News & Media

Innovation in disaster communications

By: Bec McDonald

Category: Partnerships, Planning & Research

  10.49 AM 29 June, 2017

Location: General

Views: 1793

Emergency and disaster communications experts from around Australia gathered in Sydney earlier this month for the 11th annual Emergency Media and Public Affairs (EMPA) Conference.

The conference, which ran for three days, began with a workshop on the Sunday to find all the best ideas and bring them together into the first steps toward a Public Information Guidebook; a brainstorm and teasing out of the best methods that can be applied in any jurisdiction.

EMPA has committed to develop a handbook/reference for all communicators as they head into disaster zones and delegates were encouraged to identify the best solutions, then test them against New Zealand's nightmare scenario, the Alpine Fault 8 (Google ‘AF8’ if you want to learn more).

CFA Public Information Officer Rebecca McDonald was joined by representatives from other Victorian agencies including EMV, SES and DELWP over the three days, which provided a great opportunity for cross-agency networking and conversation in the field of emergency media and warnings management.

Keynote speaker Melany Markham of the Norweigan Refugee Council opened the conference-proper on the Monday morning, exploring how cultural taboos and consent restrictions on media impose censorship.

"It is time to step away from our paternalistic decision to decide for others what they want to share... the key, rather, is permission... and asking communities how they would like their stories of emergencies and trauma to be told," explained Melany.

Delegates were engaged by a range of speakers over the next two days, with highlights including:

  • Why people won't act in their own best interests and what to do about it - Mike Daniels of The Behavioural Architects
  • DFO Essendon plane crash - how a commercial organisation responded to a tragic event - Marc Klomp of Vicinity Centres (fmr Victoria Police)
  • Cultural drivers of disaster risk reduction behaviour - presented by Steve Sutton, Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC (fmr Chief Officer Bushfires NT)
  • The Kaikoura NZ earthquake response and recovery - presented by Glyn Walters (Marlborough District Council) and Michele Poole (Otago Regional Council), New Zealand
  • When the good fights turns bad (how RFS responded to criticism after a seemingly successful operation) - Anthony Clark, NSW Rural Fire Service.

Mark Crosweller, Director-General of Emergency Management Australia, who are also a sponsor of the conference, opened the Tuesday morning sessions by addressing delegates with a philosophical oration on "getting to the heart of the matter" - how what we value most shapes the way we behave.

Mark's extensive experience in emergency management provided context for his discussion around the increasing lack of trust in formal organisations and principles of effective public communication.

"The greatest measure of success is the securing and upholding of public trust and confidence; the greatest mission is the reduction of human suffering," said Mark.

The conference returns to Melbourne in 2018.

Last Updated: 29 June 2017