SOURCE: Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

June 06, 2008 14:15 ET

City of San Diego's Communications Team Receives Public Relations Professional of the Year Honors From PRSA

Team Credited With Quick, Effective Communications That Ensured Timely Evacuations and the Safety and Comfort of the Evacuees During 2007 Wildfires

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - June 6, 2008) - The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) presented its highly coveted Public Relations Professional of the Year award to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' communications team for its expert handling of citywide communications during the wildfires in October 2007 that burned nearly 198,000 acres. The city's communications team is Fred Sainz, communications director; and deputy press secretaries George Biagi, Eileen Brennan and Bill Harris. The award was presented last night at the annual PRSA Silver Anvil Evening at the Equitable Tower in New York City.

"The communications team in Mayor Jerry Sander's office pitted the power of communications against the fury of a natural disaster, turning best practices into safety and recovery for residents of San Diego," said PRSA Chair & CEO Jeffrey Julin. "The communications team not only used cutting-edge techniques to steer ground operations toward favorable outcomes, but then also effectively communicated the positive stories they helped create. This effort was public relations at its ultimate best."

During the course of the disaster, the City of San Diego implemented an effective crisis communications plan that targeted evacuees, the media, public officials and employees, corporations offering donations, and the public around the country and the world. Through the use of regular advisories and press briefings, in both English and Spanish, as well as online postings and digital databases, the team kept all audiences informed about the need to evacuate as the fires spread, the status of city services and the safety and needs of the more than 14,000 evacuees being sheltered in the city's Qualcomm Center. The resulting effort enabled the city to communicate vital evacuation, repopulation and recovery information to the widest possible audience.

"When the fires broke out, I told my communications team that we would need to supply the public with frequent, timely, detailed and accurate information -- around the clock -- and they got that done in tremendous fashion. They had the extraordinarily complicated task of helping to evacuate and later bring people back to large portions of America's eighth largest city. They needed to inform people about the locations, and the volunteer and donation needs of our emergency shelters, and they also needed to let people know about the services and support systems that were available to them if their homes were damaged or destroyed during the fires," said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on a video clip he prepared for the Silver Anvils to congratulate his communications team for their outstanding efforts throughout the wildfires. "I am extremely proud that PRSA has seen fit to honor Fred and his team -- George, Bill and Eileen -- with this prestigious award. Their efforts during one of the most difficult times in our region's history helped keep our residents safe, calm and informed."

The city's communications team drew on its research and experience from the 2003 San Diego Cedar Fire, as well as the recent lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. Their round-the-clock communications initiatives ensured that the evacuation was smooth and that all available resources were harnessed and disseminated in a proper and timely manner to those in need.

"The tireless efforts of the communications team of San Diego publicly conveyed to the country and the world that the evacuees were safe and well cared for and also provided needed reassurance to all Americans that we can be prepared and responsible in a natural disaster. By jumping into the fire and working round the clock to ensure every possible interested party received the information they needed, they demonstrated exemplary commitment and public relations acumen," said Sherry Goldman, 2008 Honors and Awards Committee chair and president of Goldman Communications Group. "They are a great example of true public relations pros and are most deserving of this honor."

The Public Relations Professional of the Year award represents the highest achievement in the practice of public relations by an individual or team. Past award recipients include:

2007: The public relations campaign team for Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth," included Megan Colligan, Paramount Vantage executive vice president of Publicity and Promotions; Buffy Shutt, Participant Productions executive vice president for Marketing; and Michael Feldman, Glover Park Group.

2006: Bernadette Mansur, senior vice president for Communications, National Hockey League (NHL).

2005: Charles Conner, senior vice president, Communication & Marketing; Darren Irby, vice president, Public Relations; and Deborah Daley, vice president, Corporate Communications, American Red Cross.

2004: Grace Chen Trent, senior vice president, Communications/Chief of Staff and Brad Burns, senior vice president, Public Relations, MCI.

About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

The Public Relations Society of America, headquartered in New York City, is the world's largest organization for public relations professionals with nearly 32,000 professional and student members. PRSA is organized into 109 Chapters and 10 Districts nationwide, and 19 Professional Interest Sections and Affinity Groups, which represent business and industry, counseling firms, independent practitioners, military, government, associations, hospitals, schools, professional services firms and nonprofit organizations. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) has 296 Chapters at colleges and universities throughout the United States, and one Chapter in Argentina.

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