For the last 14 years EMPA has brought together expert practitioners and researchers from around Australia, the US, New Zealand and Europe. They share frameworks and lessons learned – to stimulate thinking, encourage conversation and create change.


  • DAY 1
  • DAY 2
  • DAY 3


1.00 PM


1.30 PM

½ Day Workshop

Ethical insights into managing crisis and adversity 

Facilitator: Mark Crosweller, Director, Ethical Intelligence

The workshop will explore the values and ethical considerations necessary to effective communication. Scenarios will demonstrate what impact a clearly ethics driven strategy would have on the work we do.

3.00 PM


3.30 PM

Workshop continued.

5.00 PM


5.05 PM

Welcome drinks (at Novotel)


8.30 AM


9.10 AM

Welcome to Country

Uncle Allan Murray, a decedent of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nation

9.15 AM

Welcome from the Conference Chair

Phil Campbell, Marine Rescue NSW

9.20 AM

KEYNOTE: Crafting messages during COVID-19

Dr Norman Swan, Health journalist, commentator and host of Coronacast

10.20 AM


CHAIR: Sacha Rundle, Bureau of Meteorology

11.00 AM

Lessons from Black Summer: how people experienced the 2019/20 NSW fire season

Dr Josh Whittaker and Anthony Clark, NSW Rural Fire Service

The 2019/20 bush fire season was unprecedented in NSW, with destructive fires occurring across the state between August 2019 and February 2020. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the fires, including residents, tourists and visitors to affected areas, with many fires occurring during the Christmas and New Year holiday period. Tragically, 25 people lost their lives in the fires. Many more people were affected by smoke in both metropolitan and regional areas. By season’s end, bush fires had burned a record 5.5 million hectares of NSW, destroyed 2,448 homes and adversely affected industries including agriculture, forestry and tourism.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioned the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC to undertake research into community experiences of the 2019/20 NSW bush fire season. Themes covered in the research included community planning and preparation for bushfire, understandings of and responses to warnings, and the experiences of tourists and visitors to bushfire affected places. The research involved 202 in-depth interviews and an online survey completed by 1004 people. This presentation will provide insights into key findings from the research and discuss the implications for NSW RFS community engagement.

11.50 AM

'Remote' control media during the pandemic

Ruth Ward, Department of Families, Fairness & Housing, VIC formerly Department of Health & Human Services, VIC

The challenges of managing a media team that’s working from home for more than a year, including members who had never met F2F.

A new team working together when the pandemic was declared, having had little or no experience of each other and certainly no concept of how long we would have to endure our new working environment.

(LIVE, via video)

12.25 PM

Photojournalism of natural disasters

Nick Moir, Sydney Morning Herald 

Photos and narratives across multiple natural disasters including:
– NSW/ACT/VIC fire seasons since 2001 through to “Black Summer” fires 
– 2004 Asian Tsunami in Indonesia 
– NSW East coast low flooding events including Hawkesbury 2021

Working as a photojournalist in extreme events to inform the public of the developing event and the hardships and efforts of emergency services.

1.00 PM


CHAIR: Barbara Ryan, University of Southern Queensland

2.00 PM

The 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes: looking back at communications in the lead-up, during and recovery - and where we are 10 years later?

Lee Cowan, Comms & Engagement Consultant, fmr Public Information Manager CCC

We look at little known facts about the Public Information preparedness for Christchurch earthquakes that hit the Canterbury region in NZ in 2010, followed by the killer 22 February 2011 quake, and ongoing aftershocks for months afterwards. Before exploring, what became at the time, the largest communications response to a disaster ever, for New Zealand. Finally, we review what we learnt and how some the learnings changed the way we respond to disasters – even ten years later.  

(LIVE, via video)

2.35 PM

Towards Zero Lives Lost

Dr Simon Heemstra, Bureau of Meteorology

The Bureau of Meteorology’s current and future operating environment is intensely dynamic by any international benchmark. Profound shifts are occurring in geopolitics, global economic power, technology, demography and societal values and norms. Our climate is changing and we are experiencing extremes of weather more frequently and with greater intensity than at any other time in modern history. To deliver maximum impact and value for all Australians, the Bureau is embarking on a program to strengthen and improve the services we provide for all Australians – now and into the future.

In this presentation, Dr. Simon Heemstra, manager of the Bureau’s Hazard preparedness and Response- National, will outline some of the Bureau’s key initiatives in helping to contribute to zero lives lost due to natural hazards.

3.10 PM

RESEARCH: what we know from more than 8 years of the CRC

David Bruce & Nathan Maddock, Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC 

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre ends on 30 June 2021. But if all goes to plan, the research work that has been conducted since 2013 will not just be gathering dust on shelves. Although much of the research is already being used by the broad emergency management sector around Australia and New Zealand, it will take time and effort for all the research outputs to be fully taken up. In this talk we will discuss how we make sure the research is used and understood.

As we begin to plan what the new national research centre in natural hazards science will look like, this output from the CRC – and the Bushfire CRC before it – will be the starting point on what we know, what we need to know, and how we prioritise the competing demands of so many partners, governments and the communities.

(LIVE, via video)

3.45 PM


CHAIR: Phil Campbell, Marine Rescue NSW

4.15 PM

KEYNOTE: The 2019-20 experience shapes resilience in all communities

Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, Resilience NSW

5.00 PM


6.30 PM

Conference Dinner


8.30 AM


CHAIR: Kate Moore, Resilience NSW

9.00 AM

EMPA Awards - Winners' Showcase

Short presentations by the winners of the 2021 EMPA Awards for Excellence in Emergency Communications

9.35 AM

KEYNOTE: Disaster Comms - a Federal perspective

Joe Buffone, Director-General, Emergency Management Australia

New approaches to hazard response, and working relationships with emergency agencies in all states.

10.25 AM


CHAIR: Nathan Maddock, Bushfire Natural Hazards CRC

10.55 AM

How to build community resilience

Dr Jeanette Deetlefs, Department of Customer Service, NSW

At the heart of managing the COVID-19 pandemic lies public behaviour. Can customers comply with expert-recommended advice, change long standing habits, and sustain healthy behaviour to protect themselves and the community? Armed with customer feedback and insights from the behavioural science, the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit worked with NSW Health, the NSW Communications team, Transport for NSW, and other critical departments to help keep NSW safe. We share customer insights and case studies that demonstrate this approach and its application to other future emergency scenarios.

11.30 AM

Big Weather (and what we can learn about it) 

Stephen Oliver, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

In 2020, the ABC commissioned and broadcast a series of shows under a banner called YOUR PLANET, which all featured stories around the climate and environment, and crucially, what we the audience could do about it. Big Weather (and how to survive it) was a three part series hosted by Craig Reucassel (War on Waste) that explored extreme weather events, and how we can prepare as individuals and as society more widely to survive and thrive as extreme weather events get more frequent and more ferocious. This talk looks at the series and the impact it had on audiences including the behaviour change it created. 

12.05 PM

Bushfire and lockdown: communicating clearly in simultaneous emergencies

Anni Fordham, Department of Fire & Emergency Services, WA

In early February, a hotel quarantine worker in Perth tested positive to COVID-19. The WA Government acted swiftly and enforced a hard lockdown of Perth, Peel and the South West region.

While necessary, the timing of the lockdown couldn’t have been worse – occurring at the peak of WA’s southern bushfire season.

The next day, with most of Perth (including many DFES personnel) embarking on their first work-from-home day, a bushfire ignited and spread quickly through Perth’s eastern hills. That fire would go on to destroy 86 properties.

A major metropolitan bushfire during lockdown was our worst-case scenario – something we had planned for but hoped would never happen.

From a public information perspective, the fire presented unique challenges. We needed to ensure the delivery of clear and impactful safety messaging while being careful not to compete or conflict with equally important health messaging – or worse, confusing the public at a time when we needed them to act decisively.

This presentation will explore the challenges that faced the DFES Public Information team during the Wooroloo Bushfire and COVID-19 lockdown, and how the team overcame these challenges to deliver critical information to impacted communities. 

(LIVE, via video)

12.40 PM


CHAIR: Rebecca Riggs, Highground Communications

1.40 PM

Building and maintaining a strong social media following

Simon Kelly, Queensland Police Service

Social media is a vital tool in emergency communications.

But, the challenge for organisations is to build and maintain an audience that is ready to engage in and receive your messaging in an emergency.

This presentation will showcase how the Queensland Police Service (QPS) uses social media to provide important public information to the community.

It will also provide tips on how the QPS has built and evolved its large social media following over the past decade to continue to maintain its status as a point of truth and credible source of emergency information for the community.

2.15 PM

The value of visuals in natural hazard emergencies

Dr Erica Kuligowski, RMIT University, Melbourne

Agencies in Australia disseminate visual media to explain disaster events, including the risks involved, their possible impacts, and what actions to take. However, it is unclear the features of visual media that best meet the risk informational needs of the public where hazards are concerned.

This study is conducted to test the efficacy of video content used by Australian emergency services agencies to promote knowledge about hazards, elicit risk perceptions about an event and encourage intention to act consistent with the agency warnings. Participants across Australia were surveyed on their existing knowledge of either fire or flood hazard, as well as their risk perceptions and protective actions taken in response to that hazard. Participants were then presented with a video on that hazard (i.e. one of 17 different fire or flood videos), and subsequently asked about their potential change in understanding about the hazard, their perceived risk associated with the event (based on the video), and what actions the video was encouraging the recipient to take.

Findings from this study will be presented, including the video content features that are most effective at achieving one or more goals (i.e. education, risk, action). Agencies with limited resourcing can then more strategically invest public money in content creation that achieves these goals and meets a community’s information needs in a timely manner. 

(LIVE, via video)

2.50 PM

Closing remarks from the EMPA Chair

Dr Barbara Ryan, University of Southern Queensland

3.00 PM