to sit back on the shelf. And that’s not a criticism of the folks that, that were able to do that. I think it was a great way to get people engaged in a time when the rest of the country was still sort of figuring out if this was going to hit their community and how hard it might hit their community. So I really applaud everyone that was able to put a lot of energy into being creative and getting new people into the fold. I feel like we had to hit the ground with the worst news that anybody wanted to hear, you know that there’s gonna be spread and somebody passed away and more people are going to pass away. So I think now as we’re a month into it, almost a week into our stay at home stay healthy order, I feel like we finally had a moment to sit down as a team and say, okay, how are we going to map out what the rest of this looks like from a customer service perspective, from a content perspective, and from a, from a human perspective, right? There’s only so many of us that are on the team, we’re going to get tired, we’re going to have things from our regular jobs that are going to start to creep back in. So we’re, I feel like this week is a bit of a turning point, and that we’re able to sort of take stock and look ahead for the first time since this all began.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I again, want to thank you, I know you’ve been running a million miles an hour and so thank you for taking time to visit GovLove and to talk with us and our listeners about what you’ve been doing because as you mentioned, many of them may be ramping up some of the efforts that you’ve you’ve had in place. So thank you for spending some time with us today. I do want to ask you some questions or want to talk about digital equity. Last year, your accounting executive was on GovLove, Dow Constantine. And he reminded us of such an interesting point that King County is, is hugely diverse in that, you know, the county runs all the way up to the top of Snoqualmie Pass and you have, you know, very large cities and then you have some very small towns and you have such a diverse economy. Talk to us about how your approach has ensured that someone who lives in Rosslyn versus someone who lives in downtown Seattle is accessing your information. You talked a little bit about boosting posts, but I’d love to hear more about how you’ve ensured that the diversity of your county is is represented in your digital strategy?

Colette Cosner

Umm that’s great and a great question and it actually kind of kind of hits on some things that we are working on today in this moment. First thing I would say on that is that I think it’s really, really important to understand that digital equity is is really only ever going to be as strong and well thought out as your, your local public health jurisdictions actual actual equity work. And it’s not it’s not sort of a separate siloed thing. So for instance, what I’m what I’m wanting to kind of say by that is that, so much of our equity work relies on the fact that there are incredible people in public health on the frontlines doing that, that outreach to those communities that they already have really strong relationships with and and respect and trust and you know, such that if we are creating digital assets, you can create wonderful, beautiful assets. But if you don’t have actual people with actual relationships of trust that are based in the, you know, in the actual equity work of your department, then your digital work is gonna fall flat. So I just wanted to sort of put that out there as an, I think, an important frame that digital equity has to be thought of as, you know, part and parcel to your actual equity work and not a siloed thing. And that said, I think, you know, where, and one of the things that we’re trying to do a lot right now is work on our, our language access resources in the world of digital. And so, you know, we have an amazing amount of languages that are spoken here in King County, and we have an incredible language access team that we’re working with, you know, daily to update materials and to get those materials out in a digital way to those communities. It’s a deep, deep challenge because the, the information changes constantly. And so, you know, by the time you, you get a translation about an important document, you know, back, that information is obsolete often. And so it’s a very, very challenging cycle. But we’re kind, but we are kind of getting to a place where the messages are beginning to be evergreen enough that we are able to kind of, you know, get some more of these in language resources out on digital platforms, which is really, really exciting. And I guess I would, it makes me want to throw out a tip that I just use for other local health jurisdictions that are either kind of, you know, now coming to coming into the fold around COVID communications, the more you can get, and surge up and staff up to have a language access specialist on your team as opposed to just, you know, a vendor who you send things to for translation, I think that that is a critical component in the in the response because there’s so much nuance in terms of deciding you know, which things to translate and how to best get them out to people.

Kirsten Wyatt

That’s a great tip. Thank you.

Warren Kagarise

One thing I wanted to add, a project we’re working on right now that we’re all really excited about. One of our team members has really taken the ball and run with it but he is in the process of recruiting community ambassadors to film a series of videos using our our script that was developed with our with our Health Officer. And we’ll have people who are known in their various communities, who are able to relate this information, which, and we’re really excited about that opportunity to be able to communicate with familiar faces in the language that people feel most comfortable using, with this critical information, because as Colette mentioned, it’s been it’s been very quick. The pace has been very quick. And we’ve had translations where when we’ve completed the process of trans creation, or excuse me of translation, the guidance has changed because the orders from the state have changed. So there’s there’s always that challenge of, you know, keeping up with with a fast moving situation as you’re trying to translate material and make things relevant to everyone in your community.

Kirsten Wyatt

I’d like to learn more about how you worked with other other governments, you know whether it was an adjacent county, the cities within your county, the State of Washington and the federal government. What was the frequency with which you were in meetings with with other agencies, and compared to how much time you were spending as a county agency working together?

Warren Kagarise

I think one of the advantages that we had, if that’s no word to use, but one of the advantages we had to being the first in the United States to deal with this is that we had a team on site from the CDC during the first week, and some of that team included communicators. And there was one gentleman, Ben Haynes who was embedded with our comms team. And Ben was a great resource and really a rock for a lot of us. He kept reminding us, you know, everyone’s going to be looking at you. And, at first that kind of freaked us out because we’re thinking, wow, you know, this is a pandemic. We’re learning a lot. Well, you know, this is the first pandemic, on a global scale that many of us have have worked on. But as he would keep saying that and as we sort of settled into our roles, that became really motivating, at least for me, I don’t want to speak for Colette or for other members of our team, but that became motivating for me in that, you know, we’re going to be able to help other communicators and other communities through the actions that we take. And that’s not to say that we aren’t going to put a foot wrong once in a while. I’m sure when we sit down and have time to look back, we’ll find plenty of things we could have done better or would have done differently. But it was such a help having the CDC on site with us and being able to have those difficult conversations about what might work and what might not. I think the, the other advantage that we’ve had in King County is that there are 39 cities in King County. Seattle is the one that everybody knows off the top of their head, but a lot of the cities which don’t have their own jurisdiction, look to us for that guidance. So we have that network of 39 repeaters, essentially who were able to elevate our content, either by directly sharing it or by repackaging it for their audiences. So that was really critical and having the ability to reach people who again, might not know what King County does or where we fit into the puzzle. So being able to rely on those those relationships is is so critical during a time like this.

Colette Cosner

Yeah, absolutely. And I and I, it kind of reminds me to about I think there’s a lot of, sometimes a lot of misconception in the community, you know, in the communications world for people who aren’t communicators that they think oh, you, you put you put a message out on on a social media channel and it just like, you know, explodes and goes viral and things like that, but it’s the the importance of you know, deep strategy with other social media communicators, you know, who are working on this issue is, is the is the is the bedrock of this right. So it’s like we if we are if we have a certain key message or a certain campaign that we need to get out and we need amplified, it’s not just about what is it and we put it out there. It’s about okay, this is this is that message and who, who are our communicators in, you know, in the larger ecosphere of Kane county that needs to be amplifying this and we send them an email and say, Hey, we’re pushing this out today, can you help amplify? And it there’s this whole other kind of, this whole other world of outreach for the digital that isn’t digital outreach, you know, that is part and parcel to it. And, again, it kind of goes back to the, the profound the profound importance of of actual partnerships and relationships. And, you know, I mean, I think, you know, a crisis like this exposes everything that is simultaneously terrible and wonderful about our systems, right. And mostly they’re, you know, it shows these horrible gaps and, and and, you know, surfaces all the, all of the things that you know, are deeply underfunded and things that are profoundly difficult gaps in our system. But it also illuminates the sort of the solidarity that does exist and and, you know, amongst different government agencies and community partnerships and an individual.

Kirsten Wyatt

That’s lovely. I, I love that you’re emphasizing those partnerships and the fact that, you know, no one is communicating in these situations on their own. That you’re, you know, working together and you’ve put together your own team and then these other agencies that you’ve had a chance to work with. Kind of along those lines of taking care of each other, you know, we talked a little bit at the start about self care, but what have you been doing to stay, you know, motivated and grounded and focused during this time of, you know, intense work and lots of, you know, changing and updating information? What’s helped you and what’s helped you stay sane through all of this?

Warren Kagarise

So, you know, one thing, this is kind of [inaudible]. The number of people who have personally and professionally just to say, how are you doing? That’s meant a lot. I think the ability to work as part of a team of professionals who are all on the same page, who are able to sort of, you know, talk things through, often in a high pressure environment in a very rational, calm thought way has been very meaningful. You know, like I mentioned Colette and I didn’t really know each other. Now I, now I’m kind of figuring out how to talk to her for an hour. [Laughter]

Colette Cosner

Now we’re deeply codependent. [Laughter]

Warren Kagarise

And that has been that has been really helpful, you know, just reinforcing existing relationships and building new ones. The other thing I’m going to use is a cliche that I hate, but I keep telling myself this everyday. This is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. You know, we’ve there are end dates on all of the orders that have come down. But I think the fact of the matter is we’re going to we’re going to learn a lot and I have faith in our in our local institutions to do what’s right for the health of our community. And the other thing that I want to plug is hand cream. My hands are like alligator skin right now because I’m washing them compulsively. So I want to give a shout out to Gold Bond, because you’re we’re all we all are going to need it and you should be washing your hands as much as possible. [Laughter] So, yes, you know, cream up everyone cream up. [Laughter]

Colette Cosner

I think it’s a weird, I think a weird phenomena for folks who are working on this, you know, on this response, that they’re kind of constantly communicating the sort of public health message about self care, you know, because, you know, we’re part one of our main, you know, major things that we are trying to communicate as we are trying to keep our society and our community healthy is the importance of, of not of also recognizing the mental health component of it. And, you know, what the tips and resources that are available for people who are undergoing immense amounts of stress right now. And it’s just it is, it is a bizarre thing to kind of be in the business of communicating that but not necessarily sometimes taking it in yourself. Like, oh, yeah, like I put out that blog about, you know, how to, you know, take care of yourself and your community in this moment. But I’m certainly not doing that myself and let you know. But, but I did like push it out to like thousands and thousands of people. I should probably, maybe do that. Do that resource. [Laughter] Yeah, there’s, I think, I think, you know, I think that kind of keeps me grounded sometimes too, is just when because we get so much obviously, because we’re in a very stressful situation, so much sort of negative, you know, feedback about what where we are, and aren’t doing right and you know, and and all the information that people feel like they still don’t have and you know, all of that, it’s a it can be pretty it can be pretty overwhelming and pretty dark to be, you know, wading through negative comments on social media, about your communications, right. But the thing that kind of keeps me grounded and focused is when when people they like, when people recognize or say in a comment, like, wow, that was super helpful. Thank you. You know, and it because there’s just like, no, they’re these like little moments of like, oh, oh, okay, like that, like that one person, you know, like, was really helped by that like that resource that you put out and like and they can, you can lose sight of that. And so I try to I try to come and go back to those, those moments of, of people you know, amplifying resources that we’re putting out that they think are helpful. It’s really, really lovely to see.

Kirsten Wyatt

That’s great. And have either of you received training in your careers that has prepared you for this? Because I was reflecting on you know, when I was a local government communicator, we would do these EOC trainings and we would do these scenarios and these tabletops, but it seems from the outside like this is nothing like any of those those trainings prepared anyone for. But I’m interested if there was something that you’ve You’ve had a chance to do that where you are in this coven situation and we’re like, oh, yeah, I can handle this or has it been really just all on the fly type of learning?

Warren Kagarise

You know, I think for me, like you I’ve done a lot of the tabletop exercises, most of them related to earthquakes. I’ve lived through the sort of what I consider the unfortunate but routine, sort of natural disasters that we face in Western Washington. The closest for me would probably be the 2014 Oso mudslide, which is in neighboring Snohomish County. I worked for several days in the emergency operations center supporting communications for that, for that disaster. You know, that was that was different. It was it was over, the actual disaster was over very quickly and then it moved to a very long and painful recovery. But we knew one day that that we would, that things would essentially return to normal. And there was a timeline on that. As painful that was, as hard as it was, sort of getting through that this feels different. And I think the fact that this is not contained to one community, that this is affecting every community around the world means that we’re all sort of we’re all learning something new every day.

Colette Cosner

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and, and I would just sort of add into that, to that. I feel like what I’m, you know, mostly trying to do is, hang on to every word of some of, you know, the members on our team that have been here a lot longer and been doing this, you know, have been doing crisis communication for, you know, as their area of expertise. You know, we have amazing risk communication specialists to, who you know, I feel like I just sort of follow around as best I can to sort of soak up, soak up their their wisdom, you know, on this and that, and I think that yeah, exactly that sort of that spirit of sort of like long haul, what does it mean to be in the long haul around then? I think, you know, I don’t know so much that this sort of taking that question and kind of flipping it a little bit, which is to say that there is a way in which what is happening right now and the kinds of communications that are happening right now, not to be like even more sort of catastrophizing, but are going to be what were the lessons that we are learning right now in this pandemic and around pandemic communications are going to be increasingly more important and increasingly more relevant. As you know, honestly, I mean, here we go back to our, you know, political conversations. But you know, as we think about what does it mean to be a public health department that needs to talk about climate change as a public health issue? And, and so I think a lot of, what I think a lot about right now is, what are the lessons that we are learning right now in this particular disaster that we will carry forward into the next and, and into the, you know, and into the disasters that are going on already? As we speak, and I think what’s I think an interesting thing, right, that’s happening right is, is the way in which the interconnection between the public health communications around COVID-19 are deeply interwoven into all of the other communications that are happening right now around economics and around policy, around culture shift. And I think that there are simultaneously amazing opportunities and lessons to be learned also from mistakes, mistakes that we’ve been making. So, yeah.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and if you could leave our listeners with one piece of advice, you know, based on where you sit right now, what might that be?

Warren Kagarise

I would say, for me that one piece of advice would be listen to your community. And not just during a pandemic, not just when everyone’s clamoring to hear from you, but really take the time to build that relationship, whether it’s through traditional means or digital means. When things are normal, and things are good, because there will come a day where your community is really going to need you, and you have to be a trusted voice and you have to be seen as an entity that will be able to help and offer guidance and set expectation. So, that’s the, the big takeaway for me is that listen to your community now and build those relationships now. Bank that goodwill for, for later.

Colette Cosner

Yeah, I mean, I think to kind of echo what Warren just said, you know, it can be, I feel like oftentimes in crisis, you know, issues of, of equity, get sort of siloed off to, you know, a committee to, you know, that those two sort of, you know, insert itself, you know, you know, back into all these conversations, and I think the more you can do as a, with your communicator in a local health department or another entity that’s working on this, more you can do to center equity in your communications from the get go and have it not be, you know, a siloed part of this response, the better we will all be ultimately.

Kirsten Wyatt

So I have one last question and we’ve definitely had a serious conversation today and I and I don’t want to make light of that, but it is a GovLove tradition for our guests to act as the GovLove DJ, and select the exit music for this episode. Since we have two guests, it’ll be kind of a it’ll be a cage match. And you guys can both suggest songs and then we’ll see which one our producer Ben selects as our exit music. So Colette you can you can select your exit music song first.

Colette Cosner

Oh my god, I totally forgot to think about this. Ohhh, Warren you go for it. [Laughter]

Warren Kagarise

So, okay, so if you’ve ever if you’ve ever ended up doing karaoke with me, you know that there’s one song that I will reliably do and it is NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye. [Laughter] Yeah, I know the choreography to a passable level, to a passable level, not not a good level, but a passable level.

Kirsten Wyatt

I know for sure what I’m going to make you do when you’re in Portland for ELGL 20 this year. [Laughter]

Warren Kagarise

[Laughter] Challenge accepted.

Colette Cosner

Um, I, I you know, it’s sort of like a tangent but it is I feel like a thing that has happened in you know, as we’ve been so, so busy in this response is, is that you know, it’s like you just have no time right? You’re working crazy hours and it just never stops. And I feel like about a week ago was like the first time I actually was like, in a car and like listening to music, like not listening to the radio and the news and like trying to be in the moment of that and I just started crying because I realized that I hadn’t like listened to music at all. And it was this like moment of like, wow, like I am, like, this response has consumed obviously so much of, of all of our psyche that we are so out of touch with, you know, the things that are kind of so important to being human, human. And yet yeah, I was like, the song that I like heard that came on the radio was like a Neko Case song. And, and it you know, I just like it because it was like negotiation sort of, you know, or regional to regional artists and kind of talks about a lot about the sort of love hate relationship with the Pacific Northwest. No, it was sort of it was I don’t know, it felt very poignant in that moment. So yeah, but I think I think your outro should definitely be something more peppy. Bye bye bye. Not like my bad realization that I haven’t listened to music in 3 months [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, you know, those responses really exemplified kind of the spectrum of emotion and work and of intensity that that I’ve definitely heard from both of you today. So I think that that’s just fine. And I want to thank both of you again for taking time out of your extremely busy schedules to be on GovLove.

Colette Cosner

Thank you. Thank you for your work.

Kirsten Wyatt

GovLove is produced by a rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We’re a social startup with the mission of engaging the brightest minds in local government. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/GovLove or on Twitter @Govlovepodcast. If you have a story idea for GovLove, we want to hear it and send us a message on Twitter or email [email protected] Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.

Message

GovLove is looking for your feedback. Please visit GovLovesurvey.com and tell us a little about you and what you think about the podcast. Hearing from you will help us make GovLove even better. That’s GovLovesurvey.com Thanks.


Close window