Bob Thomas, director of public information and community outreach for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, is attending the annual training conference of the National Information Officers Association in Clearwater, Fla., this week.

Thomas flew to Florida on Friday and expects to return to his office on Thursday.

Before leaving last week, he said he had intended to attend the conference in 2011 and 2012 but was forced to cancel because of storms and other emergencies. In those years, he was serving as chief spokesman for the county government, a post he stepped down from earlier this year to work with the newly-created emergency services department.

According to Thomas, among topics being covered are: "The Aurora (Col.) Movie Theater Shootings," "Massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School," "Columbine Revisited," "Social Media 2013 - Trends, Relevance and Efficiency" and "Coordinating National Media Coverage of a Major Incident," among many others.

Thomas said via e-mail Monday that 287 people from the U.S. and Canada signed up to attend, including the director of communications for Baltimore County government and her assistant, the deputy public information officer for Howard County Police and the marketing and communications director for the City of Laurel. Edward Hopkins, public information officer for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, had planned to attend, but was unable to go because of a family illness.

"Yesterday's [Sunday] eight-hour program was an excellent in-depth presentation by the retired deputy superintendent of the Louisiana State Police on the practical issues on being a good public affairs officer," Thomas wrote. "He was one for more than 15 years."

The public information officer for Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, Andrew Doyle, presented the Monday session on social media trends, according to Thomas.

Thomas said registration for the conference is $495. He said the total cost for travel, lodging and meals is expected to run about $1,500, some of which may be covered by grant funding.