As I sit in my house on the 90 Mile Beach in Gippsland, bush fires are raging, destroying East Gippsland and our Victorian alpine region. Gippsland is a huge region of Victoria, fortunately we are safe here with the fires currently about 100km away. The Premier of Victoria declared a ‘State of Disaster’ as conditions worsened on the 4 January, with little hope in containing many of the fires as some joined creating mega fires, the focus was on saving lives. With roads closed and communities cut off evacuations by navy vessels was for some towns the only safe escape. As I write this there are 48 active blazes across the State, 923 hectares have been burnt, two deaths, seven missing, 110 properties lost, 220 outbuildings lost (reported on ABC). The full devastation will be unknown until the areas are safe to return to.
As I keep informed of conditions, checking the Vic Emergency app, watching updates on TV and reading posts on social media I applaud the behind the scenes role emergency services communications professionals play. By gathering and broadcasting vital emergency services information, warnings and updates this essential role saves lives during these disastrous times. Emergency crisis communication is a specialist skill, with no doubt that the loss of life has been minimised through clear communication to thousands of people ensuring their safe evacuation.
Consider some of the difficulties:
- Regions usually with very small populations had exploded with tens of thousands of holidaymakers in the regions as the fires hit. Communication channels had to be considered to effectively reach both locals and the holidaymakers.
- Holidaymakers were also in remote wilderness regions of East Gippsland, camping, 4WD and hiking, extremely difficult to contact.
- Communications had to speak to two entirely different audiences, those who live in the regions and understand the danger, those who are from the big cities and are ignorant to the danger some unfamiliar with the region.
- Those outside the fire effected areas also needed to be warned of the risk and not enter the region, don’t come to help or sticky beak, stay away and stay safe and let the emergency services get on with the job.
- Many towns have been without power for up to a week now and internet services were effected by the fire, many people would be unable to recharge phones or connect to the internet for news and app updates.
- Co-ordination between multiple emergency relief agencies had to be swift and meet the protocols and messaging of all the agencies.
- Clear, fast and accurate information needed to be broadcasted on when to evacuate, what to do, safe routes, road closures, fuel, food and safe drinking water availability.
- Multiple communication channels such as online, web, social, TV, radio, print, signage, public meetings, all required consistent and up to date information.
We have seen bravery and compassion in the face of this disaster. I applaud the work of our emergency services and volunteers and the excellent work of the behind the scenes communication teams, who are keeping us informed to stay safe.
My heartfelt thank you to you all.