Effective communication of disaster warnings saving lives in Fiji
Communication is key – especially when you are in the business of saving lives.
During their Ignite session on the second day of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Brisbane, Australia, the FMS presented on disaster risk communication and effective information sharing, in order to give people a better understanding of the importance of effective communication of warnings and understanding user needs.
FMS Medial Liaison Manager, Ms Ana Sovaraki, said the Fiji Meteorological Service, as well as being a Regional Meteorological Centres in the world, has always tried to ensure the effective and timely dissemination of warnings before and during disasters.
“Following the events of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2018, the Met Service realised, amongst other things, the need to improve and enhance communication and dissemination systems” she said.
It was then that the FMS decided to create a communications role within the department to develop communications strategies to ensure warning messages are reaching the users on time. They were the first Met Service in the region to do so.
The FMS has since worked on genuinely integrating communications into their forecasts and ensuring users of information understand the warnings which in turn helps communities prepare for natural disasters in Fiji.
One of the ways in which they have done this is through impact-based early warnings communicated effectively to prompt actions. The warning bulletins now include potential or expected impacts which they have found to be more relatable to people than just forecast warnings.
“For example, if there is a tropical cyclone and the forecast says to anticipate 50km/h winds, this information alone may not be understood by a layman,” Ms Sovaraki said.
“However, if we integrate the anticipated or possible impact by saying that this wind strength is capable of ripping off roofs and uprooting trees, it can be more relatable to people and they can then take action based on that information. Impact-based communications ensures that the information is understandable, relatable, and reaches the last mile.
Another key aspect of effectively communicating forecasts and warnings is to understand the needs of users and developing user-specific products and information to meet those needs.
“We can have the best warning and forecasts, and our Communications people can give us the best key messages but if does not meet the needs of the users, then those warnings and messages do not serve a purpose,” said Director of the Fiji Met Services, Mr Terry Atalifo.
“The Met Service is moving towards trying to understand the needs of people, how vulnerable they are to disasters, and the risks these people face during disasters. This will place us in a better position to ensure that the service they provide meets these needs and requirements.”
The FMS does this by continuing to engage with stakeholders, which is a key component of their work.
“We have meetings and national forums every year to make sure that we understand the needs of these stakeholders.”
Mr Atalifo thanked all their Pacific partners and those in Australia and New Zealand who provide the support to FMS to ensure that they are able to better understand the needs of people.