Broadcasting during natural disasters: CBAA Conference

In a CBAA Conference session on emergency broadcasting, hosted by Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, four stations shared their experiences and advice.


Gordon Waters, the station manager of Braidwood FM talked about the recent bush fires in his station’s listening area. “People still come up and tell us how important we were to them during that time.”

His advice is to establish contact with your local emergency services, “they were the lifeline of the information we gave out.”

Braidwood lies between Canberra and Bega in terms of radio coverage areas, which made the local community station very important for accurate local information. “The ABC has stations in Canberra and Bega and they had their own fires in those places, so there was not enough local information for our area from them. Our station was the one that had the most important information for our area. Traffic controllers told us what roads were open and closed, they were listening to our radio station. We have a relationship with the people with the information. We did not want to broadcast unreliable information so those contacts were vital.

“Community broadcasters know the local area, we know how to pronounce local town names, often the ABC, which has studios a long way away, does not have that local knowledge.”

The recovery process is just as important as the coverage during the emergency. “Once a week we are still doing interviews and letting our listeners know what help is available. After the fires finally went out, people were still shellshocked so they didn’t know where to go for help. We worked with the local council and the local recovery centre to talk about those things.” His advice is to set a regular time for recovery content so that people know when to listen, just as during the emergency you have set times for regular updates.

Tangiora Hinaki from Ngaarda Media in the Pilbara has experience broadcasting during cyclones.

“We help people prepare for cyclone season, just as we prepard ourselves with the station’s emergency broadcasting plan… We are part of the community, it’s our job to help keep them safe. In our everyday broadcasts we have established relationships with local people, so when it comes to emergencies we already have those relationships and will be invited to the table when they are planning and doing briefings. Not everyone listens to the ABC so community radio has a role to play too.

“You must put out accurate information, not hearsay – if you get it wrong someone may die.”

Peter Weeks from UGFM said his station learnt a lot from the devastating 2009 fires in Victoria, which led to it becoming an official emergency broadcaster. He says becoming an official emergency broadcaster is not to be taken lightly.

“You need to be ready all hours, your teams need training, it is a big commitment, you need to be able to respond quickly and then you may have to keep going for long periods if the emergency continues… Link with neighbouring stations, establish communications to the emergency control centres, think about backup lines of communication and backups for your transmitter.

“Each council has a municipal emergency management committee and an emergency response officer, make sure you get involved with that committee.”

Martin Corben, a broadcaster and trainer from northern NSW reinforced the need for planning before emergencies hit.

“Get together and decide what the plan should be. We are here for our local community, so we should be reacting to all local issues. What level of involvement you have is up to you to decide based on the resources you have. You may have enough resources to engage fully, or you may only be able to do something small, but the main thing is to do something to let your audience know you are connected.

“It has to be a station-wide decision to be involved, not an individual decision, and you need your own liaison officers in the station who are the ones authorised to contact emergency services, it is not helpful to have lots of people ringing those emergency services… If you are connected to your community all the time, and always giving out local information, then people will know that you will be there for them in the emergency times.”


Further tips for broadcasters during emergencies from the session include:

The CBF has partnered with DART to develop a pilot trauma literacy and resilience training and a workshop program for some fire affected stations, with external funding, which will be rolled out over next couple of months.

Registrations are now open for the CMTO’s Emergency Preparedness Pathways course 

Broadcasters can sign up for weather alerts direct at


In the final wrap session Dylan Storer from Wangki Radio Fitzroy Crossing, the CBF’s Jo Curtin and CBAA CEO Jon Bisset discussed their key take aways from the conference. Key points included:

  • This year’s online conference has allowed more people than ever to join, who may not have been able to get there in person.
  • The discussion of why people volunteer helps to know how to manage and motivate your volunteers.
  • Community broadcasters have a role to play in countering sensationalism and misinformation in news.
  • Local news bulletins can give you a new income streams as stations reinvent their business models.
  • What role does community broadcasting need to play in regional areas where local newspapers are evaporating?
  • Trauma has been a theme of this year. What impacts have disasters and emergencies had on us as broadcasters? It has been confronting for people in our sector, it is important to reflect back and ask are we ok individually and as a sector.
  • The majority of local councils no longer have any media covering them, community broadcasters should try to fill this gap.
  • The role of media organisations has changed, especially in regional areas. There are many facebook groups which often spread rumours and hate, but local community stations are able to moderate this information.
  • To have been able to continue broadcasting as covid was unfolding has been a massive success story for the sector.
  • The black lives matter movement and the conference session that addressed this was a timely reminder to check if we are being inclusive in all that we do and how we organise stations.
  • Community broadcasters play an important role of social cohesion in society.










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