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.


Iain MacKenzie, fmr Inspector-General for Emergency Management, QLD | Dr Kate Brady, Australian Red Cross | Associate Professor Michelle Villeneuve, Deputy Director Centre for Disability Research and Policy, University of Sydney | Naomi Moran, Koori Mail, Lismore NSW 

*Full program coming soon. 


*program is subject to change


8.00 AM


9.00 AM

Welcome to Country

Uncle Steven Coghill, Yuggera Elder

9.10 AM

Host State Welcome

Greg Leach AFSM, Commissioner, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

9.20 AM

Ice-breaker - ‘Speed Meeting’

9.30 AM

KEYNOTE: Communication Challenges at Large Sports Events

Kjell Brataas, International disaster communications expert

In this presentation, Kjell Brataas will give concrete and practical advice regarding crisis communication during and after major sports events. He will give examples of challenges and lessons learned from Europe, the US and Qatar, and he will explain why crowd management is so essential to successful events. As Brataas is an expert on the victim side of crisis management, he will also give advice regarding topics such as victim accounting, personal belongings and new tools – such as artificial intelligence – for communicating with those directly affected by a crisis.

10.10 AM

KEYNOTE: The role of social capital and social infrastructure in shocks and disasters

Dr Daniel Aldrich, Director of Security and Resilence Studies, Northeastern University, USA

Much of our policy process focuses on the role of physical infrastructure, that is, structures that hope to mitigate the impact of shocks and disasters such as floods, terrorism, and crime. But a growing body of evidence suggests that social infrastructure – the places and spaces that build and maintain connections, such as libraries, parks, and pubs – hold greater potential to blunt the impact of such events. Using qualitative and quantitative evidence from cases around the world, Aldrich pushes us to appreciate how the modest and often underappreciated field of social infrastructure should be front and centre as we confront wicked problems.

10.50 AM

Coffee Break

EMPA Principles #7: Building Teams - Creating Capacity

11.20 AM

Managing our own teams' mental health during and after a disaster

Robyn Kirby, Manager, Peer Support Programs, Fire & Emergency Services Support Network, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

Media personnel are often on the front lines during disaster events, reporting on the latest developments, documenting the aftermath, and providing vital information to the public. These roles may expose them to challenging environments and stressful conditions that can take a toll on their mental health. This session will outline some of the key considerations for individuals, leaders and organisations in managing mental health before, during and after disaster events. 

11.50 AM

Surge Capacity - Having the right people on the right day

Ben Shepherd, Acting Media Manager, NSW Rural Fire Service

After prolonged periods of operational activity it can be difficult to ensure that you have the right people in the right position for your next operational peak. During the 2019 -2020 fire season the NSW Rural Fire Service Public Information Unit was meet with unprecented demands. The team had to adapt and lift to ensure the public continued to recieve, clear, concise and cosistant information. Inspector Shepherd will talk about what worked, what didn’t and what they would do differnetly next time. 

12.20 PM

PANEL: Recruiting for Emergency Comms teams

Chantelle Rule-Murphy – QFES (Facilitator)

Ben Shepherd – RFS NSW 
Todd Saunders – QLD Police Service
Trinette Stevens – QLD Ambulance Service

12.50 PM


EMPA Principle #3: Community Focused Communication

1.40 PM

Collaborating for inclusion of people with disability in the emergency planning

Associate Professor Michelle Villeneuve, Deputy Director, Centre for Disability Research and Policy, University of Sydney

We are witnessing a growing number, intensity, and duration of disasters. Emergency events, such as bushfires, floods, cyclones, extreme heat, and pandemics have caused significant fatalities, injuries, and financial loss across the world, with a disproportionate impact on people with disability (PWD). Research confirms that PWD: are two to four times more likely to die in a disaster than the general population; experience higher risk of injury and loss of property; have greater difficulty with evacuation and sheltering; and require more intensive health and social services during and after disaster events. Personal emergency preparedness saves lives. Despite the importance of being adequately prepared, studies found that PWD were less likely to engage in preparedness behaviours due to individual and social barriers. Through collaborative research with key stakeholders in the community, health, disability and emergency sectors, my research has uncovered how these individual and social barriers interact and what is required to ensure that PWD and their support needs are at the centre of emergency management and disaster recovery planning. This presentation will examine why delivering emergency information through public awareness campaigns is insufficient for people with disability, explain why PWD have fewer choices and opportunities to access and use risk information and preparedness resources, and share what needs to happen to assure the safety and well-being of PWD before, during, and after disasters.

Key takeaways:

    • Emergency planning places high demands on people with disability (PWD) , particularly for those who rely on others to assure their safety and well-being.
    • Their vulnerability is increased because PWD have not been included in community-level disaster preparedness. Where the needs and perspectives of PWD are mentioned, they are assumed by non-disabled professionals without adequate consultation; focus narrowly on one aspect of disability; are limited to the response phase of emergency management with limited attention on preparedness; and emphasise doing for, not with PWD
    • Inequity is perpetuated because we lack critical data about the extra support needs of PWD in emergencies. This limits effective pre-planning and decision-making for how those extra supports should be resourced, organised, and delivered.

2.10 PM

PANEL: Disability inclusive emergency communications

A/Prof Michelle Villeneuve – University of Sydney (Facilitator)

Michelle Moss, CEO, Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN)
Peter Tully,
Independent Peer Mentor Capacity Builder, QDN board member

Amanda Rosman, Emergency Management Coordinator,  Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

Drawing on the subject matter of the previous session, the panellists will take the opportunity to paint a more specific picture of emergency preparedness for people with disabilities with examples and lived experiences that will provide practical insights and illustrations – a focus on collaboration in action.

EMPA Principles #2: Strategic Messaging - Connection and Credibility

2.40 PM

Recovery Exercising Toolkit

Wendy Graham, Project Lead Recovery Exercising Program, NEMA

3.10 PM

Coffee break

3.40 PM

Flood management and community messaging

Mel Taylor, Natural Hazards Research Australia

This presentation will focus on the findings of a large mixed methods study that investigated community experiences of the 2022 eastern Australia floods in NSW and QLD. Policy-relevant themes, drawn from the study findings, identify ‘communication’ as a central feature, influencing community preparedness, decision-making before and during the height of the floods, and their experiences in the early months of post-flood recovery. This presentation will highlight the ways different forms of communication shaped the experiences of flood-impacted residents and the challenges for organisations with roles in disaster management.

4.10 PM

PANEL: Strategic floods management

Mel Taylor – NHRA (Facilitator)

A/Prof Anne Lane – QLD University of Technology
Madeleine Dignam – Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Flood Risk Management Directorate

The last 18 months has seen extensive flooding down the eastern Australia coast, putting communities at risk and creating communications challenges for all levels of emergency management and recovery. This panel will offer a balanced view of communicating with flooded communities, based on recent experience in research and industry.

4.40 PM

GROUP ACTIVITY - ‘Complete messaging – Exploring the elements’

5.00 PM


7.00 PM

Conference dinner


7.45 AM

Disaster Diaries | EMPA Book Club

A River with a City Problem – A History of Brisbane Floods, Margaret Cook

Storytelling is a proven successful tool in helping people understand their risk – and this book is the ultimate Brisbane Get Ready story!

The first ever in person EMPA book club, this session will also connect online via Zoom

Please ensure you come prepared to contribute to the discussion by reading at least a portion of the text. 

8.30 AM


9.00 AM

KEYNOTE: The new norm - Operating in complexity and Ambiguity

Joe Buffone, Deputy Coordinator-General, National Emergency Management Agency

9.40 AM

Awards for Excellence in Communications 2023 showcase

Readiness and Resilience Category & Media Category

EMPA Principles #4 Creating Connections - Integrating Efforts | EMPA Principles #1 The Seat at the Table

9.50 AM

Centring community in communications: 5 rules to live by

Dr Kate Brady, Technical Adviser, Australian Red Cross | Research Fellow – Community Resilience, University of Melbourne

Developing communications for disaster affected communications is often done at times of high pressure and competing demands. While every situation is different, there are evidence informed principles we can use in all disaster settings to help ensure our work does no harm. In this presentation, Kate will look at how we can apply mass trauma intervention principles to guide communications in disaster settings.

The 5 principles of mass trauma intervention can be applied to communications in disaster settings. These are: promoting a sense of – Safety; Calm; Connectedness; Hope; and, Self and collective efficacy.

10.20 AM

Coffee Break

10.50 AM

Recovery communications

Iain MacKenzie, Griffith University and Natural Hazards Research Australia

What we do in recovery will have very little to do with how successful we are! This may seem counterintuitive but delivering on what we say we are going to do is more important, delivering on our promises to the people who make up these things called communities.

We often hear the word community used when talking about recovery, things like community sentiment, community needs, community focussed and community outcomes. While altruistic and cause worthy, we risk losing focus on what matters: The people, and their wants, needs, perceptions, expectations, and rights.

The public don’t work around ‘pillars of recovery’, but they do understand their need for their home, their job, their travel, their shopping, their utilities and their connection with the community and their environment.

In this session I will talk about the risk of not fulfilling individuals needs when we try and communicate with a ‘community’ and the consequences for people, policy and politics.

Key takeaways:

    • How we make people feel is more important than what we do.
    • It’s the collective of individuals needs that make up ‘community’ needs.
    • Truth in communications is the most important ingredient of trust.

11.20 PM

PANEL: Recovery Communications - a seat at the table

Dr Kate Brady (Facilitator)

Elly Bird – Resilient Lismore
Iain MacKenzie – NHRA | Griffith University

Excellent communications is central to community disaster recovery and should be forged on trust, community bonds and strong links with key emergency management agencies. This panel provides well-rounded insight into how key players in disaster recovery can better tailor their communications to enhance community-led disaster recovery.

11.50 AM

GROUP ACTIVITY - 'Reverse engineering emergency communications - what's the worst that can happen?'

12.30 PM

Awards for Excellence in Communications 2023 showcase

Response Category & Recovery Category

12.40 PM


EMPA Principles #6 Working with Media and Social Media Providers - Liaison to Collaboration

1.40 PM

Accessibility in social and digital communications

Bec Hogan, ABC Emergency

ABC Emergency has been looking at how to make our social and digital communications more accessible to people with disability. From simple steps like curating our existing content and workflow shifts to more innovative approaches like exploring new social platforms and machine learning. This presentation will talk through what we’ve tried, what’s worked and the great benefits of including people with disability in our process.

Key takeaways:

    • media first, practical, everyday examples of tools and practices that ABC Emergency used to make our content and communications more accessible
    • The benefits of including people with disability like through examples of culture shifts and employee networks

2.10 PM

Remaining relevant between critical times

Dave McLenaghan, Media Supervisor, Media, Communications and Online, QFES

Fires, floods, pandemics…whatever the disaster, those working in media, communications and engagement play a pivotal role educating and assisting communities before, during and after a critical incident.

So, once the smoke subsides, the water recedes and the face masks are put away, how do you ensure the spotlight remains firmly fixed on your organisation? How do you remain relevant? How do you keep media outlets and the public focused on your platforms and people? 

Growing an audience – particularly during a disaster – is easy, keeping the audience once ‘normality’ returns is hard. 

This session will focus on some of the successes, and challenges, the QFES Media Unit has faced in recent years around large-scale incidents, including how to understand your audience, how to ensure you’re maintaining their interests, and how to pick which trends or topics to follow.

Ultimately, the QFES Media Unit’s aim aligns with the organisational strategy of ensuring the preparedness and safety of all Queenslanders.

Key Takeaways:

    • Know your audience and tailor content and messaging accordingly
    • Ensure consistency and clarity when communicating key messages to your audience
    • Content from your people that media outlets or the public can’t get themselves is vital

2.40 PM

PANEL: Cutting through the noise on social media during emergencies

Dave McLenaghan – QFES (Facilitator)

Bec Hogan – ABC Emergency
Jodie Richter – Ipswich City Council 

3.10 PM

Awards for Excellence in Communications 2023 showcase

Research Category & Community Engagement Category

3.20 PM

Coffee break

3.50 PM

GROUP ACTIVITY - ‘When the lights go out – Adapting to a loss of systems’

4.20 PM

Conference close

Dr Barbara Ryan, EMPA Chair

4.30 PM



8.30 AM


9.00 AM

½ Day Workshop - The aftermath of crises: connecting with those affected

Facilitated by international disaster communications expert Kjell Brataas (Norway).

In this workshop, Kjell Brataas will lead a discussion and give concrete advice on how to best communicate with and take care of those directly affected by a crisis, e.g. the bereaved, survivors and first responders. His topics will include spontaneous donations, the lay-out of a Family Assistance Center, the importance of personal belongings, monuments and site visits. A dedicated part of the workshop will focus on “tools of the trade”, and Brataas will give concrete examples and advice regarding the use of digital tools for making maps and illustrations, discovering fake news as well as text and image generation through AI powered tools such as Chat GPT and Midjourney.

10.30 AM

Coffee Break

11.00 AM

½ Day Workshop continued...

12.30 PM