MMU journalism student Miles Casey takes part in Exercise Triton

'Great learning experience' seeing how authorities coped with press in emergency situation, says Miles

With Dove Stone reservoir collapsing following a sinkhole breach, GMP, along with the Environmental Agency and United Utilities, invited MMU journalism students to discuss the situation and their plan of action to deal with the onset flooding of the Greater Manchester area.

This was the scenario we were dealing with when the Northern Quota team attended the ‘mock’ press conference. Along with three other students, down the Met office to participate in their disaster training exercise. We were there to grill the representatives from these three key institutions to help them learn how to deal with the media in a disaster, and also, to train us how to conduct ourselves in a serious press conference.

  The day was a fantastic experience, providing invaluable training not only in press conference etiquette, but also in how to really push for those difficult questions that need answering. The information set out in a press release is almost like a PR exercise. Our role was to dig deeper than this; to get right to the heart of the matter. This was the perfect opportunity to practice this.

  With only half an hour to prepare our questions, we quickly had to skim over the disaster scenario, get the vital information from it, and then develop questions concerning it.

Instead of asking the standard questions pertaining to what the representative were expecting to be asked, such as “Is the drinking water safe?” I opted for more intrusive questions, for example: “Why was the yellow weather warning so low given the potential for disaster?” or, “Who is going to take responsibility for the dam’s collapse?”

   What most amazed me about the day was the seeming lack of knowledge that the representatives of each agency had on their respective plans to deal with the threat of imminent danger. It was as if they had not been prepared to deal with any possible curve ball questions, judging from their responses from a poorly written script. When asked how many people were going to be affected, the representative from the Environment Agency could not give a figure. Constantly flicking through notes, only not to find the figure they were looking for, was a hallmark of their responses.

Overall it was a great learning experience, maybe more so for the police than ourselves! Another fantastic opportunity afforded by the Northern Quota, another step forward in the pursuit of a career in journalism.