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9 things you need to know about emergency broadcasting and your station this Summer

Helen Henry, 17th December 2015

Summer is here and, unfortunately, that means increased chance of emergencies such as bushfires. Community radio stations can play an important role in sharing warnings and information with communities.

The information shared below is based on the National Best Practice Guidelines for the Request and Broadcast of Emergency Warnings and the national emergency warning principles endorsed by the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management - Emergency Management (MCPEM-EM) in 2008. Please note that some regulations around emergency broadcasting may vary state to state, so stations are encouraged to reach out to their local emergency services for confirmation.

1. You must spread awareness in your station and connect with local emergency services.

Stations are responsible for ensuring that their staff (and volunteers) are aware of the guidelines to ensure that requests for the broadcast of emergency warnings to the public are effectively actioned when required. Stations and emergency services organisations should engage in regular dialogue to confirm the ongoing validity of actions and processes outlined in the guidelines. Reach out to your local emergency services organisations to clarify your relationship and the processes you’ll each undertake.

2. The decision to issue a warning sits with the relevant control agency.

The decision to issue an emergency warning to the public rests with the appropriate control agency. The control agency is responsible for managing and/or coordinating resources to respond to an incident. The control agency is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the warning’s content, for coordination of the warning with all other relevant emergency service organisations, and for terminating or extending the request to broadcast a warning.

The initial contact for a request to broadcasting an emergency warning should be made verbally by a nominated delegate of the control agency by telephone or other means to the primary broadcast media outlets operating in the area or region affected by the incident. This is to inform the broadcaster that a warning to the public is about to be issued, and to confirm arrangements for transmittal of information. The commencement time for transmission of an emergency warning to the public is to be agreed between the control agency and broadcast media outlet during their initial contact.

3. Stations and emergency services organisations are jointly responsible for maintaining contact directories and continuity of information exchanged during an emergency.

Stations and emergency services organisations are jointly responsible for maintaining mutual contact directories within their State or Territory and operational areas/regions, and are to ensure continuity of information being exchanged over extended periods of time where staff at both organisations are likely to work shifts.

4. Content of the warnings should be appropriate for the medium and include specific kinds of information.

When an emergency services organisation issues a warning, the content provided to broadcast media outlets should take into account the radio medium. Stations can expect to receive warning content that is as short as possible to convey the priority information that the public would need, accounting for radio announcements are that not likely to run for longer than 30-45 seconds. Warnings should include:

  • Who the issuing authority is,
  • What the incident is,
  • Where the location of the incident is
  • What response is required of community at that location,
  • How and where the community can gain additional information.
  • Provide a commencement and termination time, or clear termination (or update) notification arrangement
  • Assign an emergency warning broadcast level, based on the assessment criteria in the Broadcast Levels Chart.

It is critical that stations adhere to the information issued by the emergency services organisation to assist in coordinated, consistent, complete, multimodal and verifiable messaging to support emergency management.

5. Emergency warning requests must be verified.

Verification of emergency warning requests is necessary to avoid hoaxes or miscommunication. Where no robust jurisdictional arrangements exist, stations should make follow-up contact for the verification of a request to transmit a warning, including checking the validity of all information such as the level, content, commencement and termination of a warning, in a timely manner. To allow for this, emergency management committees in each State and Territory should ensure that a single point of verification exists for each control agency and that all relevant broadcast media outlets are in receipt of a 24 hour telephone contact number. Check your local emergency management committee websites for this information.

6. Extension or termination of warnings is determined by the control agency.

Should the duration of the incident necessitate that a warning be broadcast beyond the initial agreed transmission time, then the nominated delegate of the control agency is to contact the broadcast media outlet and re-confirm an extension of the broadcast. If the broadcast of a warning is no longer necessary, the control agency initiating the request should follow-up with broadcast media outlets.

7. Broadcast media are expected to take all steps possible to activate the broadcast arrangements.

This should occur in line with the Codes of Practice and assigned broadcast levels.

8. In some cases, alternative arrangements supersede these guidelines.

Examples given in the Guidelines including where a “Cyclone Watch” (or similar program) is declared by BOM. In this case, standing arrangements between BOM and State/Territory emergency services organisations supersede the National Guidelines for Broadcast of Emergency Public Warnings. Another example is an incident that may require the activation of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS). Should this occur then the SEWS Guidelines supersede the Guidelines for Broadcast of Emergency Public Warnings. The activation of a SEWS alert is under the direction or guidance of the control agency issuing the warning.

9. Any issues should be addressed locally between the station and the control agency.

Any issues associated with the implementation of these Guidelines for the request and broadcast of emergency warnings to the public will initially be addressed locally between the broadcast media outlet and the control agency. Issues that cannot be resolved at this level are to be referred to the relevant industry peak body and the state or territory emergency management committee. Where an incident is likely to cross State and/or Territory borders, the respective emergency management organisations in the affected States and Territories are responsible for liaising closely with one another to coordinate the broadcast of emergency warnings to the public. 

Further resources are also available on the Attorney-General's website.

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