Partnerships help the Corps share important messages

Melissa Rinehart, Portland District natural resources manager (left), explained the impact cold water immersion has on the ability to swim and survive to KGW reporter Drew Carney. Carney interviewed Rinehart May 19, during his Out & About segment on KGW's Sunrise program.

Melissa Rinehart, Portland District natural resources manager (left), explained the impact cold water immersion has on the ability to swim and survive to KGW reporter Drew Carney. Carney interviewed Rinehart May 19, during his Out & About segment on KGW’s Sunrise program.

It isn’t every day that Portland District employees are interviewed on live television. They may be experts in their field, but they still need to do a lot of prep before the camera starts rolling. We asked Monty Biggs and Melissa Rinehart, who were both interviewed by KGW’s Drew Carney as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and OSMB effort to grab people’s attention heading into May’s National Safe Boating Week and to have a conversation about life jackets and water safety, to share their thoughts about being on live television.

Why did you agree to go on live TV to talk about this subject?

Melissa Rinehart: Live television is a great way to reach a much wider audience and specifically our target audience: men between the ages of 18-35.

Monty Biggs: We are always examining ways that we can grab the public’s attention and prompt them to consider the life and death consequences of wearing/not wearing life jackets. It was clearly an amazing opportunity to be able to conduct outreach on such a platform. Getting this message out to 40,000 to 50,000 people via the morning news was an amazing opportunity.

What did you do to prepare for the engagement?

Melissa: A team of folks got together to outline our proposal for KGW. Members of the District Water Safety Team, Portland District Public Affairs Office (PAO) and the Oregon State Marine Board Public Affairs Office were represented. The public affairs staff worked with those scheduled to appear on the show to create clear, understandable messages.

Monty: I worked with the Portland District Natural Resources Manager (NRM) and PAO, who organized this amazing opportunity, to ensure Bonneville’s NRM staff supported the event as much as possible. We conducted a couple of teleconferences to cover the logistics of the event and to map out the content of the segments. On my own, I crafted an outline of the water safety messages that I hoped to share and rehearsed the words that I planned to use. I received some valuable assistance from Public Affairs Specialist Michelle Helms, evaluating, re-crafting and preparing my message.

What were your expectations going into it?

Melissa: I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve had both good and bad experiences on camera, so I was a little nervous. I felt much more confident after reviewing the material with PAO and friends and co-workers. I’ve only been interviewed on camera once or twice.

Monty: I was quite nervous. I have participated in filmed presentations in the past, but that always came with the safety net of knowing that it was going to be edited and that lots of people would review it before it was shared with the public. This was my first time doing live television. I knew I had to strike a balance between robotically delivering my prepared message versus talking off-the-cuff and potentially getting off-topic.

What was going through your mind during the interviews?

Melissa: The portion I discussed was the impacts of cold water immersion. Ashley, our OSMB partner, jumped in the water to conduct the demonstration. I was concerned about her safety and also expressing as best I could the importance of wearing a life jacket, and that no matter your size or strength, cold water has a huge impact on the ability to swim, self-rescue and survive.

Monty: Well, I’ve learned to trust myself in these types of situations. We get lots of practice delivering interpretive programs at Bonneville Lock and Dam, and it was important for me to remember that this was basically the same thing I do every day. I was also comforted by the knowledge that the interviewer was a professional and that he would keep things on-track. As nervous as I’d felt in the days and minutes leading up to this event, it was remarkable how comfortable I felt during the actual interview.

Do you believe you met your communication goal?

Monty: For the most part, yes. It was successful in that we raised awareness of the very real dangers that face folks out on the water and we let them know that a properly-fitted life jacket can save their lives. We showed some newer and more comfortable life-jacket options, and I’m hopeful that might lower the threshold for some folks and prompt them to reconsider negative aspects of wearing a life jacket. The effort invested by the Bonneville NRM staff for this outreach event was considerably less than what we put into events like the Boat Show. We reached many more people with our message at this event. I’d say it was certainly worth the effort. I’d be more than happy to participate in another event like this!

Melissa: Yes, Yes, Yes. Facebook comments were coming in that confirmed we were really sending the message we wanted to share. We hope that we can do something like this again and Drew [Carney] expressed interest. I was glad to see he was impacted by the segment and hope he will remember and continue to share these important water safety messages.