Cook Islands Broadcasters now better prepared for disasters

15 March 2015, Rarotonga, Cook Islands - The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) was in the Cook Islands this month helping local broadcasters to understand how they can promote and shape resilient development through their daily reporting and to also keep safe and stay 'on air' during times of disasters.

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National media and key Government agencies, including Emergency Cook Islands, Meteorological Services, Ministry of Health, Telecom and Red Cross, worked together to develop a National Framework for Media and Broadcast Climate and Disaster Resilience Plan.

The Plan establishes the policy context and provides a specific climate and disaster resilient plan for the Pitt Media Group, containing easy to follow templates for other media organisations to use. The Pitt Media Group is home to Radio Cook Islands, which spans all 15 islands in the nation. Cook Islands Television and the Cook Islands Herald are also part of the Pitt Media Group.

"We regard disasters very seriously and I commend the Radio Cook Islands announcers for their devotion to ensuring public safety before their own, and that of their families during cyclones, floods and tsunami warnings over the last 50 years that Radio Cook Islands has been operational," said Ms. Jeane Matenga, CEO of the Pitt Media Group.

"We are really grateful to have such a comprehensive plan developed for us through a consolidated effort with our national disaster authorities. While we have more mature staff who are familiar and confident with delivering our services within an emergency, this plan allows newer staff or those not necessarily involved in this part of our service at the current time, to understand the roles and processes. "

The Cook Islands is one of eight countries that are at the core of a project funded by the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) to help develop national broadcast climate and disaster resilience plans (BCDRP). It is coordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

A simulation training activity was held to test how the Pitt Media Group responds to disaster warnings. In this case, the hazard was a mock tsunami with the warning that it would reach the Cook Islands within an hour after the first warning. The lessons from the simulation activity guided the development of the plan.

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As stated by Ms. Matenga - "Perhaps what was really useful during the process of developing this plan was identifying gaps that needed to be addressed in the way we deliver emergency broadcasts, as well as, understanding how to work in unity with our partners such as the Met Service and Emergency Management Cook Islands when it comes to keeping our nation informed during disasters, and disaster-educated on an ongoing basis."

SPREP will continue to provide support to the Pitt Media Group in finalising their plan.

"The role of the media at all times and specifically during a hazard event is very important because it means saving lives and properties and minimising the potential disaster. We are confident that with regular drills and reviews, the Pitt Media plan will kick into action when required," said Dr. Netatua Pelesikoti, the Director of Climate Change for SPREP.

"All partners have come to the table to draw up this plan and there has been overwhelming commitment from all to keep this BCDRP alive."

Training seminars for local reporters were also conducted to strengthen their understanding of climate change and disasters. This will lead to increased localised news on climate change issues as well as confident reporting on disasters when needed. The training seminars also brought the reporters together with the right local expertise in these areas to develop and strengthen contacts.

The training activities were held from 3 – 6 March in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Other countries that have completed draft plans and standard operating procedures as part of this project include Samoa, Palau and Tuvalu with Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga yet to be visited this year.

For more information please contact:
SPREP: Ms. Nanette Woonton, Media and Public Relations Officer
SPC: Dr Kirstie Méheux, Senior Adviser, Disaster Risk Management Training and Professional Development
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