Timely and clear communication plays a key role in the protection of life and property during a natural disaster. Communication between emergency services and broadcasters, and emergency broadcasts made during the 2019–20 bushfire season, played a significant part in ensuring that communities could take prompt action to evacuate as the fires approached.
This chapter examines the role of communication processes and systems during bushfire emergencies and in particular the role of communication during the 2019–20 bushfires. It discusses:
the importance of clear, coordinated emergency information for communities;
the role of radio broadcasts during bushfire emergencies;
the challenges faced by radio stations when broadcasting during bushfire emergencies, and suggestions to overcome these;
the adequacy of existing emergency information and warning systems; and
the resilience of communication facilities and network infrastructure.
Effective and coordinated emergency communication
The committee received evidence that demonstrated the importance of having an effective emergency communication process. Submitters highlighted that efficient and coordinated communication with the public was an essential component of emergency management.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) emphasised that the effective communication of information and warnings is a critical element of emergency management with the power to save lives. It noted that public information and warnings play a critical role in community safety by empowering people to make informed and timely decisions and take appropriate protective action.
Mr David Anderson, Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) noted the importance of providing information to the community via emergency broadcasting:
Emergency broadcasting is a responsibility that the ABC is deeply committed to. Our audiences expect the highest levels of broadcast and digital service, and the information we provide during times of crisis has a critical and immediate impact on those whose lives and property are at risk.
The New South Wales (NSW) Bushfire Inquiry also identified that public information and warnings play an important role in community safety.
The role of radio broadcasts during bushfire emergencies
There are three categories of radio broadcasts: public (i.e. the ABC), commercial, and community. While each sector has differing budgets, processes, audience demographics and reach, collectively they provide a broad spectrum of communities with timely and accurate emergency information.
Submitters highlighted how radio broadcasts during emergency events facilitated the timely provision of information to communities, with particular mention given to the role of the ABC.
BAI Communications Australia (BAI Communications) observed that radio broadcasts, particularly ABC local radio, play a 'fundamental role' in providing affected communities with real-time information. It identified that this fundamentality was due to the ubiquity and portability of radio receivers in cars and homes, the extremely wide area of geographic coverage, and the 'inherent resilience' of the function due to overlapping coverage from different broadcast sites.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The ABC advised that the number of emergency events it covered had almost tripled in the last two years. It stated that in 2019-20, the ABC provided coverage for 953 emergency broadcasting events, compared to 371 for the previous financial year.
Mr Anderson provided further detail on what this increase entailed for the ABC's resources throughout the 2019-20 bushfire season:
The ABC responded to this unprecedented increase in emergency bushfires by redirecting resources from around the country to provide support when and where it was needed. This meant calling staff back from leave, extended overtime, and moving staff from location to location across the summer period. During the peak of the coverage, there were up to 140 journalists and other staff on the front line. This increase in emergency broadcasting did come at a financial cost. We estimate that the ABC has spent an additional $3.1 million to meet the additional emergency broadcasting activity that was undertaken in the last financial year.
The ABC later confirmed that this $3.1 million constituted salaries ($2.6 million); travel ($337 000); equipment ($78 000) and related expenses ($36 000). The salary costs included 'unbudgeted overtime, penalties, casual staff, and the cost of backfilling annual leave'.
With regard to staffing levels, the ABC advised that at the peak of the bushfire coverage, the ABC had an average of 857 full time equivalent news staff engaged in coverage across the country, and a further 139 full time equivalent staff providing radio coverage.
Mr Anderson advised the committee that the ABC has no discrete line of funding for emergency broadcasting:
The ABC receives no additional funding for emergency broadcasting, and these costs have had to be absorbed within the broader corporate budget, which has been falling in real terms.
Mr Anderson further explained that although the ABC's funding was being reduced in real terms, the organisation remained committed to fulfilling its role in emergency broadcasting, saying that:
…when it comes to our funding we have never put in doubt what we would spend and invest in emergency broadcasting. Despite our funding reducing in real terms, emergency broadcasting is something we're absolutely committed to, no matter what. It's not something you threaten to remove.
The interim observations of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (Royal Commission) made particular comment on the role of the ABC during emergency situations:
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, alongside community radio, is acknowledged as a trusted broadcaster of emergency messages and warnings. It is a role that the ABC has fulfilled over many years and in which it has an established reputation.
In a similar vein, the NSW Bushfire Inquiry acknowledged that ABC Radio played a critical role in delivering emergency broadcasts and was often a 'last resort option' when other forms of communication were lost.
Commercial and community radio
Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) asserted that regional commercial radio stations play a 'crucial role' during times of emergency. It explained:
Broadcast media is the most effective means by which emergency service organisations communicate with the public when critical events occur. Regional commercial radio plays a particularly important role, as both metropolitan and regional surveys show that around 80% of Australians listen to commercial radio. Regional commercial radio has 220 regional stations, compared to the ABC's 45 stations/hubs.
The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) argued that community broadcasting also played an essential role during emergencies by complementing the coverage of the ABC and commercial stations with 'nuanced, hyperlocal expertise and information'.
Mr Jon Bisset, CBAA Chief Executive Officer explained that during the 2019‑20 bushfire season, there were 80 community radio stations broadcasting in, or to, fire‑affected areas. Mr Bisset observed that:
All of those stations are really closely linked to the communities, drawing their volunteers and staff out of those communities and serving the towns that they directly broadcast from.
Mr Bisset further elaborated on the role that community broadcasts played during the Black Summer bushfires, particularly when power was lost and communication was made more problematic:
…we've heard that many stations served their communities during and in the aftermath of the fires, whether that's conducting formal emergency broadcasting, sharing emergency and community information on air and online, connecting people to vital evacuation and relief services or working with community groups to organise local fundraising events. A lot of these services were made more critical when power, internet and mobile reception went down. Community radio in some areas like Tumut [NSW] remained on of the only sources of local information when ABC and commercial radio went off air.
Challenges of broadcasting during emergencies and natural disasters
Submitters to the inquiry from all broadcast sectors outlined a number of common challenges faced by radio stations broadcasting during bushfire emergencies. These challenges related to communication channels between broadcasters and emergency services.
Witnesses took care to emphasise that emergency services were cooperative and did they best they could, and reiterated that overall the system worked well in communicating information to the public.
However, evidence received by the committee also identified several areas for improvement. These areas included:
the consistency of information provided by emergency services;
the timeliness of information provided by emergency services; and
the need for a central and accessible point of contact within emergency services.
The challenges and suggested improvements for each of these areas will be discussed below.
Consistency of information
CRA noted there could be 'problematic inconsistencies' between 'official messaging' and information given directly via Facebook live feeds by local emergency services. It provided an example of such a case where a local fire brigade captain warned on Facebook of an ember attack that would hit a town in the early hours of the morning, but there was no official messaging issued to the local commercial radio station. CRA noted that this led to worrying speculation and that the station was unable to repeat the comments on air as it was 'at odds' with official advice.
CRA also noted that there were at times inconsistencies between local council and emergency service updates. It suggested that council communication officers could be embedded in emergency services teams to ensure consistent information is given.
CRA pushed for better coordination of messages between all agencies involved. Ms Joan Warner, Chief Executive Officer of CRA, expanded on this point, saying consistency would mean:
… you don't have the council giving different advice to the emergency services lead agency, or Fire and Rescue New South Wales giving different advice to the RFS [Rural Fire Service].
Timeliness of information
The committee heard that receiving timely information from emergency services was of utmost importance to radio stations, in order to avoid the speculation that often occurs when there is a vacuum of official messaging.
CRA highlighted that slow messaging could lead to confusion or speculation in the community (particularly on social media platforms like Facebook), which in turn could lead to poor advice and assumptions that could have adverse safety consequences
Additionally, CRA observed that updated warning messages were sometimes not provided on the expiry of the previous message. It outlined the consequences of this for emergency broadcasts:
Stations cannot continue to broadcast an 'expired' warning but frequently [stations] had nothing with which to replace the expired message. This meant that there could no ongoing official warning about a situation, even though it continued to be serious. On occasions in Victoria and NSW this gap could last for over an hour, during which time the station was unable to broadcast any warnings.
Central point of contact
Both community and commercial radio submitters identified some difficulty in contacting emergency services, and suggested it would be helpful for a centralised communication method.
Mr Gordon Waters is the station manager of Braidwood FM, a community radio station in the NSW town of Braidwood which faced serious bushfires during the 2019-20 season. Mr Waters informed the committee of the large amount of effort that the community station had to put in in order to get relevant information from the local fire control centres. He stated:
We had challenges in our area because we border two local government fire zones. We had to talk to two different local fire control centres for information about fires that were impacting our region… At times, we found it difficult to actually contact the emergency management authorities to get accurate information or any information at all. For us, it was certainly a very big challenge to obtain accurate information.
CRA also advised that some commercial stations had trouble reaching emergency services. Ms Warner of CRA suggested that stations needed access to a dedicated point of contact in order to overcome this challenge, saying that:
Communication with local commercial radio stations has to be prioritised so that stations can broadcast timely, and most importantly, accurate messages. Stations should have direct access to an emergency services communications officer to communicate information faster and more reliably.
When asked for further detail on how CRA envisaged such a central contact working, Ms Warner advised that it would depend on the structure of the relevant emergency service in each state and territory. She explained that CRA had discussed with Queensland emergency services the possibility of creating 'some sort of password protected webpage' run by the lead emergency service agency that all broadcasters could access for the latest information and audio grabs.
The ABC advised that it also sourced information from its emergency broadcasts from the emergency services. Mr Anderson explained that there had been 'lessons learnt' from the 2019–20 bushfire season in regard to increasing engagement with emergency services in some locations and looking at embedding ABC staff in emergency services centres.
The interim observations of the Royal Commission also made an observation in regard to interactions between ABC staff and emergency services, and noted that while ABC managers were embedded in some emergency centres, they were not in all emergency centres. The Royal Commission therefore suggested that:
To assist with the timely delivery of critical information to the public, we see a need for all state and territory emergency response organisations to consistently embed ABC managers within state and territory emergency management centres.
The final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry included evidence detailing the essential nature of ABC emergency broadcasts during the 2019–20 bushfire season. The report recommended that in order to improve information flows and increase public awareness of emergency broadcasts, the NSW Government should include an ABC manager in the Public Information Functional Area Coordinator team within the State Operations Centre, as well as strategically place roadside signage with the local/regional ABC station frequency band throughout the state.
Other suggestions for improvement
In addition to the three core areas for improvement outlined above, the committee also received suggestions on other issues related to emergency broadcasting.
For example, CRA asserted that there is a 'continuing issue' of emergency services advising listeners to tune into ABC radio for updates, without mentioning the local commercial radio stations. CRA posited that this stance was problematic as around 80 per cent of Australian radio listeners habitually listen to their local commercial radio station. CRA emphasised that their position was not that it was a choice between either commercial stations or the ABC, but rather that for the safety of listeners and to ensure the broadest possible reach, community attention should be drawn to both options.
Additionally, CBAA suggested there was a need for increased funding order to ensure community radio stations, particularly those in regional and rural areas, were resourced and trained to undertake emergency broadcasting.
Mr Bisset of CBAA outlined support for the 'Victorian model', which would help to provide for training and upskilling at stations. Mr Bisset explained that the 'Victorian model':
… ensures that the station makes a conscious decision, in partnership with emergency services in Victoria, to be an emergency broadcaster and make sure that they have the systems, processes and infrastructure in place before an emergency happens.
Mr Bisset continued that under this model:
The appropriate emergency services in whatever state or location would know the station exists, has a relationship with them and can ensure that they work together.
Adequacy of existing emergency information systems
There are multiple systems for communicating emergency bushfire information in Australia.
The Bushfire Warnings System was established in 2009 as a national, three level bushfire alert system. The three warning levels are consistent nationally – 'Advice', 'Watch and Act', and 'Emergency Warning'; however, the symbols and colours used, as well as the corresponding action required under each level, varies across state and territories, as shown in Figure 8.1 below.
Figure 8.1: Current Bushfire Warnings System
[Source: Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, Interim observations, 31 August 2020, p. 18.]
In addition to the Bushfire Warnings System, each state and territory has a separate fire danger rating system. The levels and guidance on how to react varies across each jurisdiction, as depicted in the following figure:
Figure 8.2: Current Fire Danger Rating System in each jurisdiction
[Source: Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, Interim observations, 31 August 2020, p. 19.]
Shortcomings in warning systems
A number of submitters identified shortcomings in the effectiveness of the existing information systems, in particular the inconsistencies between jurisdictions.
The AFAC emphasised that the inconsistent approach to warnings across states and territories led to community confusion. It also noted that the overarching community expectation was that warnings should be the same across jurisdictional boundaries.
The NSW Bushfire Inquiry also observed the challenges that border communities faced with the current systems, explaining that:
Differences in terminology can cause confusion for community members, particularly those living close to the border of NSW and Victoria—NSW uses the national danger rating of 'catastrophic' for the most extreme conditions, whereas Victoria uses its own danger rating of 'code red'.
The Royal Commission also drew attention to evidence it had received, regarding the middle-level warning of 'Watch and Act'. It was pointed out that this warning was causing confusion, as it could be interpreted to mean 'wait and see', or, 'act now'. In addition, the 'steps to be taken in response to the warning also vary across the nation'.
The Royal Commission made comment on the map-based applications (apps) such as the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) App 'Fires Near Me' and 'VicEmergency' used in the 2019–20 bushfire season. It noted that the various apps used different terminology, symbols, and explanations for the same emergency and did not consistently include the same types of information, or all of the necessary information, for the public to make informed decisions.
Further, the Royal Commission noted that while the apps were general well‑liked by the community:
… the inconsistencies and differences in information provided in apps caused some issues during the 2019-2020 bushfire season, especially for border communities and tourists who had to use multiple apps.
Suggestions for improvement
Submitters recommended that governments develop and implement nationally consistent messaging to help the community translate fire danger levels and bushfire warning levels into action.
For example, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) pointed to ways in which the confusion could be reduced between jurisdictions, arguing that:
…state and territory governments [should] agree on and then align how they promulgate emergency warning information in order to avoid confusion as people cross borders. As a minimum, there needs to be alignment of colours used in threat maps, and the level of information provided by agencies to the public in emergency warnings.
The AFAC advised of work already underway to implement a consistent approach to warning systems. Following a national research program during 2018–19, it was found that:
… there is good community support and compelling case for a nationally consistent three-level warning framework for multiple hazards. It is proposed that the warning system uses a ‘nested model’ that includes both the warning level and associated calls to action. There would also be a consistent application of colours, iconography and warning names
However, the interim observations of the Royal Commission noted that while an AFAC working group had been tasked with developing a national all‑hazard warning system, known as the Australian Warning System, this work had been in progress for approximately six years. It considered that progress was too slow:
We recognise AFAC's efforts to pursue consistency in a collegial manner through CCOSC [Commissioners and Chief Officers Strategic Committee]. Nonetheless, for such a critical issue, this work has taken too long and is an example of the need for a clear decision-making process and to elevate matters to national leaders were required. The work on the Australian Warning System' should be finished as a priority.
The final report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry also expressed the view that the finalisation of the Australian Warning System 'should be prioritised to provide greater consistency in public information and warnings, especially in border areas'.
In addition to the development of the Australian Warning System, the AFAC advised that there was also ongoing work into the development of a new Australian Fire Danger Rating System. A new system would combine the 'latest science, experience and data' in order to deliver 'more accurate information to emergency services, land managers and the community'. However, the AFAC noted it would be some time until the new system would be available:
The new AFDRS is scheduled to be rolled out in 2022 and because of the complexity of the technology build and implementation requirements, implementation cannot be brought forward.
The Royal Commission acknowledged that since 2016, the AFAC has been leading the development and implementation of the new System. However, as with the Australian Warning System, it considered that progress on this matter was too slow and stated that:
While we appreciate the complexity involved, we are of the view that this needs to be finalised as a matter of priority.
The Royal Commission also made clear that a national community education campaign should be prioritised following the finalisation of the Australian Warning System and the Australian Fire Danger Rating System.
In regard to the use of apps as a way to disseminate information and remain consistent across jurisdictions, the Royal Commission stated:
We are considering the value of a national approach to apps that can standardise the process of attributing a warning to an emergency, clarify time lags in publishing warnings, and provide all relevant information an individual may need to make an informed decision in relation to all hazards. We are considering the need for a new 'national app' with information about all natural disasters, not just bushfires.
Resilience of communication facilities and network infrastructure
The committee received evidence on a number of key issues relating to the resilience of communication facilities and network infrastructure. In particular, discussions centred around:
the need to further harden the broadcast sites used for ABC services across Australia; and
the need for improved infrastructure repair and protection processes.
These two issues will be examined below.
Further hardening of broadcast sites
BAI Communications owns and operates 700 transmission sites around the country that form a broadcast transmission network covering 99 per cent of the Australian population. It is the TV and radio transmission partner for the ABC, SBS and Southern Cross Austereo.
BAI Communications advised that while many of its transmission sites that broadcast ABC radio and television were already heavily hardened to ensure broadcasts continue during natural disasters, a substantial number of smaller transmission sites are not hardened to withstand natural disasters to the same degree. It noted that these smaller transmission sites were typically those that serve smaller regional communities around Australia.
BAI Communications recommended the 'further hardening' of broadcast sites used for ABC services across Australia, stating there was a 'compelling rationale' for such a course of action. It advised the committee that while 'about half' of their approximately 700 transmission sites already have stand‑by power, a further 290 transmission sites do not have permanent stand-by power.
As part of its proposal for the hardening of the sites, BAI Communications detailed four 'near term areas' for government investment which would improve the availability of critical broadcast services to local communities during natural disasters.
The four areas of investment are listed below, and detailed further in Figure 8.3:
site resilience enhancement;
standby power enhancement;
service recovery enhancement; and
service continuity enhancement.
Figure 8.3: Near term areas of investment to improve the availability of critical broadcast services to local communities during national disasters
[Source: BAI Communications Australia, Submission 143, p. 22]
According to BAI Communications, site resilience enhancements improve the physical isolation between the natural event and the facility, which in turn significantly reduces the risk of asset damage and service outage. In the bushfire context, site resilience relates to the implementation of asset protection zones around sites through the clearance of bushland.
BAI Communications continued that standby power enhancement initiatives include providing standby power equipment to sites which would allow services to continue in the event of power outages. Proposed solutions typically comprise either a fixed diesel generator or a battery and solar array solution.
Service recovery enhancements refer to the procurement and strategic distribution of rapidly deployable assets across the Australia, such as the roll out of trailer-based broadcast sites, mobile generators, portable transmission equipment and portable satellite equipment. BAI Communications advised that investment in this area would allow 'faster recovery of service in the event of asset loss'.
Finally, service continuity enhancement initiatives require redundancy upgrades to on-site equipment to prevent failure during the times that facility access is not possible. This would include satellite backup systems and automated backup equipment. BAI Communications advised that investment in this area would help keep services on air in the event of equipment failure.
The BAI Communications submission set out two options for the estimated funding support required for the recommended resilience initiatives:
Option 1: Resilience measures extended to all sites that broadcast ABC Local Radio nationally and sites that are controlled by BAI Communications which support a government emergency service network anywhere in Australia.
Option 2: Resilience measures extended to sites that broadcast ABC and SBS television nationally.
Further detail on the options, including the number of sites upgraded, is set out in the following figure, which also details the associated costs of each investment area against Options 1 and 2 as detailed above.
Figure 8.4: Estimated funding support required
[Source: BAI Communications Australia, Submission 143, p. 25]
In total, to invest in all four areas, a combination of Option 1 and 2 would cost approximately $141 million. BAI Communications noted that all cost estimates had been represented as total cost figures over 15 years of operation, with ongoing operating costs indexed to increase by 2 per cent per annum. It also stated that all costs had been estimated on a cost recovery basis, with no margin included within the above figures. BAI Communications stated that it had been engaging with the Commonwealth Government in regard to the resilience initiatives, but had yet to finalise or progress discussions to a funding stage.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (the department) confirmed for the committee that it did not have 'any direct funding relationship' for any resilience programs with BAI Communications.
When queried by the committee on which agency has responsibility for ensuring that Australian broadcasting transmission infrastructure is sufficiently resilient, the department advised that 'the responsibility and ability to provide services is best placed and looked after in the hands of the actual market participants'.
Mr Richard Windeyer, Deputy Secretary for Communications and Media for the department, explained that the department does not:
… have a role with respect to the private assets of the individual businesses. They make their own investment decisions and risk judgements about how best to continue to be able to provide their services.
When asked by the committee whether there was a role for government in monitoring or conducting risk assessments around broadcasting infrastructure resilience, the department responded that there was a 'very significant incentive' on the individual businesses that operate the infrastructure to ensure that their services were able to be protected and maintained.
When pressed on whether this industry 'self-regulation' was adequate given that private players in the market have a primary responsibility to their shareholders, rather than the Australian public, Mr Windeyer responded and made the point that:
… there is an interest, which maybe even the shareholders would share, associated with continuity of service and maintaining their infrastructure asserts. I don't think we see additional value in the system of necessarily having government officials involved in risk assessments around the assets operated by the market.
Mr Windeyer further noted that there are instances where the department does monitor 'how the market is operating and how things are unfolding'. He indicated that as a consequence of this, the department does 'get involved where we sense there is public interest in trying to strengthen or harden facilities and where we think there's an opportunity to do so'.
Mr Windeyer advised that committee that the department accepted BAI Communication's advice that there are currently sites that could be hardened. He outlined that the department would:
… obviously want to look closely at the question of prioritisation or where the first best effort is in terms of applying any increase in hardening.
Additionally, Mr Windeyer emphasised that the department's remit was to provide policy advice to government around issues associated with resilience of communications infrastructure, rather than to intervene and actively look to harden sites. He reiterated that that responsibility lay primarily with the owners and operators of the infrastructure:
Ultimately government can make decisions to support additional resilience… But in the first instance it is in the interest of the broadcasters and providers of infrastructure to broadcasters, people like BAI, and in the interest of the telecommunications carriers to look after, invest in and maintain their infrastructure. There will be instances where they may be a role for government to intervene to augment those efforts, but in the first instance the responsibility for ensuring that those assets can operate and provide the services they're expected to provide rests with the owners and operators of the facilities.
Improved infrastructure repair and protection processes
Evidence to the committee suggested that physically accessing transmission sites in a timely manner to carry out repairs could be challenging.
For example, Ms Warner from CRA provided an example from the recent bushfire season:
It's vital that broadcast infrastructure is protected and repaired as efficiently as possible during an emergency, and we've got some direct examples from one of our member networks, Southern Cross Austereo [SCA], who tells us that in conjunction with Broadcast Australia [BAI Communications] they manage their broadcast infrastructure in regions. Only a small number of SCA services were impacted by not being able to have their equipment repaired. But, in some cases, SCA has been told that BAI was hindered in obtaining access to bushfire areas and therefore was delayed in getting to sites to restore emergency broadcast services.
BAI Communications flagged that priority access to transmission sites during emergency situations would be helpful in carrying out rapid repair and restoration work to ensure site resilience. It explained:
For diesel standby power generators to remain effective during natural disaster events involving extended power outages, it is critical site operators such as BAI have access to site to refuel the generator. Broadcast sites, particularly those broadcasting ABC Local Radio (i.e. providing the public with critical information), should be given equivalent priority access and escort to site for refuelling and service restoration purposes as the emergency service communication networks. Broadcast sites should be placed on the critical refuelling list.
CRA recommended that a formal policy to facilitate access for broadcast repairs should be implemented by emergency services.
Committee views and recommendations
The committee understands that prompt and accurate emergency and warning information saves lives, and acknowledges the important role that the ABC, commercial radio, and community radio play during bushfire emergencies. The committee applauds the vital work that all three sectors do in informing communities at risk each year.
The role of broadcasters
In particular, the committee acknowledges the integral role of the ABC in emergency broadcasting in Australia. The committee agrees with the interim observations of the Royal Commission that the ABC is a trusted broadcaster of emergency information with an established reputation built over many years.
The committee regards the ABC's emergency broadcasting activities as incredibly important for regional and rural areas, particularly in light of the retreat of other media players out of these communities. As such, the committee considers it imperative that the ABC is adequately funded to continue this work each year into the future.
The committee was concerned by the evidence that the ABC had needed to triple its coverage of emergency events in just two years. The cost of covering emergency broadcasts over the 2019–20 summer came to $3.1 million, despite the ABC having no discrete line of funding for such broadcasts. Mr Anderson made clear to the committee the ABC's commitment to emergency broadcasting moving forward, despite ABC funding being reduced in real terms.
Given the established trust of the ABC in the community, and in light of the vital work of the ABC during natural disaster events, the committee is of the view that the Government should both reverse its funding cuts to the ABC, and provide the ABC with additional, annual discrete funding for its emergency broadcasting activities.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government reverse its funding cuts to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and in addition, provide the ABC with annual discrete funding for its emergency broadcast services.
The committee also appreciates that emergency services and both public and private broadcasters work cooperatively together. The committee would like to acknowledge the excellent work that was evident on all sides during the
2019–20 bushfire season.
The committee is persuaded by the evidence suggesting that work needs to be done on streamlining communication channels between radio stations and emergency services. The committee encourages all parties to work collaboratively to improve and centralise processes in order to ensure a timely and consistent flow of information.
The committee sees merit in the suggestion put forward in the Royal Commission interim observations that all state and territory emergency response organisations consistently embed ABC managers within state and territory emergency management centres.
In regard to emergency broadcasting by community radio stations, the committee also sees merit in the Victorian emergency broadcasting model outlined by CBAA. It considers that an exploration of how this model could be expanded to other states is warranted.
The committee understands how vital it is that communication facilities and network infrastructure be protected and repaired as efficiently as possible during bushfire emergencies.
The committee is persuaded that there is a critical need to further harden the broadcast sites used for ABC services across Australia. It strongly urges the Commonwealth Government to seriously consider the four areas for investment identified by BAI Communications.
The committee considers there is a compelling public interest case for the Government to invest in these initiatives, given that enhanced resilience would improve the availability of broadcast services to local communities during emergency events.
Emergency information warning systems
The committee recognises the critical importance of consistent public information and warning systems in regard to bushfire emergencies. However, evidence to the inquiry made clear that the inconsistent approaches between jurisdictions, systems and apps increased confusion and therefore placed people and property at increased risk during a bushfire event.
The committee shares the concerns of both the Royal Commission and the NSW Bushfire Inquiry regarding the significant amount of time it is taking to finalise the development and roll-out of the Australian Warning System, and the updated Australian Fire Danger Rating System.
As such, the committee echoes the observations of the Royal Commission, and considers that the finalisation of these systems has the potential to save lives and agrees that the work must be prioritised immediately. There are numerous national bodies that could work together in progressing this work.
Further, the committee also supports the suggestion from the Royal Commission that a national community education campaign be prioritised following the finalisation of the updated systems.
In light of the above, the committee recommends that Emergency Management Australia, the Commissioners and Chief Officers Strategic Committee and the AFAC work together to complete the work on the Australian Warning System and the Australian Fire Danger Rating System as a matter of priority.
The committee recommends that Emergency Management Australia, the Commissioners and Chief Officers Strategic Committee and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council complete the development of the Australian Warning System and the Australian Fire Danger Rating System as a matter of priority.