The PIU of the SCC will support the dissemination of public information from the whole-of-government response to an emergency.
The decision to warn
Not every event requires a warning. Determining when a warning is required, and the nature of that warning requires a guiding structure and process.
Using a consistent scale or categorised system to determine a level of warning is broadly acknowledged as good practice. A defined system assists officials and the community by offering a consistent way to assess and describe the level of risk and need for action.
Different hazards use different frameworks to determine their warning scale. Frameworks generally define a scale based on the likelihood (level of certainty), the anticipated impact and consequence of a hazard, and the expected time to impact.
Public information: complementing official warnings
Before, during and after a specific event, it can be helpful to provide information to complement official warnings. While warnings are focused on succinctly and persuasively encouraging protective action, further public information can elaborate on relevant detail that people may be seeking. Some examples of common information needed during different phases of a disaster include, click below to reveal:
These include a general update for the broader community on visible smoke in the area;
- information on road conditions due to operational activity or weather
- public health information; animal welfare guidance
- updates on any school closures in the area and more.
These include details on operational activity such as aircraft and crews attending
For example location of evacuation centres, community information centres accessing and eligibility for funds for the recovery process.
Essentials of message construction
Warnings should be written using plain, clear language. Reading and comprehension levels vary widely across communities and warnings should be written to be understood by as many people as possible. Under stress, information comprehension and processing are further reduced.
The consistency of structure, language and warning levels can assist with recognition or comprehension of a message, particularly in dynamic emergencies where multiple warnings are issued.
Upon receiving a warning, community members want to understand the specific action officials are asking them to take. A call-to-action offers a clear instruction of the protective action people should take and should be targeted and tailored to the at-risk community.
An Example of a Call to Action-Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS)
TFS provides the following information in response to preparation for the bushfire season. If the need arises, the TFS may offer a clear instruction, call-to-action, to the community to shelter in a nearby safe place. It encourages the community, if they live in or near the bush, to make a bushfire survival plan. The plan needs to include places they can shelter at, in case they cannot carry out their preferred plan. ‘Nearby safer places’ are places they can shelter at during bushfires. Tasmania Fire Service identifies some nearby safer places and lists these in Community Bushfire Protection Plans. Even if there are nearby safer places listed in their community protection plan, they should identify others in their survival plan in case they can’t get to the ones identified by Tasmania Fire Service. The identification and assessment of nearby safer places involves:
- Consulting the local community to identify where they are likely to go to seek shelter in a bushfire
- Using desktop geographic information systems and site visits to evaluate shelter options
- Undertaking field surveys to accurately measure and assess sites
- Analysing bushfire attack level and radiant heat flux using computer modelling
- In some communities Tasmania Fire Service may not identify any nearby safer places, as there may not be any suitable sites that provide adequate separation from flammable vegetation in order to protect people from radiant heat.
Good practice calls for:
- The title of the warning
- The issuer of the warning and date/time of issue
- A clear call-to-action
- The type of threat and how likely it is to occur, with a short description
- An explanation of the expected impacts and consequences, including detail on the specific communities at risk and expected time of impact.
- Where to get more information
- When to expect the next update (as appropriate)
- Further advice on action people should take, described as specifically and succinctly as possible.
- General information if relevant, including how emergency services are responding
Use of maps and visual information
The inclusion of maps with warnings can assist with comprehension and interpretation of a warning. Visual information should be purposeful and focused on assisting people to understand essential information and persuading them to take protective action.
Timing and frequency of issue
Determining how often to update or issue subsequent warnings about an incident requires consideration of several factors, including:
Any change to the situation or risk for community members
New or changed advice or call-to-action information (e.g. public health advice is released, or relief services are in place)
Whether a warning might be queried or dismissed due to its age (release date and time)
If there is an agreed cadence or time period set for provision of updates.
Warnings are more effective when they are widely shared. This requires that the construction and publishing of a warning allows for easy sharing and retains its integrity. People can, and frequently do, edit or paraphrase official warnings using their own language and voice, to tailor the message to their own audiences. Warning providers should aim for key messages and essential links to be easily retained, shared and used by others.
Warnings should be constructed to be accessible to diverse audiences. In addition to the use of clear language, there are various tools and services that can be utilised.
Targeted to specific locations
Broad, generalised warnings are less effective than warnings targeted to, and identifying specific locations, providing specific advice. In a widespread event such as flooding for example, it can be more effective to issue multiple warnings concurrently, targeted and tailored to different locations, rather than one broad warning.
Tailored for local communities and diverse audiences
Understanding the characteristics of communities being warned is critical to delivering an effective warning. Ideally, this involves drawing upon prior planning and local knowledge to understand a wide range of factors. It can also be useful to consider the information needs of specific groups and audiences within communities.