• How I Heard

    On June 13, 2016, the day after the Pulse tragedy, the Central Florida community and, quite frankly, the nation showed an outpouring of support, love and generosity. People were trying any way they could to make sense of the tragedy, and one way of doing so was to give back in any way they thought would be useful.

    While the response and intentions were reflective of the resolve of the human spirit to find good in the face of evil, the quantity and type of resources coming in required the community relations team to take swift action in order to manage them.

    Prior to June 12, 2016, the community relations team was not an integral part of the Orlando Health emergency preparedness plan, but we quickly realized that our role in responding to the tragedy was critical for managing the external support. Within a few hours of the victims arriving at Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), a steady stream of calls and emails was flooding the corporate call center and community inbox asking how to volunteer, bring in a pet for comfort, offer specialized services, donate to help the victims’ families and more.

    In addition to the calls and emails, palettes of water, food for the trauma team and banners of support from other hospitals began arriving at ORMC. We knew we needed a plan to manage the generosity of our community and the nation, while working under the guidelines of the FBI and Homeland Security. Within 24 hours of the Pulse shooting, the teams from community relations, volunteer and guest services and the foundation had joined efforts to create a protocol and respond quickly and appropriately.

  • Lessons Learned

    The drills and planning Orlando Health has done on a regular basis saved lives that fateful day. And, the relationships that our team had established over the years with community partners such as the Hispanic Chamber and LGBTQ community specifically set us up for success since the majority of the Pulse victims were Hispanic or LGBTQ. Other community partners such as the regional blood bank, One Blood, and the City of Orlando government helped us coordinate communication on resources available to the victims’ families, team members, the community at large and others affected. So, in short, building strong relationships with local community partners, chambers, elected officials and city government is crucial. You just never know when you’ll need these partners on your side.

    Secondly, if the philanthropic arm of your organization, such as community relations and the foundation, do not have a seat at the table in the crisis management plan, you will find yourself scrambling and a part of the crisis instead of the solution. Work with your volunteer services department as well as internal communication and media relations teams to have a coordinated response to requests that will soon follow the tragedy. These can range from celebrity visits to victims and specialized professions offering services to food deliveries and get well cards from local schools.

  • What We Changed

    Overall, the top five lessons learned and what we changed were:

    • Established a Disaster Relief Fund
    • Established messaging in advance for the call center, internal employee website and in response to email inquiries
    • Placed a designee on the internal Emergency Preparedness team and as a point of contact for all internal and external inquiries
    • Developed a speakers' bureau
    • Determined acceptable organizations to direct donations to such as Red Cross, United Way, One Blood, etc.

    Community relations, volunteer services and the foundation worked together to establish specific criteria that included:

    • Messaging for Orlando Health call center operators and email inquiry response:

    Thank you for your inquiry into how you can assist Orlando Health and the families affected by the recent tragedy.  We are so grateful for your willingness to give back during this difficult time. Please direct all inquiries for donations or volunteer opportunities to [email protected]. Due to security measures, we cannot accept any homemade food items. Examples of acceptable donations include gift cards, bottled water or individually packaged, non-perishable food items and notes or gifts of encouragement. 

    Another way to help is to make a donation to the Orlando Health Disaster Relief Fund through the Orlando Health Foundation, which will support the ORMC Level One Trauma Center. 

    • Preparation for incident
      • Designate a generic e-mail address and phone number in the Community Relations department in partnership with the foundation for fielding all general donation inquiries in the midst of a crisis. A point-person should be selected who can be contacted on the day of the incident and can put the plan into effect.
      • Designate liaison in the foundation to receive inquiries regarding all monetary donations.
      • Designate two liaisons from the volunteer services team who will direct all in-kind donations. If foundation representative is not available, utilize a Gift-In-Kind Donation Form.
      • Designate a liaison within the Community Relations department to assist with communications.
      • Designate representatives from food and nutrition and conference services teams to be on-call in the event of in-kind donations of food.
      • Have an easy-to-access web page prepared with a list of all the ways to help and direct all inquiries there. This page will be made live in the event of a crisis. It also will include the contact information of the liaisons mentioned above. Work in partnership with the foundation to have this site created in a timely manner.
        • Share site on social media, internal communication platforms and corporate website.
        • Internal communications should notify all team members via e-mail.
        • Ensure the telecommunications team members are informed so they can direct callers who contact the main corporate phone number.


        • Donations for victims and family members
          • Volunteer services liaison should create a schedule to monitor the delivery of food donations and to provide meal coverage for the families. The food and nutrition and conference services representatives should be involved with designating a space for serving the food and cleaning the space in-between deliveries.
          • Cards and letters directed to the victims and their families should be screened for questionable or discriminatory language prior to being distributed. Volunteers can be utilized for this task.
          • In partnership with the foundation, donations should be tracked on a shared document so that the foundation can receipt and steward appropriately.
    • After incident has occurred
      • Work in partnership with the foundation to activate the crisis website.
      • Obtain a list of departments involved in handling the crisis and use it for distribution of donations.
      • Update guest services team on the procedure for donations dropped off at the hospital. Contact the appropriate volunteer services, foundation and community relations representative to assist.
      • Create comprehensive tracking sheets of items donated; include quantity, contact person, phone number, address and description of items.
      • Create spreadsheet to track donations that come in through other departments and were not seen by volunteer services or community relations.
      • Divide in-kind donations into two categories: donations for team members and donations for victims and family members.
        • Donations for team members
          • Volunteer services liaison should distribute the donations appropriately among departments involved.
          • Donations should be tracked on a shared document so that the foundation can receipt and steward appropriately.


    Do’s & Don’ts for Donations (This list should be posted on the crisis web-page described above)


    Accepted Donations


    Unaccepted Donations

    • Individually packaged food items (bags of chips, granola bars, juice boxes, etc.)
    • Catered meals with grab-n-go items (sandwiches, wraps, etc.)
    • Generic Visa & MasterCard gift cards
    • Gas gift cards
    • Flowers
    • Overnight kits for families
    • Transportation donations
    • Hotel lodgings
    • Banners
    • Cards/Letters
    • Bottled water
    • Fruit
    • Phone chargers
    • Blankets and pillows
    • Homemade food dishes
    • Monetary gifts (please direct to corporate foundation)
    • Unscheduled visits from chaplains, clinical staff, pet therapy teams, etc., not associated with the hospital system

  • Conclusion

    It’s been said that in times of crises, you either rise to the occasion or you crumble. I’m proud to say that my team rose to the occasion. When faced with the most demanding situation that any of us have encountered, or likely will encounter in our careers, we pulled together and successfully managed the largest press presence imaginable. The phrase “team work” so aptly applies to how we received, organized and responded to members of the press and how we collaborated with each other. There were hundreds of tasks to be met each day — securing patients, executives and physicians for press interviews, booking the studio, producing our own video news releases, ordering food, the list seemed endless. Each of us knew what needed to be done and we were empowered to do it.


    The Pulse shooting affected each of us differently. Ultimately, I think it made us all more confident in our abilities. Unfortunately, it also made us realize just how vulnerable we are as individuals.