Public Information Officer - Gain a New Skillset as a PIO

Interview with wildland firefighter from Spokane Tribal, 2019. The Incident Command System (ICS)

ICS is used to manage an emergency incident (like a wildland fire, search and rescue, hurricane, etc.) or a non-emergency event. The public information officer (PIO) reports to the incident commander, who in turn reports to the agency or jurisdictions responsible

for the incident. A good overview of ICS is provided in the independent study course titled Introduction to ICS (ICS-100).

What does a Public Information Officer (PIO) do?

A PIO is responsible for the formulation and release of information about the incident to the news media, local communities, incident personnel, the incident management team, other agencies and organizations. As you progress in your training and development, you may become a lead public information officer, responsible for the management of other PIOs assigned to the incident.

Who is eligible to be a PIO?

Technically, anyone can become a PIO, but it does require good interpersonal communication skills and writing skills to meet the needs of the position. There is training as well as taskbooks associated with the various levels of public information officer positions.

What are the different PIO qualifications or levels of expertise?

You begin your PIO training at the trainee level as a public information officer, technician (PIOT). A PIOT is someone who is working on opening a Type 3 public information officer (PIO3) taskbook.

Once you open and complete a PIO3 taskbook, you can take additional training and gain experience to become a public information officer complex (PIOC), which is the most advanced PIO position (as of January 2023). 

PIO3 and PIOC positions may serve in various capacities on an IMT. You can view the NWCG Wildland Fire Position Qualification Flow Chart (PMS 309 03/23) to view where the various PIO positions sit in the command structure.

Public information officers frequently conduct media interviews to keep the public informed during an emergency incident. San Carlos Apache Tribe,

What do I need to do to start the process and why do I need training?

First, discuss your interest with your supervisor. Then, contact your local fire or emergency management officer who can initiate your taskbook. PIOs (who work fire and other events) are certified through the completion of requirements listed in the NIMS Wildland Fire Qualification System Guide. At first glance, the requirements may seem challenging, but the skills developed will serve you well on a daily basis. Training and qualifications are completed through four avenues:

  • Training Courses, which provide specific background knowledge;
  • Position Taskbooks, which contain tasks, required to perform the job;
  • Job Aids, to provide ready reference;
  • Agency Certification, which provides the documentation certifying that the individual is qualified to perform in the specific job (this is the responsibility of the Bureau).


Some training is available online for free. Other courses are classroom only or an option of in-person or virtual. Check with your fire management officer for information on upcoming training offered locally or periodically check the Wildland Fire Learning Portal with your login for a schedule of classes nationwide. 

Required classes and qualifications for the various levels of PIOs can be found in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Catalog

Information Officer Position Taskbooks

Your home unit must initiate the taskbook. Position taskbooks are available on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website in the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Catalog. Search for “Information” to find the PIO taskbooks.

Physical Fitness Requirements

Typically, a PIO has no physical fitness requirements to hold that position, UNLESS that PIO will be expected to visit the fireline unescorted to take photos. This would be a typical occurrence on most incidents; therefore, a light duty fitness test may be required – walking 1 mile in 16 minutes with no weight.

The Next Step

If you are working towards opening a taskbook for a PIO3 as a PIOT, you will receive a qualifications card or "red card" that states you are a PIOT (public information officer, technician). If you are working towards your certification as a PIO3 with an open taskbook, your red card will state you are a PIO3(t) (public information officer 3, trainee).

When any taskbook is completed, your home unit will finalize your certification. You should receive an Incident Qualifications and Certification System card (IQCS card or Red Card) from your park or regional fire management officer to state that you are qualified as a PIO – this will be required to go on the fireline on incidents. You must also be registered in the Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS). Check with your local unit protocol on how to be added to ROSS.


Once you have supervisor approval, let your local dispatch office know when you are available locally, regionally, or nationally.

Regularly update your incident experience, training, and taskbook records with your fire program management assistant or dispatch with the IQCS update form.

PIO Qualifications

You can work as a trainee as long as you have a red card, an initiated taskbook and an annual refresher. The training and taskbook must be completed to be fully qualified. Taskbooks expire three years from the date the first task in the taskbook is signed. PIOs must have an assignment at least once every five years to maintain currency. See the links below for position training and requirements.

Public Information Officer, Technician (PIOT) - This position does not have an issued taskbook, but has required training and will be signed off or recommended to open a PIO3 taskbook once adequate experience is gained.

Type 3 Public Information Officer (PIO3)

Public Information Officer Complex (PIOC)


Emergency Management Institute

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Public Information Officer (PIO) training program is designed to provide PIOs with the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities to support proper decision-making by delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time. Learn more about the training courses FEMA provides for PIOs here.

Public information is a vital function in disaster operations that contributes greatly to saving lives and protecting property. Public information entails the processes and systems that enable effective communications with various target audiences. The EMI training program provides PIOs with the opportunity to learn and practice the tasks of gathering, verifying, coordinating, and disseminating public information at all levels of government.”

Themes woven throughout the series include the 95/5 concept and an emphasis on whole community strategic communication planning.

The 95/5 concept relates to non-emergency and emergency PIO activities – 95% of most PIOs' work is in non-emergency times, with only 5% directly related to incident response or recovery. The activities a PIO chooses in non-emergency times (95%) has a significant impact on how successful he or she will be in the 5% spent in emergency response and recovery. This training focuses on both parts of the equation.

The training courses listed below include those delivered at the state, local, tribal, and territorial level as well as higher-level training managed by EMI’s subject matter expert training teams. Click on a program for additional information.

EMI managed courses:

  • IS-29 – Public Information Officer Awareness The Public Information Officer Awareness Course (IS0029) is designed to familiarize participants with the concepts underlying the PIO role. This course can provide a basic understanding of the PIO function for those new to the position. Additionally, it can provide those in executive level roles the necessary knowledge of PIO roles and responsibilities during an emergency.  
  • G290 – Basic Public Information Officer This two-day course will consider the value of communication before, during and after an incident. It will help PIOs identify critical audiences, both internal and external.  
  • G291/E-L0387 – Joint Information System/Joint Information Center Planning for Tribal, State and Local PIOs This one-day course outlines the communications needed for different incidents and defines the roles of the PIO within ICS. The E/L 0387 is the course version EMI often offers on-campus just prior to the 0388 course for students who don’t have access to the training in their states.
  • E/L0388 – Advanced Public Information Officer

    The goal of this five-day course is to:

    • Provide participants with the knowledge and skills to establish, manage and work within a JIC through multimedia lectures and individual and group activities.
    • Provide participants the opportunity to apply advanced public information skills during a multi-day functional exercise (FE) designed to test the participants’ abilities to analyze, coordinate, process and create information in a fast-paced, realistic environment.
    • Through a tabletop exercise (TTX), encourage participants to evaluate their processes to help them generate new ideas, products, or ways of viewing challenges or situations.
    • Encourage participants to improve their processes and ensure every action has a measurable relevance for each identified audience, including senior leadership.  
  • Master Public Information Officer Program

The Master Public Information Officer Program is a three-course series that prepares public information officers for an expanded role in delivering public information and warning using a strategic whole community approach.

The program reinforces the qualities needed to lead whole community public information/external affairs programs, provides relevant management theories and concepts, and uses case studies to enhance public information/external affairs skill sets. MPIOP participants work within a collaborative environment on projects and establishes a network of peers.

MPIOP participants will contribute to the body of knowledge for emergency management related public information. This includes evaluation of leadership, group dynamics and functional best practices of joint information centers (JIC) by monitoring student activity during advanced public information officer course offerings.