Special video conferencing considerations for Fire Districts, municipalities and other public entities who wish to meet remotely

This article is a an add-on to our Video Conferencing Advice for Everyone. We suggest you start by reading that page if you have not read it yet.

Every video conferencing platform has its own set of features. Look over them carefully while you are evaluating platforms. Focus on their privacy policies and data storage. Public entities have increasingly become targets for hackers. Be sure to take extra precautions when operating in a virtual environment.

If your organization is thinking about using video conferencing, be sure to take the following into consideration. Click the plus sign to the right to learn more about each of these concerns.

 

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law addressing the protection of sensitive patient health information. Does the video conferencing platform meet your compliance needs?

Illinois Open Meetings Act

In recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker recently relaxed certain elements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act to allow for remote meeting participation. Read and understand the changes to this important law before arranging for a virtual meeting. Click here to view Governor JB Pritzker’s Executive Order. 

Freedom of Information Act

Considerations listed previously in this article should be taken into account when opting to conduct official business through video conferencing. How will your organization be able to respond to FOIA requests related to remote/virtual meetings?

Closed Sessions

Be sure to evaluate your remote meeting solution for the ability to enter Closed Session if need be. Be aware that human error may create additional security risks for Closed Sessions. Take extra precautions and be sure to conduct test meetings where you practice going into and out of virtual Closed Sessions.

Cautions for Archiving Closed Sessions

 Understand how your platform builds the meeting archive/recording. Some platforms actually include contents of private discussions, chats, messages and breakout sessions back into the recording of the main call. If you elect to post or share an archive of the call afterward, find out ahead of time what happens to the contents of your Closed Session, and other seemingly “private” communications. They may actually end up being incorporated into the recording of the main call/”Public Session” – which you may end up sharing later.

Worldwide Participation

Depending on your conference setup, people may be joining from any place on the planet. They may not necessarily be your residents. Again, make sure that you are in control of your conference.

You Are Now Being Recorded

If your organization does not normally make audio recordings of meetings, be aware that the public is about to learn a lot about the things you say and how you say them. Even if you think your online conference is not being shared, understand that it is being saved… somewhere.

Be Prepared for "Public Comments"

You may or may not know who is participating and what they will say or share. Be sure to have a plan in place to moderate participants.

Video conferences will become an increasingly important resource for communicating with friends, families, coworkers and business associates. Be sure you’re taking the time to do it safely – plan and practice.

Please click here for information about insurance for fire districts and other public entities.

Thank you and stay safe.