A report into last year’s summer flooding disasters has highlighted the vital role played by the local press in keeping people informed during emergencies.
But Sir Michael Pitt’s review, published yesterday, also found the media’s role is sometimes hindered during the chaos of co-ordinating reponses by emergency services.
Large areas of England and Wales were deluged with water as rivers burst their banks and homes and businesses were destroyed.
Almost a year on, some families left homeless by the natural disaster are still living in temporary accommodation.
Yesterday’s review found that the media had a “pivotal” role to play, for instance by acting as a ‘friendly voice,’ listening to public concerns and providing a sense of reassurance, especially to people isolated by the floods and living alone.
It said: “Local media should be supported in developing their public information role at all stages of an emergency.”
But the report added: “The events of summer 2007 highlighted inconsistencies and limitations in the way in which the media fulfil this public information role.”
“Evidence to the Review from media organisations described them struggling at times to engage with emergency responders during the floods.
“While the media acknowledged the enormous strain on responders caused by the unprecedented scale of the events, they were often unable to get the information they felt they needed to meet the public’s concerns.”
The report also found that the authorities had learned lessons during the course of last year on how to use the local media to best effect.
For instance, local newspapers told the Review that at the beginning of the floods they were not informed that a major incident had been declared, leading to a hurried need to catch up with the situation.
However, in the subsequent East Coast winter floods, the local Chief Constable had called the news organisations directly.
The report said this “bears testament to the stronger relationships being developed between media and emergency services.”
The full review can be read at the Cabinet Office website. Download Section 6 to read more about the role of the media.