5 Best Public Information Officer Training Programs

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • October 24, 2023

Interested in becoming a public information officer, also known as a PIO? The best public information officers  have a knack for communication and use it to build good relationships between government organizations and the public.

Here’s a deeper look at what PIOs do, followed by the best public information office training programs available.

What is a Public Information Officer?

A public information officer is a professional who oversees a governmental organization’s contact with citizens and the media and keeps them well-informed on public issues.

They work for city, county, state, and other governmental authorities. Some PIOs work in public universities, the FBI, and other state-run or owned agencies to spread positive media. 

During emergencies, they share simple instructions to keep everyone safe. Modern PIOs also manage the organization’s social media accounts to maintain good outreach and hold conferences whenever news breaks.

Benefits of Public Information Officer Training Programs

Like how to become a city manager, becoming a PIO begins with undergraduate study and continues with ongoing development.

Most organizations demand at least a bachelor’s degree from a four-year accredited college or university. Many successful PIOs have a major in public relations, communications, English, political science, or government. 

From there, many people turn to public information officer training programs to further sharpen their PIO knowledge and skills. The top benefits of participating in a public information officer training program include:

  • Career acceleration: It’s a launch pad for a career in serving public interest, teaching valuable skills while expanding your network.
  • Attractive salary: PIOs earn an average salary of $75,731 annually (data as of October 12, 2023). That’s $13,156 higher than the national average for government employees of $62,575 (data as of October 5, 2023). It’s also more than how much a city treasurer makes annually.
  • Job security: Experts predict job growth for public relations specialists to reach 11% through 2030 for an estimated increase of 31,200 jobs.

With those benefits in mind, let’s look at the five best public information officer training programs.

Best Public Information Officer Training Programs

There’s always room to get better at disseminating public information, and that’s what a great public information officer training program will help you do. Here are five of the best places to improve your PIO skills. 

1. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA runs two PIO courses: Public Information Officer Awareness and Public Information Basics.

An agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, FEMA coordinates aid and responds to disasters in the country when local governments are overwhelmed or can’t meet disaster response needs.

It makes the list of best public information officer training programs for several reasons. First, it’s a government agency. Who’s better at training you in foundational public information than a major government agency you’ll potentially work for? 

Secondly, the course is designed around emergency management and training new emergency managers across all levels—state, local, tribal, territorial, federal—in the concepts underlying the PIO role.

Public Information Officer Awareness Course

This seven-hour course arms you with the concepts that drive the PIO role, providing a basic understanding of what it means to be a PIO and helping experienced PIOs to equip themselves better to respond to an emergency.  

You can take this course under independent study, which makes it ideal for learners who juggle the coursework and a day job. You also get entry-level incident command system training before starting the course.

Public Information Basics Course

You must take the Public Information Officer Awareness course before pursuing this one. The Public Information Basics course equips you with the skills you need to hack a full- or part-time PIO role, including:

  • Oral and written communication. 
  • Understanding and working with the media. 
  • Tools and techniques to perform effectively as a PIO during proactive and advocacy times and when crises strike. 

The course runs for three days.

2. National Incident Management Systems (NIMS)

Like FEMA, NIMS has ties to  the Department of Homeland Security. NIMS is led by FEMA and designed to offer an all-rounded, nationwide approach to emergency management, enabling collaboration between all stakeholders in a community to work together effectively, no matter how complex the situation is.  

NIMS offers the PIO training program under the Emergency Management Institute to provide PIOs with key skills to enhance decision-making by communicating clearly, at the right time, to the right audience.

The NIMS PIO program runs through these stages:

  • Public information Awareness & Basics: It contains two courses, beginning with the Public Information Officer Awareness course (seven hours) and followed by Public Information Basics (three days).
  • Advanced PIO Concepts: A five-day course open to participants with a minimum of two years of public information experience. It teaches how to share practical knowledge and collaborate effectively in a classroom.
  • Master Public Information Officer Course Series: This program takes you through a trio of courses to prepare you for bigger PIO roles involving whole community approaches.  

These courses are built on the 95/5 concept. That means the trainers consider the actual structure of a PIO’s job where you do 95% of the work during non-emergency periods and 5% during emergencies. The course teaches potential PIOs how to succeed in both times.

3. The National Public Safety Information Bureau (NPSIB)

The NPSIB is the country’s largest database for public safety directories and data. Along with its mandate to provide accurate and up-to-date contact information to law enforcement agencies, fire, and EMS, it runs a training program for PIOs.

Like FEMA training, the short PIO courses are straightforward and intended to provide basic skills and awareness for PIOs in managing information dissemination with the public.

It also shares manuals designed to meet current, recognized guidelines in the field and highlights useful skill sets and information PIOs across the board need to be effective. 

4. International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) represents law enforcement leaders and agencies worldwide. 

To meet one of its main mantras, shaping the future of the policing profession, the IACP provides PIO resources and training to support police bosses and other people affiliated with law enforcement.

Signing up for membership in the Public Information Officer Section opens you up to multiple resources as a PIO and hands-on training at annual conferences.

5. National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC)

This organization was birthed after World War II when government communicators struggled with what to say without putting their foot in their mouth or causing more harm.

Its mandate is to advocate, promote, and recognize excellence in government communication while supporting career advancement and improving communication between authorities and constituents. It does this by fronting communication as a vital resource at all levels of government.

You can get training to enhance your PIO skills at the organization’s communication school. Better yet, become a member and gain more public communication resources and job opportunities. They also award top government communicators in over 40 categories, including media relations.

How Board Management Software Improves Public Information Officer Effectiveness

The best PIOs  use technology to put them at the top of their game, especially when it comes to handling board matters. 

From complexities such as working with the city clerk vs. city administrator, assorted administrative tasks, and an ever-growing demand for accountability among board members, the average PIO needs a tool that reduces repetitive manual tasks. Government meeting software meets this need perfectly by:

  • Saving time through automating tasks
  • Reducing errors through automating schedules and updates
  • Automatically organizing and storing documents
  • Easy sharing of documents to improve collaboration

It’s a seamless way to handle your PIO’s meeting needs while freeing yourself from paperwork. 

Why eScribe is the Ultimate Board Management Software

eScribe is an end-to-end meeting management platform created and priced for the public sector. It helps everyone from city planners to public administration officials work together with features the meet the four most important needs of board communications:

  •  Meeting Manager: eScribe has tons of templates to help you seamlessly create meeting agendas, minutes, and action lists and then conduct meetings in person or online. These templates are customizable so that you settle on the best one for each meeting. 
  • Meeting Minutes: Document and share meeting minutes faster and with fewer errors through eScribe’s minute capture and one-click publishing features.
  • Reporting and Workflows: The report manager provides easy workflow history approvals and electronic signatures so you can prepare, approve, and submit reports within set deadlines.
  • Collaboration Tools: Enjoy intuitive collaboration features like roll call, vote manager, video streaming, closed captioning, request-to-speak, public comments, and one-click publishing to your organization’s website effortlessly to become more transparent and accessible.

See the real-life impact eScribe has on local governments in the City of Greensboro case study.