Communications in a time of fire

This piece is based on a Facebook and LinkedIn post I recently published:

Communication is vital during emergencies such as the catastrophic bushfires being experienced around Australia. However, this can be tricky to manage on a personal level.

We’re told to stay tuned to the news to understand if there’s any emergencies which may impact us – and that applies not only to the people who are unfortunately living or working in the bushfire prone areas, but others whose health may be impacted by smoke travelling kilometres away from the fires, for example.

At the same time:

  •  people can become anxious and/or weary of bushfire news
  •  bushfire news can become conflated with debates about climate change, many of them emotionally-charged
  • there’s a lot of misinformation circulating and many people wonder ‘who can they trust’?


⭐️ I recommend you select a few official agencies to follow. In South Australia, these would include emergency services such as the CFS and SA Police. Follow utility providers such as SA Power Networks and Telstra. That way, you can receive emergency alerts ‘from the horse’s mouth’.

⭐️ Be wary of fake social media posts. Avoid the impulse to share or retweet without researching the source; doing some of your own Googling and verify that what you’re sharing is true. If you don’t have the time to do that – I recommend not sharing. (This can also help you avoid resharing fundraising scams, also circulating now).

⭐️ Take care of yourself – be aware of the amount of news you can tolerate. Stay tuned to the signs of an unhealthy level of anxiety. Take a break from ABC 24 or the radio or indeed, Facebook updates. I know this isn’t easy to do – and worrying is natural – but it pays to listen to ourselves and have some quiet time.

Image from Pexels and not recent Australian fires

The ABC has published an excellent piece online, with methods for addressing bushfire worry and anxiety. It also has a list of reputable, leading organisations you might like to donate to – I’m sure many of you have done this already.

After sharing the above post, I received some valuable questions on LinkedIn, which I’ve shared below:

Q: What you think about the best way for businesses to react to the Bushfire Crisis. What is the best way to donate or fundraise without appearing to try to take advantage of the situation?

A: A lot of businesses are donating and doing this well. The key is to provide a ‘no strings attached’ donation, shared with a comment from the heart – and perhaps with input from employees. Or, to put it another way: businesses should avoid creating devices where they will donate “a portion” of profits if customers purchase from them.  Anything that demands customers interact with them or purchase from them, as a condition for donating, would be seen as taking advantage of the situation. I’ve seen some retailers say they’ll donate a whole day’s takings, for example. Fantastic. I’ve seen artists donate their talent and time for free. Supermarkets and retailers donating goods. And so on. Businesses should also be prudent about how they promote and advertise their support. Be real, be human – “don’t flog it”. I wouldn’t like to see a business taking out a lot of Sponsored Posts about their donations, for example. From what I’ve seen, there’s been an overwhelmingly sensitive and useful response from the business sector.

Q:  Then there’s the issue of how a business not directly affected by the fires should act when those down the road or at least in the same industry/sector have lost everything. Catastrophes like these are very sobering and carrying on with business as usual seems a little callous and insensitive. Thoughts?

A:  Yes, there’s a lot of complexity here, and opportunity for any business to go beyond ‘business as usual’. If I bring this back to PR (which I know can sound callous, but bear with me …), PR is all about relationships and I know many businesses maintain supportive relationships with peers; they network; they collaborate and refer customers to each other and so on. I think this can be stepped up during catastrophes, so perhaps business owners can write their own ideas list >> ideas on how they might support their colleagues and neighbours. That could include rolling up the sleeves and helping with working bees to clean up; offering to promote the affected business on their own marketing channels; helping to fill in paperwork for grants; offering your particular expertise for free for a short period.

As for me:

I’ve donated to the RSPCA SA bushfire appeal, and I’ll be hosting a workshop with Collab4Good in February as part of a larger ‘Heal & Hustle Climate Change Revolution‘ day, so that we can form and share ideas for how to tackle misinformation on climate change online.

Take care, everyone.

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