To mark the tenth anniversary of ABC Victoria as an Official Emergency Broadcaster, the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services Kim Wells organized a function at the State Control Centre today.
Paying tribute to ABC Victoria for its decade-long role Wells said there has been a long history of the community turning to the ABC in times of emergency:
“On behalf of the Victorian Coalition Government, I would like to thank and acknowledge the ABC for its ongoing commitment to emergency broadcasting in Victoria.
“As an official emergency broadcaster in Victoria for the past 10 years, the ABC has provided essential information so people in areas affected by floods, fires and other incidents know what is going on, what they should do and where they can go for help.
“Broadcasters, producers and technicians come in any time of the day or night and from holidays to play their part in these broadcasts because they are very often part of the community that is affected.”
This sentiment is reflected in bushfire victim Cristine Crailk’s recollection of the role ABC Local Radio played in the 2014 bushfires that swept though Darrweit Guim.
“Listening to people I listen to everyday [ABC Local Radio] was extremely comforting – it was like having friends talk us through what was happening. I would never have thought it would have that effect, but it was like listening to people I trusted.”
Among the guests at the function today was Ian Mannix, ABC Manager of Emergency Services and Community and author of Great Australian Bushfire Stories and Great Australian Flood Stories.
Ian Mannix was a key influence in how the ABC formed its approach to Emergency Broadcasting and more recently, the driving force behind making the ABC the first broadcast organization in the world to adopt an ‘emergency broadcast policy.’ The policy contains the assurance that ABC Local Radio will play the Standard Emergency Warning Signal when requested by any emergency agency and that warnings will be repeated at 15, 30 or 60 minute intervals, among other things.
With Victoria’s 3rd hottest Summer on record recently behind them, but with many more challenges still to come, Minister Wells was adamant that the ABC’s emergency warning service has been a life saver. “There is no doubt that the emergency warnings and advice issued by the ABC, which works closely with all of our emergency services, has helped to saves lives and property.”
The ABC has been covering emergencies since its establishment in 1932. In the past emergencies had been covered as news stories providing content that was interesting, important and useful, usually describing what was happening and why.
In January 1997, the appointment of a new ABC Program Director of Local Radio in Victoria, Ian Mannix, changed the nature of the traditional broadcast format when co-ordinating the coverage of a massive bushfire started by an arsonist in the nearby Dandenong Ranges.
The fires burnt aggressively for days. Three people died and forty homes were destroyed.
Mannix, who had been a senior journalist in the ABC News and Current Affairs division for the previous decade, was unfamiliar with the nature of bushfire response. He contacted the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and asked for advice on what to say to the listeners, “who were confronted by flames.”
The CFA had no experience in providing warnings. They had never written a warning for the person at risk.
After that experience Ian Mannix took the lead in formalising the ABC’s approach to emergency broadcasting, which has now been in use for a decade. He developed guidelines which included agreement to issue warnings at set intervals and create a distinctive alert sound to precede warnings on air
As part of the process two types of warnings were produced, these included:
– A “bushfire alert”: announced every 30 minutes, referring to a lower level bushfire,
– An “urgent threat message”: announced every 15 minutes referring to a much more serious threat.
Listeners came to rely on the warnings for early advice about an impending threat. At that time, the emergency broadcast system was confined to Victoria, but it expanded nationally after the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires Royal Commission made a number of recommendations calling for the warning system to be enhanced, communications to be expanded to commercial radio stations and television networks, and the adoption of a national uniform approach. We reported its implementation at the time here.
From these recommendations a new warning system was created called The Australian Bushfire Warning Framework. The new system included three warning levels: Advice, Watch and Act and Emergency Warning. This system has since been revised to include all State Emergency Services agencies which respond to floods and storms.
Throughout the ABC a consistent national approach to emergency broadcasting has been implemented with training and broadcast guidelines adopted in each state and territory, under the direction of Ian Mannix. In 2012 he received the Australian Public Service Medal in recognition of his work on emergency warnings.