In a wild 24 hours, ABC Gippsland went from emergency broadcasting on fires to floods

in a wild 24 hours, abc gippsland went from emergency broadcasting on fires to floods

Journalist Bec Symons covering a fire emergency in Gippsland, Victoria. (ABC NEWS)

The ABC broadcasts hundreds of emergency warnings each season, but for the first time in 24 hours the broadcaster has transitioned from emergency level fire coverage to emergency level flood coverage in the same region.

ABC Gippsland hadn’t produced rolling emergency coverage since the 2019-2020 Black Summer when communities including Mallacoota, Sarsfield and Buchan were surrounded by fires.

When the team assembled staff on the first Sunday in October and broke into Grandstand with local fire information, we were a tad wobbly but quickly found our groove while swallowing the trepidation that comes with giving our communities, and often family and friends, crucial information.

It served as a very early reminder that emergency broadcasting can kick in anytime, even in October, ahead of what is a worrying season for all of us in bushfire prone areas.

But just as we were getting on top of the fire emergency, then came floods; ABC Gippsland produced 26 hours of rolling fire into flood coverage that week.

The significance of the emergency warning broadcast was apparent when Briagolong resident Rob Saunders called in to the bureau’s rolling coverage on Sunday afternoon.

When Rob initially called he had evacuated his home after alerting emergency services to the fire.

At that point he didn’t know if his home had been saved.

He later found out it hadn’t, and he and his family shared their experience with trusted reporters and broadcasters.

Having local staff with strong knowledge of the area leading our coverage across platforms increases audience trust.

Gippsland Breakfast presenter Mim Hook had her old maths teacher call up with flood information.

It was Mim’s first time in rolling coverage since being on air for the devastating 2019-20 fires, which saw much of the coastal community of Mallacoota burn – as well as large swathes of East Gippsland’s highly valued forests and even rainforest pockets.

Gippsland news reporter Bec Symons, while on the road covering the fire for TV, took in lambs needing to evacuate the fire to her own rural property.

Country Hour executive producer Emma Field held water authorities to account with her in-depth understanding of water management.

Days earlier, her own place had been in the prepare-to-leave zone.

Locals in Loch Sport who sheltered in the pub while fire threatened their coastal community dropped in cards, chocolates and lots of messages of thanks and support to the Sale team.

Victorian regional content producer Kellie Lazzaro has worked in Gippsland for the best part of 23 years.

“There’s a reason ABC bureaus around the country talk about Gippsland,” she said.

“We’re so lucky to have this mix of people, experience and skills in our team.

“So much enthusiasm, care, dedication and accountability to our audience.

“I’m super proud to be a part of it.”

Strong teams find ways to support each other in a disaster and for ABC Gippsland that symbol of support came in the form of an akubra hat, which was passed around to reporters appearing on TV.

Sometimes even the journos who have spent all their working life reporting from rural communities need some help to look the part while crossing live to News Channel.

Ten days after those emergency level fires threatened the coastal community of Loch Sport, Gippsland breakfast presenter Mim Hook and producer Oliver Lees broadcast from the town.

The very trusting publican handed over the keys to our Breakfast team.

During the broadcast, Mim received an unexpected call from the PM.

At first Mim thought it was a prank call and that reporter Bec Symons was pulling her leg (as she is known to do from time-to-time).

But Mim recovered once she worked out she was chatting to the PM, capping off two weeks of surprises for ABC Gippsland.

Oh, and did I mention we also had an earthquake?

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