NSW Inquiry into flooding recognises Bay FM for the important role it played in keeping communities safe during the 2022 NSW Flooding

Amy Leiper, 20th June 2022
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Representing Bay FM, Nick Richardson and Mia Armitage told the NSW Government’s Inquiry into the response to major flooding across New South Wales how the station was able to help their community during the floods and their ongoing work. They had suggestions on ways Bay FM and other community radio stations could provide more support during disasters in future and how Government could increase support. 

They told the Committee that Bay FM is well placed to get emergency information out in a timely manner and that because it has become a proven community hub, it can also help with recovery as it can connect people with services. The station could also play a vital role in educating the community and help them to prepare, and that this would help with mitigation, lessening the severity of impact from disasters. They suggested a broader emergency communications network model such as the one used in Victoria be adopted in NSW where Emergency Management Victoria has a certification program for community radio stations.

Nick, a member of Bay FM's Management Committee, gave recommendations to ensure the station could continue to alert and communicate with the community.

“We’re seeking to ensure that, firstly, we continue to exist. We like all community stations, run on the smell of an oily rag. We haven’t been able to update our equipment in the studio for some time, so that in itself presents a threat. Of course, we rely on support from the community, and the community’s down. We can’t go and ask for money from local businesses and community members. In fact, we were about to launch our biggest fundraiser ever, three days after the floods hit, so immediately we had to suspend that because it was not right for us to go out and ask for money when everyone else was doing it so tough. The means through which we’re able to raise funds in the local community is a primary issue so, firstly we need to remain in business.”

“Secondly, we need to become resilient so that when storms or floods do hit and take out a lot of communications infrastructure, we have redundancy and backup. So we have generators at the transmitter site; we have generators at the station. We’ve got some means of transmitting broadcasting remotely so that if the station itself goes down we’ve got some sort of fail-safe option there. It’s those kinds of things. It’s preparing for the worst.”

“But the station's operations itself are not funded from elsewhere so we just scratch around and raise money as best we can. We would need capital investments to improve the equipment. We would, ideally, need ongoing support to make sure that we are able to maintain high standards of service and as part of this there may even be some kind of service level agreement. That's the thing I think that operates in Victoria, where they agree to respond 24/7. But, of course, they need resources to be able to do that because you can't just phone up a volunteer at 3.00 a.m. and say, "Get in there right now", when their house is flooded as well.”

Mia, Bay FM's Anchor and Executive Producer, said,

“ABC is our emergency broadcaster. Unfortunately, there are pockets where the reception is terrible, and people there were unable to get ABC. We heard later, or at some point during the emergency period, that these people were more or less clinging onto their little old-fashioned battery-operated radios and tuning into 99.9, so we were really careful to make sure that we were providing that hyper-local information for those people. When I say "hyper-local", it's in our submission but we're talking about names of streets and the names of creek crossings.”

"The ABC has had to broadcast and serve a huge geographical area and that as this climate catastrophe expanded across such a massive region, there were times where they had to stop sharing information that was relevant to the North Coast specifically, and switch to their newsroom at ABC Mid North Coast. If you're someone who's panicking up in Mullumbimby or Main Arm, you really could be waiting hours before it's going to switch back to you. That's where Bay FM could step in and fill those sorts of gaps—plug those gaps, if you like."

The Hon. Catherine Cusack is a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and member of the Bay FM community understood the service the station provided firsthand.

“One thing you are missing is the humour that you managed during that time, which was very welcome to everyone. I live in the area. I know that when the internet went out it was very difficult to get news reports downloaded. In fact, I think the guys were joking that something had downloaded, they didn't know what it was but they were going to play it. If you have any comments about that and the importance of radio stations in a crisis and actually disaster proofing them, if I could put it like that, because it is such a critical source of information for communities, the typical things we can do for our radio stations.

“In terms of your point about hyper local, this is the only possible mode of information. When in a disaster any information is gold.”

Understanding the importance of an established broader communications network, The Hon. ROD ROBERTS said,

“If emergency service providers, whether it be police or SES or RFS or whatever, were to provide you with those established streams of information, you'd then be able to broadcast it in a much more efficient manner. We need to look at establishing a chain of communication.”

The CBAA has made submissions to the NSW Government on the vital role played by local community broadcasters during the 2022 flooding and other emergencies for the two inquiries open during May: the 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry and the Inquiry into the response to major flooding across New South Wales.

Our submissions can be accessed on our Submissions Page.

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