Personalised warnings work

(This item was written by Ronda Oberlin. It is not my habit to cut and paste other’s work but this is so straight forward it’s the best thing to do in this case. The whole article and others and the way to contact Ronda is here: http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Risk-Must-Be-Personalized.html)

Risk communication must be understood and believed and it has to be confirmed.

Ronda Oberlin | July 27, 2015

Preparedness is more than having a kit.

Emergency preparedness isn’t about three days of water or extra batteries for your flashlight. If it were, we could stop investing in emergency preparedness campaigns and put the money toward buying 72-hour kits for every person in America. But we don’t, because that won’t make our communities more disaster resilient.

Preparing people for emergencies is about changing the way they think, not just before disasters, but also during them. What will make our communities more disaster resilient is to use emergency preparedness outreach as training for individuals to become effective disaster decision-makers: to teach them how to think in a crisis; to know what the disaster environment looks and feels like; to adapt; and to be empowered to take the necessary actions once decisions are made.

Effective disaster communication is not new territory. Researchers have been identifying ways to make risk and crisis communication more effective since the days of duck and cover. What’s missing is the practical application of those lessons in emergency management.

Emergency workers aren’t ever sent into a crisis without training — and if they were, we wouldn’t dismiss their failure to respond correctly with a shrug and a “you can’t cure stupid.” Yet we expect members of the public to respond correctly without any training or understanding of what might impede their response.

We don’t necessarily need to do more than we are already, but we need to do it smarter. If the goal of our risk communication is awareness, we’ve already lost the disaster resilience battle. Being aware that tornadoes can happen in your area isn’t the same as realizing that a tornado can hit your home, damage your possessions and possibly injure your family. Being aware will not incite you to take action, create a disaster supply kit or identify your best shelter area and hold a tornado drill with your family.

Risk has to be personalized. Risk communication must be understood and believed. It has to be confirmed, and the people hearing it have to assess it in light of their own experience, knowledge, resources and abilities. They have to believe that the outcome is worth the expenditure of the time, resources and emotional energy it will take to do what they are being asked to do. But doing that thing isn’t all there is to it. Resilience comes from the information that motivates the action as much as from the action itself.

Teach people to anticipate uncertainty. Help them build mental models that will orient them in a crisis. Give them confidence so they are ready, willing and able to take timely action during a disaster.

Research shows that people are likelier to do new things when they have been successful at doing other things. Taking one small step toward reducing their risk makes them more likely to take another step — with effective risk communication to guide them. Let’s stop settling for awareness and finally make our communities resilient.

We can make our messages smarter by being consistent, credible, accessible, empowering and engaging. It’s not as hard as it sounds.

(Ronda Oberlin is the co-founder of the Do 1 Thing emergency preparedness program, www.do1thing.com. She has been an emergency management specialist with the Lansing, Mich., Office of Emergency Management since 1999.)

Canada has a new Alert system – which has all the failings of all the others

I’ve noticed that Canada has a new Alert system which includes the electronic media. It’s a welcome step, and I cant understand why it took so long to organise.

http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/mrgnc-mngmnt/mrgnc-prprdnss/ntnl-pblc-lrtng-sstm-eng.aspx

I have no other information than what’s in the web site, but here are some views of mine:

It’s a step forward but doesn’t go far enough.

It seems the warnings will be issued on phones, but it’s not entirely clear.

Warnings broadcasts should be compulsory not voluntary, as it’s the only way to develop a reliable system. The evidence from the US is quite clear – e3letronic media ignore warnings if they are voluntary. see here: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2013/db0412/DOC-320152A1.pdf

There should be some sort of audio attached to the warnings.

The warnings should be scalable, but they aren’t.

The use of the third party to distribute warnings is a waste of taxpayers funds. The media should pay as there is significant economic and profit benefit if they broadcast warnings (apart from Canadian Broadcast Corporation or public broadcasters)

There is no digital or web based activity listed. This suggests to me that the warnings system isn’t fully integrated. That usually results in mixed messages and different approaches to the same event.

The media isn’t being seen as a “stakeholder in community safety” – again, just a disseminator. This is the critical cultural change that must be made if emergency agencies want to unleash the full benefit of the reach and power of electronic media (and ensure the media wears some of the cost).

I’ll be interested to see how it goes.

Ian

Research reinforces what we know about warnings

New research undertaken in Australia relating to bushfires is repeatedly showing that what we know about human behaviour in bushfires isn’t changing.

Funny that. Dr Rob Gordon says we use the “reptilian brain” when responding to disasters. It’s been slowly adapting for hundreds of thousands of years, so its unlikely new technology is going to change it in the blink of an eye.

Jim Mclennan who’s been a great deal of research into how people and communities respond to disasters has recently sent me two research items which describe people’s preparation activities.

In summary he seems to be suggesting that warnings issued by weather agencies and emergency responders in Australia should be modified to ensure they meet a variety of different human needs.

DFES Bushfire Alerts and Warnings Report September 2013_Redacted

capturing_community_experiences_sa_bushfires_january_2014

capturing_community_experiences_sa_bushfires_january_2014

Jim McLennan (PhD) Bushfire Safety Researcher Chair, Science, Health & Engineering College Human Research Ethics Sub-Committee, Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychology & Counselling,  La Trobe University, Bundoora VIC 3086 AUSTRALIA

email: J.McLennan@latrobe.edu.au

 

 

 

Time to update warning guidelines

In  Australia emergency agencies and others have access to nationally defined emergency warning guidelines.

They are here: http://www.em.gov.au/Emergency-Warnings/Pages/default.aspx

They haven’t been updated since 2009. The current review of best practice in emergency warnings isn’t calling for a review of the process, only “best practice,” although it’s likely to generate useful debate.

However there are some components missing from the existing guidelines, and it’s time to update them. But who will do that? Australia doesn’t have a committee responsible for continual evaluation and review of guidelines to ensure best practice or learning from events. I have in the past recommended that AFAC could play that role, in the absence of a more pliable or nimble federal emergency agency. It would be useful if “disseminators” were part of the committee.

I have copied the existing guidelines below. they were reasonable in the circumstances but now to them we can add learnings from past practice and new technology.

– Urgency.All warnings should contain information to enable people to understand the urgency of the threat.

They should enable disseminators to make a decision based on urgency should they need to prioritise multiple and prolonged warnings.

– Context: warnings do not happen in isolation. The recipient and the disseminator should know from the content of the warning or the operational guidelines attached to them the sense of urgency; the number of people at risk, and when they will be at risk, and some understanding of the likely impact of the event, based on realistic assessment or past experience.

– Verification: Psychologists tell us that people don’t respond to warnings until they have the warning verified. The warning system should include management of verification tools such as interviews.

– Format: Psychologists tell us that warnings will be best remembered in graphic form and yet nearly all are delivered in text. All warnings should be delivered in all formats with an emphasis on graphics and audio. This meets the human need but also the need for electronic media and social media to be able to effectively disseminate the warnings.

– Community development: All warnings should include a call to action to ensure community response, not individual or personal response. The recipient should be told what to do to help their community.

The principles are below.

Emergency warnings guidelines and principles

National Best Practice Guidelines for the Request and Broadcast of Emergency Warnings

The National Best Practice Guidelines for the Request and Broadcast of Emergency Warnings were endorsed by the then Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management – Emergency Management (MCPEM-EM) in 2007. They were also endorsed by the peak broadcast media bodies representing all sectors of the industry.

The Guidelines provide a simple, consistent and clearly defined process across all emergency services and broadcast media for issuing, verifying, updating and terminating broadcast requests. The Guidelines have been used as a primary source document when developing new or revised memorandums of understanding or arrangements relating to broadcast warnings.

All States and Territories have processes and formal agreements with the public broadcaster, and commercial broadcast media, and, many have progressed formal arrangements with pay and community broadcast media.

Emergency warning principles

In October 2008, the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management – Emergency Management (MCPEM-EM) endorsed the following twelve national emergency warning system principles. The principles provide a framework that guides activities in the public warning sphere. Adhering to these principles also improves the effectiveness of emergency warnings and communications across all jurisdictions. A number of States and Territories have developed their own protocols that reference these guidelines:

    1. Coordinated: a warning system should avoid duplication of effort where possible and support a shared understanding of the situation among different agencies involved in managing the incident.
    2. Authoritative and accountable: warnings are to be disseminated on the decision of an authorised person. Authorities should be able to interrogate the System components for later analysis.
    3. Consistent / Standards based: the information content is coordinated across all of the mechanisms used for warnings. Messages must be consistent across different sources if they are to be believed by the general population. Conflicting messages tend to create uncertainty and will delay responsive action. Any relevant identified standards will underpin the agreed System Framework.
    4. Complete: message content should include relevant pertinent details, including possibly a direction on the need to consult other sources, presented in a way that is easily and quickly understood by the population. This includes multiple languages in some cases, as well as the use of multi-media for those who are illiterate or people with a disability (eg. people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment or those who are blind or have a vision impairment).
    5. Multi-modal: warnings are to be disseminated using a variety of delivery mechanisms and in multiple information presentation formats that will, in some circumstances, complement each other to produce a complete picture, with planning and processes to allow for maximum reach to all members of the community and to provide for redundancies in the case of critical infrastructure failure (eg. power or telecommunications).
    6. All-hazards: any emergency warning system developed will be capable of providing warnings, where practicable, for any type of emergency.
    7. Targeted: messages should be targeted to those communities at risk in order to reduce the complacency that can result from people receiving warnings that do not apply to them – ‘over warning’.
    8. Interoperable: have coordinated delivery methods, capable of operation across jurisdictional borders for issuing warnings.
    9. Accessible and responsive: capable of responding to and delivering warnings in an environment of demographic, social and technological change. Recognise the criticality of adopting universal design and access principles, particularly in the development and acquisition of technologies.
    10. Verifiable: the community is able to verify and authenticate the warnings to reduce incidents of accidental activations and prevent malicious attempts to issue false alerts to a population.
    11. Underpinned by education and awareness raising activities: the System, any delivery mechanisms that constitute it and the language used in the warning messages it delivers, should be underpinned by appropriate education and awareness raising activities.
    12. Compatible: with the existing telecommunications networks and infrastructure without adversely impacting on the normal telephone and broadcast system. The System should avoid any adverse operational, technical or commercial implications for the provision of current communications services to consumers and on the integrity of communications networks.

To underpin the implementation of the national telephone-based emergency warning capability, in 2009 States and Territories added a further two principles:

  1. Compliant with relevant legislation: warnings should be compliant with relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation, associated regulations and policy.
  2. Integrated: warnings should be integrated to ensure timely notification to multiple organisational stakeholders and communication channels.

Hurricane Iselle warnings

Link

Hurricane Iselle, a Category One storm, is heading for Hawaii, and emergency agencies are alerting residents. It’s a chance to examine the warnings in the framework I set down in a previous article on effective warnings.

On August 7, 2014, Mayor Alan Arakawa held a press conference on the status of Hurricane Iselle today in the Mayor’s Conference Room at the Kalana O Maui County Building. Also present to give remarks was Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui. You can see it here. Mayor alerts residents to impact of Hurricane Iselle (Aug 2014)

It is a useful exercise to evaluate the warnings the local government authority is putting in place.  I cant advise what the weather cnetre is doing with it’s warnings, and taken together with other information unavailable to m, the community might be comprehensively warned. But a quick examination of the event suggests the Country is missing an opportunity to provide effective warnings.

The event

  • What’s happening? Mayor Arakawa told us that a hurricane with 60mph winds is coming. He did not describe the likely impact of winds of this strength; or the amount of rain expected; or the type of damage likely. In other words he described the “threat” but not the “risk.”
  • What’s going to happen? Flooding, landslides, electricity loss, but no context, or scale.
  • How serious is this? Not discussed. 
  • What’s it mean for me? Not discussed
  • When is it happening? Not discussed in sufficient detail, although there might be other warnings, possibly from NOAA and the Pacific Tropical Hurricane Centre, but this was a lost opportunity if he was seekinhg to become the strong trusted local voice.
  • What should I do? “Stay at home to survive” was the key message, however at one stage he confusingly encouraged some people to evacuate.
  • Where can I get more information? Some encouragement to listen to the radio stations and TV, and an emergency phone number, plus a county phone number. No web sites; non social media; no suggestion asking family and friends and experienced community leaders.
  • How can I help my community? Encouraged to look after elderly people.

The delivery (This was a news conference, only useful for generating broad understanding of what was going on.)

  • Immediately
  • Repeatedly
  • Updated
  • By a strong trusted local voice
  • With verification
  • Simultaneously on a variety of platforms several of which should be available to the recipient

The basis

  •  Be based on research No attempt made to provide this context to the audience at the news conference, which was likely to be re-broadcast (and in fact WAS loaded to You tube).
  • The community must know what to do when it hears a warning No information given at this event, although the weather service might be doing that.
  • Be part of our community culture Not attempted
  • Be comprehensive Not indicated.
  • Be reliable Assume yes. No graphics, no suggestion of when the next media event would be.
  • Be consistent I cant comment
  • Be integrated with all warning platforms and options. Doesnt appear so. No “deaf signers” and little for hard of hearing. No connection to social media.
  • Be reviewed, assessed and constantly improved. (Hopefully).

 

 

Effective emergency warnings

Emergency Management Australia has asked the Victorian Department of Justice to review Australia’s national warning system, to come up with best practice.

http://www.em.gov.au/Fundinginitiatives/NationalEmergencyManagementProjects/Pages/NationalEmergencyManagementProjects20132014.aspx

The review is underway and should be finished by the end of the year.

Emergency warnings are now common-place in Australia and the community has come to expect them, and agencies which do not provide warnings are quickly the subject of stringent review, including and up to Royal Commissions. The next step is to ensure the warnings are effective.

In my experience, and based on research from my favorite authors, Miletti and Sorenson, Handmer, McClennan and Paton, this would be a template for an effective warning.

We will test this against some of the warnings issued over the next few months.

The event

  • What’s happening?
  • What’s going to happen?
  • How serious is this?
  • What’s it mean for me?
  • When is it happening?
  • What should I do?
  • Where can I get more information?
  • How can I help my community?

The delivery

  • Immediately
  • Repeatedly
  • Updated
  • By a strong trusted local voice
  • With verification
  • Simultaneously on a variety of platforms several of which should be available to the recipient

The basis

  •  Be based on research
  • The community must know what to do when it hears a warning
  • Be part of our community culture
  • Be comprehensive
  • Be reliable
  • Be consistent
  • Be integrated with all warning platforms and options.
  • Be reviewed, assessed and constantly improved.

 

How do people want their emergency advice?

There is a great deal of focus at present on providing the right advice to the community before, during and after emergencies – in the right way, at the right time and in language and format people can understand, even in the face of a calamity.

But are we considering the community needs, or the emergency agency needs?

Research in Far North Queensland by Sandy Astills [astills@optusnet.com.au] suggests sometimes it will be useful to look more carefully at how emergency agencies and disseminators are delivering information.

The Australian Journal of Emergency Management contained an article https://ajem.infoservices.com.au/items/AJEM-29-03-09 on these dilemma’s by Sandy, and she then spoke to ABC Local Radio Far North Qld broadcaster Richard Dinnen, on July 23, 2014.

 

PNG Disasters

I visited PNG to discuss “emergency broadcasting.” As part of my preparation I built up a little knowledge about the disaster situation in that country.

PNG has about 7 million residents and a fantastic rate of population growth, but in places there is great poverty.

Emergencies are dealt with largely by provincial governments and responders, some of which are quite sophisticated, others are still developing.Communications are reasonable, although for the vast majority of people the web is too costly to access, so texting is widely used in the cities. Many villages have no access to reliable power, although the bigger centres are probabloy okay for most of the time.

The media is vibrant; the health sector has just been flooded with new cases after the Government made hospital visits free. I read a story saying next year the country will be introducing pensions for aged people with disabilities The extra money is coming from the mining development sector.

Disasters

The principal disasters confronting the community of PNG are floods and cyclones, which each year result in a large number of people being displaced, a small number of injuries and occasional deaths, and devastation to agriculture and subsistence farming.

In addition PNG has five active and two dormant volcanoes.

Earthquakes

PNG lies on the “Pacific Rim of Fire” and experiences earthquakes weekly in the mountain regions (circ 3.5-4.5 Richter scale), a few of which each year result in landslips which impact on local communication tracks roads and utilities. Occasionally higher magnitude earthquakes are recorded.

The seismic image map of PNG by the US Geological Survey (Below) shows probable recurrence of seismic activity.

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/png/gshap.php

There have been 18 earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.6 (When damage and deaths are thought likely to begin to occur) since 1995[1] but only two resulted in fatalities (total, 6 people).

Tsunami

There is great fear in PNG that tsunami will impact on coastal communities. They are known within oral history but are extremely rare. Most catastrophic tsunami throughout the world are generated by earthquakes greater than magnitude 7, off shore, however the two tsunami which created great damage in PNG were not. The Aitape tsunami (1998) was created when an onshore earthquake created a land slump under the ocean, with much damage caused because of the unique canyon nature of the off shore area funnelling water across the coast.

The other tsunami was (1888) was generate buy a collapsing volcano.

The common fear grows from the tsunami which impacted on the coastal communities of Aitape region in July 1998 10-25 minutes after a magnitude 7 earthquake. At least 2,183 people were killed, thousands injured, about 9,500 homeless and about 500 missing as a result of a tsunami generated in the Sissano area.

Maximum wave heights were estimated at 15 meters. Several villages were completely destroyed and others extensively damaged.

The tsunami comprised three waves, each estimated to be about 4m high. The second of the three waves rose to a height of 10-15 m above sea level after it had crossed the shoreline and caused most damage. The greatest damage was in the villages of Arop and Warapu which were removed almost without trace, leaving only the concrete foundation slabs of churches and classrooms.

The Aitape tsunami was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, and compares with the catastrophic eruption of Mount Lamington in January 1951, in which 3000 people were killed. Since the beginnings of written history in this region, the Aitape tsunami is exceeded in impact by only the 1888 tsunami, triggered by the collapse of Ritter Island volcano.

Recent tsunami in the Solomon Islands (6 Feb, 2013) which killed 10 people and displaced 6000 others[2], also generated great fear that similar events can occur in PNG, and the Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011, created small marine waves that washed up across the entire Pacific, including onshore in PNG, but there was no damage.

Volcanoes

Papua New Guinea has the most active volcanoes in the South West Pacific. Its most active volcanoes include Manam, Karkar, Lamington, Langila, Ulawun, Rabaul and Bagana.

In 1951, within four to five days of the initial signs of unrest, Mount Lamington in Oro Province erupted, killing 3,000 people.

UNDP, RVO and officials in PNG’s Northern Province have worked on contingency plans for Mount Lamington. An estimated 40,000 people would have to be evacuated if it erupts again, and some of the communities have no roads.

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) has been funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) since 1995 after the Rabaul volcano erupted and destroyed most of the town. It monitors eight of the country’s most active, high risk volcanos and receives daily reports and sends people for closer monitoring if there are reports of unrest.

RVO, working with provincial disaster officers, also conducts awareness programmes with populations around high-risk volcanoes, including Lamington, Ulawun, Pago, Karkar, Manam, Langila, Garbuna and Bagana.

Cyclones and floods

Recent disasters have included floods in April 2014 caused by Tropical Cyclone Ita (which killed 26 people in the Solomon Islands and reached the Australian mainland category 5). Widespread flooding in the islands of Milne Bay displaced 15,000 people.

Other major recent events include January 2013[3]: Heavy rainfall since the begin of the cyclone season in November 2012 has resulted in floods and landslides affecting homes, food gardens, water sources and infrastructure in several provinces of Papua New Guinea. Estimates from a range of sources indicate that up to 35,000 people might be affected.

Also in May 2013 it was reported by the aid agency Oxfam the flooding situation in Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik province reached “crisis point.” Seven people were confirmed dead and about 11,500 people have been affected by flooding along the Sepik River.[4]

Also in January 2013 the Red Cross reported[5] 27,000 flood-affected people in Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province remain in desperate need of basic items like food and clean drinking water. This was flooding which started in November 2012.

On May 25, 2010 it was reported[6] an estimated 20,000 people in remote parts of East Sepik Province, northwestern Papua New Guinea, were affected by floods – the worst in 40 years – along the Sepik River. It was added in the report that “residents have been able to sustain themselves with minimum levels of outside support thanks to traditional coping mechanisms.”

Worst affected were Angoram, Ambunti and Wosara-Gowi districts

Health  epidemics

The World Health Organisation reports[7] PNG has the worst health status in the Pacific region and ranks 153rd of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, worse than Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases cause 62% of deaths nationwide.

Only 33% of rural people have access to clean water, a major factor in the 2009 cholera outbreak that affected 14,000 people (more than 50 deaths) while diarrhoea is the seventh bigger killer and a measles outbreak in 2014 was reported as “an epidemic.”

Disaster information

Local news outlets in PNG report in an ad hoc way on disasters and emergencies. The PNG National Broadcasting Corporation provides consistent coverage at times, but is not always able to provide useful information to enable the community to prepare, or warnings which will enable it to respond as a disaster unfolds. It has a project in place to rectify this.

Technically NBC is in a position to respond better with warnings, alerts and comprehensive coverage.

During the cholera epidemic NBC arranged with the Department of Health to broadcast public service announcements.

 

[1] http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/historical_country.php#papua_new_guinea

[2] http://www.redcross.org.au/solomon-islands-tsunami-2013.aspx

[3] http://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2013-000017-png

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-07/an-png-floods-at-crisis-point/4674414

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-24/an-calls-for-flood-relief-in-png/4483110

[6] http://www.irinnews.org/report/89238/papua-new-guinea-residents-coping-with-rising-flood-waters-for-now

[7] http://www.adi.org.au/health-in-png-2/png-health-statistic/

Presentations this week

Last week I visited the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG to discuss with them some aspects of emergency broadcasting. (See here for a quick assessment of natural disaster threat in PNG.

This week I will give a presentation at the Emergency Media and Public Affairs Conference 2014, in Canberra. The focus of my presentation will be on (1) media and emergency agency collaboration and (2) how people respond to emergencies and why we must change the content of warnings to include RISK and Threat. Catch us #EMPA2014 or http://www.emergencymedia.org/

And then its off to a slightly unusual conference for me – The Australian Business Continuity Institute Summit in Sydney, where I’ll talk about the same thing. http://www.thebci.org/index.php/home/australasian-chapter-home

Ian

 

 

Ten years of “emergency broadcasting” in Victoria – now what?

My professional position is as the Manager of Emergency Broadcasting and Community Development for The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Local Radio division. It was my delight to be able to attend on Friday March 28 an event to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with The ABC, the Bureau of Meteorology and Victorian emergency agencies.

The agreement provided a reliable, 24/7 platform on which those agencies could issue warnings to the community at any time for any event, knowing the ABC would broadcast them repeatedly and for as long as necessary, to enable the community to respond to the event. We now make the same undertaking on TV and online (including social media).

The March 28 event was arranged by the Victorian Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley, and the key note address was by the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Hon Kim Wells.

“It is an honour to receive on behalf of all ABC staff a tribute from The Hon Kim Wells today marking ten years since Bruce Esplin and I signed the first MoU to commit the ABC to broadcast warnings delivered by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CFA.

The process of issuing warnings to the public has come a long way since the first, somewhat  hesitant and halting warning in January, 1997. Siusan McKenzie wrote the first warning for us in January 1997, and immediately suggested we wouldn’t be able to broadcast it.

Why – because Siusan knew we would not break into cricket coverage, and the warning, to be effective, would need to be issued repeatedly.

My then director Sue Howard advised me: ”Break in, but don’t tell anyone.”

All hell broke loose inside the ABC, but few now can recall those days long ago.

In fact this January the ABC has implemented a policy committing all staff to create processes to enable us to issue all high level warnings when requested by an emergency agency or government authority on whatever platform we feel is  useful.

This change of culture is highlighted by the fact that now our community expects to receive timely and effective warnings, and on a variety of platforms.

The partnership we have in place with the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency agencies is strong and robust.

Implementing something as new as the principal of “emergency broadcasting” which requires change of culture, attitude and operational procedures in a highly political and highly regulated environment isn’t easy.

It’s a credit to the people involved at the ABC and in emergency agencies that we’ve been able to make this work.

The goodwill is generated because Emergency Broadcasting makes a difference. Timely warnings save lives.

As a manager at The ABC I look at the way we broadcast to the community during disasters and  ask three things: are there any complaints from the community that they didn’t receive any warnings; did we look after our staff; and did things run smoothly.

 

Here in Victoria we can look at the recent example of the catastrophic fire day when there were five simultaneous emergency warnings including three in built up areas. It’s our nightmare, and it came on a nightmare day.

 

There were no complaints from the community that warnings were not received  even though there were emergency warnings in five places that day and hundreds of thousands of people were potentially affected.

 

We did look after our staff. Dealing with bushfires, to me, seems like an intensely personal and intimate activity, putting your life on the line to confront the flames. And sometimes issuing warnings is equally personal and confronting. One of the ABC staff who worked on the Mickleham fires stopped on the way to work and cried, remembering our performance on Black Saturday. The broadcaster nearly turned around, but eventually came to work. That person told me they felt an important job needed doing, and the ABC and emergency agencies were now much better at creating effective warnings. In other words it was safe to come to work.

 

And on that busy day our studio production team worked effectively with the State Control centre and Incident Controllers to provide warnings, context and advice.

 

It’s not lost on me how complex the process of issuing warnings can be. From the volunteer on the fire ground, to the SES worker on a riverbank or an weather forecaster at their desk, it’s difficult to first create sense out of the mess they are facing and then find ways to effectively communicate a message about threat and risk.

 

It’s interesting too that Emergency Broadcasting  is a management dominated initiative…I know staff and volunteers have an important operational role to play and I’m not underestimating that, but there is the work of policy development and strategic planning, stakeholder relationships, dealing with the public and high level enquiries. It’s shone a spotlight on the work of people like Neil Bibby, Bruce Esplin, Russel Rees, Alistair Hainsworth and Ward Rooney, Christine Nixon, Euan Ferguson, Craig Lapsley, Mary Barry, Ewan Waller, and the researchers, like Gary Morgan and John Handmer. And at the ABC, Sue Howard, Michael Mason, Kate Dundas, Mark Scott.

 

These managers took risks with emergency broadcasting. They put their reputations on the line to embrace the concept of emergency broadcasting, they nurtured it, defended it, and can take a great deal of responsibility for the fact it’s now part of the fabric of our life throughout Australia.

But acknowledging a tenth anniversary is also a chance to look forward. And there is more to be done.

As we learn more about the psychology of bushfires from people like Rob Gordon, it’s becoming more and more important to understand warnings have to take account of human behaviour. We know in a disaster human beings  use the side of their brain which works in graphics and images,  so we simply must have more graphics and images in our warnings, and this includes effective fire forecast maps.

We must be on TV. And while the ABC has now moved to ensure that all warnings are carried on News24 we as an industry must make further efforts to get commercial TV involved.

We must learn how to better engage on social media like Facebook and Instagram, to talk directly to the more mobile and younger adults who no longer have to look to their parents for advice at critical times because they have all the information literally in hand.

We must keep reviewing and improving and to do this we need to build even stronger relations with emergency agencies where we are trusted with forecast material and risk evaluations.

At the ABC I know the people involved in emergency broadcasting, and this includes broadcasters, producers, reporters, managers, technical people, MCR, transmission co-ordinators and those in IT and human resources, all of whom come together to make it possible for us to issue effective warnings.

I know them all personally, and am very proud of them, and I know they will all continue to do everything they can to ensure that we issue effective warnings and information when the community needs it.”

Ian Mannix

March 28, 2014