When Wade Mathews first stepped foot onto Brigham Young University’s campus as a freshman in 1985, he never visualized himself leading one of the nation’s preeminent public information officer associations.
“It was the furthest thing from my mind back in 1993. I had absolutely no interest in public relations at the time,” said Mathews, who completed a term as president of the Utah Public Information Officers Association last December.
His full-time work takes him on a daily trek to Capitol Hill where he oversees the state’s Be Ready Utah public outreach program in the Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management.
Mathews’ daily responsibilities include informing Utahns about the importance of being prepared for all types of emergencies.
Public forums include schools, county fairs, community events, conferences, church gatherings, and business events.
“Basically, anywhere we are invited, we go,” he said.
Mathews and his cohorts generously hand out information sheets and items promoting the importance of emergency preparedness. The website www.utah.gov/beready is loaded with preparedness information on water storage, food storage, evacuation, and other measures to take during emergencies.
Along the Wasatch Front and throughout the mountain areas of northern Utah, the Be Ready Utah team accentuates critical steps people should take in anticipation of a major earthquake. Geologic evidence indicates that earthquakes significantly larger than any recently experienced along the Wasatch Front are likely in the future, Mathews said.
Although the 2018 Great Utah Shakeout was held in April, Mathews and his co-workers are already formulating plans for next year’s “Drop, Cover and Hold On” drill.
While the annual Great Utah Shake Out may be the most visible program that Mathews’ office supports, it is only one of numerous tools used to inform Utahns about the importance of preparing for potential emergencies and disasters, including the Utah Prepare Conference and Expo held in September.
One element emphasized by Be Ready Utah is that everyone should have a family disaster plan and a three- to five-day disaster supply kit. Mathews said kits should be personalized to fit the needs of individuals and families, and should be stored in a sturdy, portable container.
“Many of these items are already found in most homes,” he said. “Unfortunately, they are often scattered in drawers, closets, and boxes. When an unexpected emergency or disaster hits, it’s too late to gather everything and head to safety.”
Mathews said that while the list may seem daunting, families can completely furnish their kits by purchasing necessary items in the period of a few months.
“Emergency preparedness items always make excellent gifts,” he said.
Be Ready Utah stresses the importance of making a plan, getting a kit, being informed, and getting involved in virtually all of its presentations and printed materials.
Mathews said that even with disasters and emergencies splashed daily across the Internet, television and newspapers, the routines of day-to-day living often lull people into a false belief of “that will never happen here or to us.”
“Emergencies and disasters can strike at unexpected moments and it’s important to take the time now to do some simple things that will help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible following any emergency,” he said.
Prior to his present position, Mathews focused his educational pursuits on broadcast journalism and obtained a degree in communications from BYU.
Fox 13 News soon hired the energetic graduate in 1993 and Mathews quickly climbed the newsroom ladder before landing a spot as producer of the noon newscast.
The television news producer is out of the limelight of cameras, but plays a crucial role in the success of the production. As producer, Mathews was responsible for determining what stories aired, news content, reporter assignments, priorities of stories, and overall production of the daily noon news show.
“It was a great experience working for Fox13,” he said. “The skills and knowledge I gained there have proven invaluable throughout my career.”
Although high stress filled most days with deadlines of breaking local news, the occasional slow news day proved challenging as well.
In 2000, when Mathews accepted the position as public information officer at Tooele County Emergency Management, women ages 18-34 ranked his noon newscast first in the competitive Salt Lake market.
Although his office is just north of the capitol in Salt Lake City, the lifelong Tooele County resident prefers living in his hometown.
“It’s kind of funny,” Mathews said. “When I was really young, we lived in Pine Canyon. Our family then moved to Erda, just a stone’s throw away from Grantsville city limits. After getting married, I moved to Tooele City.”
He is the son of Terry and Sally Mathews of Erda. Mathews and his wife, the former Kristen Broadhead of Tooele, have lived for several years in Tooele City. They are the parents of four sons: Tyler, Garrett, Jayden and Wyatt.
Mathews’ natural instinct to share his expertise and enthusiasm morphed into active participation in the Utah Public Information Officers Association, beginning when the group was first organized about 15 years ago. He had just started working as the PIO for Tooele County.
Since its inception, the association has grown to nearly 800 members who represent public and private organizations from nearly every county in the state.
“Every year at our annual conference, one of our presenters will say something like, “I wish our state had a vibrant organization like this. How do you do this?”
He said, “A significant number of PIOs are from law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency response organizations.”
But, there are also a number from state agencies, health departments, schools, and others who need the people with strong public communication skills.
The most visible event for the PIO association is the annual two-day conference held each September in St. George. The conference always features news reporters and public information officers who work major national events that grab media attention for several days.
For example, last fall presenters discussed the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the gathering of nearly 1,000 protesters over the Dakota Access Pipeline in rural North Dakota.
Conference attendees also heard from reporters, elected officials, and public affairs officers of major Utah events such as handling funerals for fallen police officers, kidnappings, and hostage situations.
This year’s conference will feature reports on the Las Vegas shooting and Operation Rio Grande.
“There are always lessons to be learned from others in how to work with news reporters and the public,” Mathews said. “That’s true if it is a national story in a major city or something that happens in a remote area of rural Utah.”
The association also holds monthly quarterly meetings throughout the Wasatch Front.
When a Utah news event attracts national media and the need for additional public information specialists, the association sends the word out seeking volunteers.
“Regardless of the location, seriousness, or length of the situation, our PIOs are always willing to respond,” Mathews said.
Ronn Torossian, acclaimed author and public relations executive, refers to the day-to-day work of public information officers as “a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering — it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.”
It has also proven to be an environment where Mathews’ skills continue to flourish as Utah’s families, businesses, schools, and communities prepare for the unexpected.
Disaster Supply Kit
Have a kit for each family member
Place kit in an easy-to-access location
Place items susceptible to water damage in plastic bag
Check items twice annually and replace expired or non-work items
1 to 2 gallons of water per person per day
Method of water purification
3-day supply of nonperishable food
Lightweight stove and fuel
Pan, plates, cups, utensils
Secondary method to start a fire
Tent or tarp for shelter
Wool blanket or sleeping bag
Emergency reflective blanket
Extra clothing for warm/cold weather for each family member
Hand and body warmer packets
First-aid kit and supplies
Burn gel and dressing
Special medications, spare glasses, contacts
Bottle of potassium iodide tablet (use only when directed)
Personal hygiene kit: soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, tissues, feminine hygiene, razor and other needed items
Radio with batteries or alternate power source
Flashlight with batteries
Glow-in-the-dark light stick
Plastic whistle with neck cord
Hatchet or axe
50-foot nylon rope
At least $100 in small bills
Copies of important documents such as birth certificates, marriage license, wills, insurance and bank information
Stress relief items such as board games, hard candy, small toys, books, etc.