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Case Study: Activating the Public Information Unit from fires to floods

Tas Alert Facebook screenshot showing thanks

On 22 January 2016, the Public Information Unit (PIU) was activated in response to a number of widespread bushfires happening across the State. The PIU was active for two weeks. During this time, the PIU provided regular updates and alerts on the fires, and later to our surprise flash flooding!

What is the PIU?

The role of the PIU is to manage and coordinate public information during an emergency. Activation of the PIU is governed by the Protocol for Whole-Of-Government Public Information Support in Emergencies and is dependent on the scale, impact and longevity of an emergency or a multi-agency response.

The DPAC Communications and Protocol Unit is responsible for managing the PIU and supporting the coordination of whole-of-government public information. The PIU is staffed by volunteers from across agencies working in the communications space, this may include you!

Our actions for the January 2016 fires:

The January 2016 fires started on the 13 of January, primarily located in the North and North-West of Tasmania. Based on the weather conditions at this time it was predicted that the fires would be ongoing issue across the State, for a number of weeks.

On 29 January, the Bureau of Meteorology issued severe thunderstorm warnings for the North East, East Coast and parts of the South East and Midlands Forecast Districts. These thunderstorms resulted in heavy rainfall and flash flooding in the North, North-East and East of the State.

The presence of both fires and floods meant that we were working in a very different emergency, when compared to previous events. While this occasion was not the largest emergency the PIU has been engaged in, the changing conditions of fires and floods and geographical distribution of the events presented a new communications environment and challenges.

To ensure that the information released was timely, relevant, accurate and consistent the PIU worked closely with key stakeholders, both internal and external to government. Our primary correspondence was with the Tasmanian Fire Service, as the Response Management Authority.

The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education (DoE), Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Office of Security and Emergency Management, DPAC, Tourism Tasmania, Red Cross and Volunteering Tasmania were also key sources of information.

How did we communicate?

To communicate whole-of-government information to the public, we used the TasALERT channels, including the website, Facebook and Twitter. TasALERT was our primary support channel for communicating information and alerts to the public, bringing together information from emergency services and Tasmanian Government agencies in one space.

Throughout the two weeks that the PIU was active, we posted 135 times on Facebook and 155 times on Twitter. Through our Facebook page and Twitter combined, we were able to reach over 480 000 people – which was a fantastic result! It was really positive to see TasALERT becoming recognised as a central source of information for emergency information in Tasmania. 

We also circulated daily verified and updated information on key public information topics to a broad range of stakeholders. They could then use this information in communications through their regular channels and directly with their own stakeholders.  The type of information included in this daily update included impacts on Tourism operators in the area, help for animals, advice on volunteering and donating and public health messages in relation to smoke.

A thank you to our volunteers!

The effectiveness of the PIU relies on support and coordination from across government.

The PIU currently has 48 volunteers who have formally registered to assist when required.

On this occasion, the PIU was staffed by volunteers from DPAC, DPIPWE and DoE. We would like to send a big thank you out to all of you for your time and support in this emergency.

If you would like to be involved in the PIU in the future, please email simon.hisock@dpac.tas.gov.au