40 Filipino government media and communication practitioners completed short course on Emergency Broadcasting

"Welcome to the Philippines, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. This is a place where quality, timely emergency broadcast information could be a matter of life and death – on a massive scale," says Media Specialist and ABCID trainer, Andrew Fisher.

In global disaster hotspot the Philippines, ABC International Development (ABCID) is assisting public broadcasters and government agencies to better serve audiences during a crisis, sharing potentially life-saving emergency broadcasting procedures.

Broadcasting strategies training held over five days in Manila attracted 40 participants. They included representatives from the Philippines Information Agency, Philippines TV (PTV), Philippines Broadcasting Service (PBS), Philippines News Agency, the Office of the Press Secretary, the Bureau of Communication Services, Intercontinental Broadcast Corporation, the Presidential Broadcast staff and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Andrew Fisher (bottom right) and Rob Batten (top right) in the technical adviser training session in Manila.(Philippine Information Agency)
The training activity was facilitated by Australia Awards, a scholarship and learning program run by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT). Following this, a practical study tour headed to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, the NSW Fire Service, the Australian National Emergency Management Agency operations centre, and the ABC studios in Sydney and Canberra.

Media Specialist and ABCID trainer, Andrew Fisher, who led the project with ABCID's Rob Batten, explains in this personal account why an 'Emergency Broadcast Plan' is crucial for broadcasters, especially those in disaster-prone areas and how audiences in the Philippines will be better served in the future.

Here is Andrew's account of the training and the benefits it provided.
Leaving Sydney, we learned of forecasts of a Category 2 Cyclone moving north of Manila. We touched down amid a Category 5 super typhoon named Karding.  Intense rain and massive winds threw debris into the air, government workers were told not to go to work, and the huge, bustling city was battened down. 

Welcome to the Philippines, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. This is a place where quality, timely emergency broadcast information could be a matter of life and death – on a massive scale.

In 2022, 14 cyclones buffeted the country, several volcanoes were active, flooding hit large areas of the country and regular landslides caused devastation. Each year disasters kill a large number of people in the Philippines; tens of thousands of homes are destroyed, and millions are displaced. 

Successive reviews of disasters have found that a lack of information provided to the general population contributes to the overall death toll. To address this, President Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos declared a new "Be Prepared" policy to better deal with disasters. 

One area for improvement identified is having the media, and especially the National Broadcasters, equipped to prepare the population for disasters and keep them informed about what is happening and what they need to do. The Philippines Government looked to the ABC for assistance, based on its long commitment to emergency broadcasting.

Rob Batten and I first conducted a week of training in Manila, explaining the ABC's approach and discussing with the 40 participants whether elements of the ABC's strategy could be adopted locally.

After the initial training in Manila, a group of ten visited Australia and were briefed by the ABC's manager responsible for emergency broadcasting, Anthony Gerace, and emergency lead, Therese Rockley-Hogan. The group also visited the NSW disaster operations centre, the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Situation Room in Canberra. 

Mayette Balquiedra and Miriam Basig manage provincial PBS stations in the provinces of Lucena and Palanwan.  Mayette was initially uncertain about what she would be able to learn from the ABC model of emergency broadcasting.

"In my mind at the time I thought it would be great to learn from and experience up close the ABC model of emergency broadcasting, but to even consider bringing home to my station and apply all the learnings, I thought was rather farfetched.  I was sure whatever practices or strategies I might absorb, I couldn't apply here on the ground, given the differences in local circumstances and the limitations," she explained to me. 

As part of the activity, participants were required to work on real-life projects they could implement in their own organisations. Mayette and Miriam started work on emergency plans for their stations that detailed how they would run disaster warnings. They planned how staff could be trained appropriately and how they could get better cooperation with local disaster agencies, in order to access crucial information during disasters. 

Mayette and Miriam's plans have been approved by the director general of the PBS and have already since been used during a period of extensive flooding. They believe staff training and better collaboration with agencies are priorities, as well as trying to get extra technical resources in a budget restrained environment. 

"We need to upskill our personnel with strategies for keeping an active and collaborative relationship with emergency service providers. This will help to enhance their understanding of the need for commitment and planning and ensure the established emergency broadcasting plan is sustainable." she says.

"The face-to-face training in the Philippines plus the week-long benchmarking tour in Australia has not made us 'experts' in emergency broadcasting. But what has come out of this short course are communicators that are more responsible, proactive, and systematic in delivering information that could save lives and mitigate the impacts of emergencies." 

Mayette's station has just completed a workshop with local disaster organisations and is close to signing a memorandum of understanding, so that both sides can understand each other's needs. 

All the participants in the training we conducted realise they have a difficult task. Not only does the Philippines suffer a disproportional number of disasters, but emergency broadcasting is made more difficult because communications and power can be out for days, and large areas of the country can be cut off from the rest, making it difficult to understand what is happening elsewhere in the wake of a disaster. However, I believe this training activity was a good start to help prepare them for the future.

The Philippines Emergency Broadcasting project is supported by the Australia Awards and Alumni Engagement Program Philippines (AAAEPP), an initiative of the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to support the Philippines in its development goals and to create positive relationships that advance mutual interests.

Original article appeared here