One week left for EMPA 2012 Earlybird Discount


The Emergency Media & Public Affairs Conference, at the Sebel Albert Park, Melbourne on 6th – 8th May 2012 will again be the prime forum in Australasia for emergency and disaster communicators.

The program is now on the website

You can download the latest EMPA Conference flyer at:

The conference opening keynote address will be delivered by Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC and other highlights include Craig Lapsley, Victoria’s Fire Services Commissioner Nancy Rigg, pioneer in US swiftwater rescue reform and Hugh Riminton from Network Ten.

The Media Panel session will be hosted by Bruce Esplin, former Emergency Services Commissioner.  The panel will include:

Jon Faine (ABC Mornings)

Kate McGrath (Chief of Staff, Nine Network)

Peter Rolfe (Senior Journalist, Sunday Herald Sun)

Phil Kafcaloudes (ABC Journalist & author)

The Earlybird Discount expires this Friday 2nd March.

There is also a Group Discount for 3 or more delegates from the same organisation


EMPA day 1 – an overview

Hi all,

Well it’s been a long and busy day here in Canberra for day one of the Emergency Media and Public Affairs conference for 2011. The day was a more casual approach, a workshop run in the ‘world cafe’ style. For those of you not familiar with world cafe (which was most of us!), the aim is to spilt into tables and have the level of discussion you have have with your friends if you opened that second bottle of wine. Quiet an interesting way of going about it, and one that I think worked very well.

The aim was to have varing degrees of emergency management experience represented on each table, along with a media representitive.

Firstly we were to discuss what common ground emergency media communicators and media staff have in common, then onto issues and differences.

Tables were rotating (not the tables, but the participants!) under the following topics:
Working to deadline
Gathering facts versus the information vaccum
Facts, rumours and misinformation
Emergency warnings versus editorial content
Text, tweet, blog…the citizen journalist
Access to spokespeople

Table leaders, if you will, summarised the discussions at the end of the alloted time, and notes were taken, with the aim of coming up with guidelines and principals that emergency media communicators and media staff can use as a guide for collaboration to build on. Over the course of the conference the principals will be drafted, with the aim of testing them out on Tuesday, the last day of the conference.

A reminder, you can follow the conference on Twitter, @EmergMediaConf, and by using the hashtag #EMPA2011.

-Nathan, @nathanmaddock

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EMPA is nearly here!

Hi all,

Well, we’re nearly there! The Emergency Media and Public Affairs conference kicks off Sunday in Canberra with a world  cafe workshop, facilitated by Anne Leadbeater, with papers being presented through Monday and Tuesday.  I’m really looking forward to it.

I’d like to thank Denis, Kristin, Susan, Simon, Axel, Steve and Anne who have posted guest blogs over the last few weeks. We’ve got a wide varity of papers to look forward to that I’m sure will generate some exciting debate. 

I’ll try and post daily updates, but make sure to follow EMPA on Twitter for updates throughout the Conference. Please join the conversation using the hashtag #EMPA.

– Nathan, @nathanmaddock

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Guest post: Anne Leadbeater – Experiences from Cyclone Yasi

I recently had the fabulous opportunity to be part of a group of 14 Victorian public service staff from across government deployed for two weeks to work with the Queensland Department of Communities on cyclone recovery.

Working as part of Department of Communities’ Needs Assessment Teams, we were based in Cairns and travelled each day to the cyclone-affected areas of Mission Beach, El Arish, Tully and Cardwell along the Cassowary Coast in far north Queensland.  The main relief centre was located at Tully, and from there we would divide into teams of two, and together with a representative from Life Line or Red Cross and with (literally) a cut lunch, map, four-wheel drive and a cheque book, we would set out to call on all the properties in the area assigned to us each day.

Whilst the humidity, torrential rain and flash flooding, concerns about Dengue fever and crocodiles, and five hours each day on the bus where a challenge, this was one of the most amazing and humbling experiences I have had. The Needs Assessment Team members, both Victorian and Queensland, proved to be an intrepid, experienced group who showed amazing versatility and commitment, no matter what the task. Navigating unfamiliar roads (where many of the road signs had blown away), arranging emergency accommodation, tracking down material aid, assessing grants, even rescuing three chickens and an injured rooster – it seemed no job was beyond us and there were lively stories each afternoon on the bus. 

It was such a privilege to meet so many local people and to be shown, first hand, the affect TC Yasi on their homes, farms and livelihoods. Anna Bligh was right when she said they breed them tough in Queensland; we found such courage and stoicism in the midst of the most terrible damage to properties and communities.  In one small town the impact of the cyclone had been so severe that the actual coastline had been re-shaped to the extent that one person’s block of land no longer existed.

I found a great many similarities between cyclone recovery and bushfire recovery – the need for water, fuel, generators, clothing, temporary shelter, grants, insurance claims, the sense of disrupted lives, the guilt of those whose homes were intact, the need for social support and to be able to tell your story. 

I am so grateful to have had this experience and hope to use it to further illustrate the value of building community resilience as a strategy for disaster preparedness and recovery.

– Anne Leadbeater, Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner, @the_possum

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Asia-Pacific’s Annus Horribilis

An interesting analysis and discussion of the recent events and approaches to crisis readiness’s-annus-horribilis/

Peter Rekers
Crisis Ready/EMPA

Guest blog post: Steve Ahern – collaboration in the real world

As a broadcaster and broadcast trainer, who has been drawn into the sphere of emergency media only recently, I know there are many more people who know much more than me about it. Kristin’s blog puts her in a very special position to comment from the viewpoint of a practitioner and also a recent victim of disaster. I agree totally with her points about local information in the recovery stage, which is much less of a priority for many media than covering the disaster itself. There has been a lot of talk about the recovery aspect from the Australian community radio sector, who are the closest to the community and well placed to help in recovery. The most recent example is UGFM after the Victorian bushfires. I look forward to hearing more of Kristin’s story at the conference.

 My own viewpoint comes from the background of a former broadcast manager and now an international trainer, and I hope I can make a contribution in helping media understand emergency services and vice versa.

I have found that understanding the pressures on both sides helps media and emergency services staff work better together. Finding common ground and realising that both media and emergency services both aim to help people and save lives, is a good starting point. Honestly understanding the pressures faced by media – such as deadlines and highly competitive editors, and by emergency services – such as the constraints of law and agency protocols, is another good place to start in achieving better cooperation through finding common ground.

In a project initiated by the Attorney General’s Department, I developed a training program where these things are discussed, with the aim of creating a better working relationship between media and emergency services. I have now delivered the program in a few different places and so far so good in achieving better understandings on both sides. The project is just one small part in the many steps being taken by everyone to make sure the media and emergency services work well together for the public good in times of emergency.

I am writing this blog from Afghanistan. Here is an example of extreme conditions where some of the principles we will talk about at the upcoming conference are desperately needed to help rebuild the country. I will tell you more about it at the conference.

– Steve,

Steve Ahern is an international broadcast training consultant, broadcaster, author and media commentator, and will deliver a paper at the EMPA conference on collaboration between emergency services and the media.

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Emergency Public Information Officer Accreditation Program!

Hi All,

Those of you at last year’s EMPA conference may recall my presentation on our proposed accreditation program to build an industry benchmark for public information officers (PIO) working in emergencies.   After our conference I spoke in Washington DC at the FEMA PIO conference and presented the same concept which was very well received.  Like Australia, the US has no program to develop and recognise the skills and experiences of PIOs in this specialist area.  We have since attracted attention from Canada as well.

The good news is the program is being launched at this year’s conference.

The program brings together a number of elements which have been suggested by EMPA’s senior practitioners and researchers, many of whom will continue to contribute through formal inputs at EMPA Fellows.   The program is intended to take around 6 months and involves a number of essays, demonstration of practical experiences on major operations or exercises, an exam and finally sitting before an expert panel.

Accredited Emergency Public Information Officers are the future of this important field and as the peak body, EMPA is committed to providing them with a program to demonstrate their capabilities, while giving their employers a structured and recognised professional development program.

For more information contact Rebecca Riggs, the Program Manager at

Peter Rekers


Guest blog post: Dr Axel Bruns – social media and emergencies

From the Queensland floods to the Christchurch earthquake and the tsunami in Japan, the major disasters which we’ve already experienced during these first few months of 2011 have already demonstrated that social media has now found a place in emergency management. Social media is not replacing existing media, of course, but providing an important additional channel both for sharing information about the crisis itself, as well as for gathering first-hand information from those directly affected by the it. Managed appropriately, social media can become an important tool for emergency authorities and local residents alike.

In the Mapping Online Publics research project at Queensland University of Technology, we’re interested in the use of social media (including blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr) by Australians in general, and during acute events in particular. Based in Brisbane, we’ve experienced first-hand the role of Twitter and Facebook during the recent floods in Queensland, and the excellent use made of those tools by the Queensland Police Service in particular, and we’ve continued to track the role of Twitter in Christchurch and Japan as well as in other emergency situations.

To do so, we’ve also developed a range of innovative new research methods for tracking, capturing, and analysing social media activities around specific events and issues, and we’re working with a number of national and international partners to further develop and apply these methodologies. Already, we’re able to track the evolution of crisis events on Twitter on an almost real-time basis, and we’re looking to apply those insights in working with emergency authorities to further enhance their strategies for using social media platforms as part of their overall emergency media responses.

I’m looking forward to finding out more from the EMPA community about how they’re currently approaching social media, and how we might collaborate on further approaches. In the meantime, please feel free to visit our project website for a snapshot of our research activities.

— Axel , @snurb_dot_info,

Dr Axel Bruns is an Associate Professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, and will deliver at paper at the EMPA conference on tracking crises in social media.

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Guest blog post: Simon Kelly – Queensland Police Service social media use

The world has changed post floods and cyclones. The devastation was tragic and widespread throughout Queensland, with many communities still trying to recover.

The impact for the Queensland Police Service (QPS) Media and Public Affairs Branch has also been significant. Our use of social media during these crises has been well documented, but what happens next?

We established Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts last year to ensure we had an online community of followers before a disaster occurred. Little were we to know natural disasters of such magnitude were just around the corner, or that so many people would turn to our social media accounts for information in a crisis.

At the EMPA conference, I’ll give some brief insights into the incredibly rapid growth of our social media accounts during the crises, how we managed them and how we were able to improve our service to the media and community through the use of social media. I will also touch on where we go from here as the QPS looks to the future of managing large communities of online followers.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it – check us out on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, @QPSmedia.

-Simon Kelly

Simon is the Acting Deputy Director, Queensland Police Service Media and Public Affairs Branch and will deliver a paper at the EMPA conference on Queensland Police Service’s use of social media during the recent Queensland floods.

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Guest blog post: Dr Susan Nicholls – the resilient community and communications practice

Hi all, Susan here, on a grey, cool day in Canberra, very autumnal. I’m looking forward to the conference, meeting everyone and listening to what I know will be a stimulating and rewarding set of papers.

My paper is about resilience, and arises out of my connection with an organisation called Australia21 and my research interest in community recovery after disaster.

Resilience is intimately associated with good communication. Without resilience, communities are not likely to recover after disaster. In this context, governments are rightly concerned with the maintenance of a robust and fully functioning society that is able to withstand the shock of disaster, whether caused by nature or human intervention.

However, the problem for government agencies is how to communicate with people at risk (which, given recent extreme weather and geological events, is virtually the entire population) initially to encourage preparation and mitigation activities, and later to assist with recovery following disaster.

Communication strategies for both of these stages are difficult to implement well and can be politically risky. My contention in this paper is that communication intended to foster resilience means more than simply delivering information. This is true of all stages of the emergency process – prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.

My paper examines the components of resilience in the context of disaster, the role communication can play in promoting resilience, and proposes some pointers toward the use of communication to assist in building and maintaining resilient, adaptable communities.

See you at the conference!

– Dr  Susan Nicholls

Dr Susan Nicholls is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Australian Institute for Sustainable Communities, University of Canberra.

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