This summer has been a little unusual for the Emergency Management Victoria Public Information team. November through to March is typically bushfire season in Victoria and Social Media Officers working at the State Control Centre are well prepared for these events. However, this summer hasn’t been a typical Victorian bushfire season, with shark sightings, water quality issues, a virus spread via mosquitoes, the stranded Norwegian Star cruise ship and public tragedies with multiple causalities occurring at Bourke Street Mall and the Essendon Fields plane crash.
Emergency Management Victoria was established in July 2014 and plays a key role in implementing the Victorian Government’s emergency management reform strategy. They do this by collaborating with emergency and first response agencies, leading strategy, policy, development, response and recovery within the emergency management sector and community.
The social media team, made up of staff from various government agencies and departments, monitors social media during incidents and coordinates the digital response in a timely manner. They are generally on the front line when dealing with reports of bushfires and other emergencies but due to the nature of several incidents this summer, their involvement has been somewhat different.
As the Bourke Street incident occurred, Victoria Police took the lead, allowing the Public Information Section at the State Control Centre to take a supporting role. This meant that the Social Media Officers had time to proactively engage with community members who were distressed or experiencing trauma by searching popular hashtags.
Social Media Officers were able to provide digital resources for anyone posting content that indicated distress, even when they weren’t directly contacting government agencies or departments. They also engaged a consultant clinical psychologist to the Department of Health and Human Services to create a series of support videos for people who experienced the Bourke Street incident or those who were having difficulty trying to communicate the event to children.
Toby Borella, Senior Officer Social Media and Partnerships said “We weren’t sure what the response would be to these videos, but it was astounding. People really appreciated the practical advice and it was clear that the community was looking for a way to process the terrible events. It wasn’t something we have done so quickly before, providing this level of post-event support, but it’s now something we’ll continue to do.”
Jenny Mcgurik, a Victorian Council of Churches chaplain, discussed the response from the community after the Bourke Street tragedy, “There are also a lot of silent victims – where people have a story but we will never know the impact. We won’t know what happens to everyone that was there.’’
The State Control Centre’s social media relief and recovery response was the first of its kind to be implemented in Victoria and is just one of the many ways in which they provide support to victims and those affected by tragedy.
Toby was also positive about the way the various agencies and departments worked together to deal with the incidents. “These situations are not common and it was really heartening to see how the agencies responded in a fast and organised manner.”
“The Bourke Street incident occurred during the Australian Open, which meant that communication needed to include the large amount of international and interstate tourists. Tourism Victoria met with the concierges of hotels in the area to provide up-to-date information to tourists and anyone who may have been impacted. This was rolled out seamlessly and was just one instance where government departments worked together to provide a consistent response for the community.”
We were fascinated to learn more about how the State Control Centre manage government social media channels during an emergency. Their approach to community outreach and support for trauma victims is wonderful and we hope to continue to see the positive impacts.
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