PRIA MasterClass: Communicating when Tragedy Strikes

Australia’s top 'first responder' technical experts
all in one room

From the Lindt Café Siege to a coroner’s inquest on wrongful death, from tragic suicide death in a small community, to merciless fires to senseless gun violence and from healthcare errors to domestic homicide – tough times need special communication. Would you, as a professional communicator, have the experience to play a leading role in planning, managing and executing fast-paced communication and logistics strategies in such a crisis?

Learning how to respond quickly and knowing what to do, how and when is critical to saving lives, supporting communities, and reducing risks. Knowing how to look after your own wellbeing and the impacts of the tragedy is equally as important.

The media is essential to help understand the cause of disasters, and the role of social media management is a critical element that needs to be managed in a live environment by skilled and responsible communicators. Professional communicators are responsible for clear timely responses, to hear the needs of communities, and to be a first responder to crisis coordinating across many stakeholders.

  • Learn about the legal and psychological issues that come into play when working with people affected by the ultimate tragedy.
  • Explore case studies on how to be a first responder to crisis involving complex stakeholders.
  • Plan to look after your own wellbeing when handling the ultimate issue – this is crucial to being a great communicator in the toughest times.

This unique Masterclass will be led by people experienced in dealing with the most tragic situations. Discussion will be Chatham House Rule* to encourage openness and sharing of sensitive information by senior leaders in our profession.

* When a meeting is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.


Date Friday 9 February 2018
Time 8.30am - 5.00pm
Cost PRIA Members $499
Non-members $699

Aerial Function Centre
235 Jones Street
Level 7, Building 10, Ultimo NSW 2007

CPD Points 8
NB This event will be held under the Chatham House Rule

Who should attend?: Professional communicators currently working at the managerial, directorial or executive leadership level, whether in an in-house position (in government, corporate, health, education or not-for-profit sectors), consultancy, journalists, as well as executives and senior managers who need to know how to communicate, will benefit from this professional development day.


Highlights will include:

  • Understanding deathly tragedy
  • Command and control
  • Hearts and minds
  • The technicians
  • The communicators
  • Working with the community as they recover from a tragic incident
  • Duty of care and self-care
  • Hypotheticals and a scenario-planning exercise


After completing the MasterClass, participants will:

  • Know how to accurately characterise and articulate risk in a live and evolving scenario
  • Have an 'in-practice' understanding of command and control crisis management, and an ability to work with emergency services and critical incident response teams
  • Have an understanding and ability to incorporate duty of care communication into your strategies
  • Have an understanding of how lead agencies are planning for community recovery and the strategies being used
  • Know how to implement a 'putting people first' critical response plan and how to engage internal and expert stakeholders in implementing this style of response
  • Know how to practice self-care - as well as an understanding of the impact of trauma and crisis
  • Know how to look after impacted communities - understanding trauma, grief, distress, and the need to be connected to factual information.


Director of Public Affairs - NSW Police
The Lindt Cafe Siege two years on - what we have learnt and more.

Strath Gordon was Director of Public Affairs, NSW Police from 2006 - 2018. This role is was responsible for corporate and operational media relations, social and digital media, marketing, internal communications, film and television and corporate branding.

Strath has spent more than 20 years in a variety of public relations roles – the past decade with the Police Force and previously with the Australian Rugby Union.

Strath has led his communications team through numerous high profile events including the murder of police worker Curtis Cheng in 2015, the Martin Place Lindt Cafe siege and Operation Appleby counter terrorism raids in 2014, the recapture of Australia’s most wanted man Malcolm Naden in 2012, the 2007 APEC Summit in Sydney along with strategies designed to highlight police actions against alcohol related violence and the ice epidemic.

He has an electronic media background in both radio and television – producing the Channel Seven Sydney nightly bulletin from 1992-1997. Strath was an early adopter of social media with NSW Police which opened Twitter and YouTube accounts in 2009, Facebook in 2010 and has followed with Instagram, Weibo, Snapchat and LinkedIn.

Chief Superintendent

Assistant Commissioner Operational Capability - Fire & Rescue NSW

Communicating in the Hotzone

When Fire and Rescue NSW respond to a critical incident the media and communication operations team responds under direction to manage media and stakeholder communication.

For Fire and Rescue NSW their jurisdiction is known as the HOT ZONE, and in most cases they are working with NSW Police and other emergency services who have jurisdiction for all other communication responsibilities outside of the immediate operation area. In some cases, the incident is fully managed by Fire and Rescue NSW, like in the case of the tragic incident in Rozelle in 2014, where the shop exploded and caught fire and innocent lives were lost. Operational experts from Fire and Rescue NSW will examine this incident as a case study and provide insight into the parallel communication channels and responsibilities of the LIVE tragic incident’s communication requirements.

Director of Resilience and Recovery - NSW Office of Emergency Management

The long road to recovery

A fire or flood can wreak havoc for days or weeks, but recovering from a disaster and rebuilding lives, homes and businesses is a long and complex process that takes months and often years. Communication plays a vital role throughout the recovery process; a well informed and connected community will recover sooner and become stronger than one without effective communications. Engaging with and listening to impacted communities is equally vital, allowing a deeper understanding of needs and communications that are more tailored, timely and trusted.

Wendy has over 25 years of experience in emergency management and social services within government and community organisations and is currently the Director of Resilience and Recovery in the NSW Office of Emergency Management.

Wendy has provided strategic leadership and whole of government coordination in recovery operations in more than 100 disasters over the last 12 years. Major disasters include: Hunter Central Coast - “Pasha Bulka” Storms 2007, Warrumbungle and Blue Mountains Bushfires 2013, Martin Place Siege 2014, NSW Western Floods September 2016, NSW Western Fires February 2017 and Northern NSW Floods – Ex Cyclone Debbie March 2017.

Previously the Director of Resilience and Planning in the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, Wendy led the development of disaster resilience policy and strategy in NSW and established the NSW Community Resilience Innovation Program, a grant program designed to promote local grass roots community disaster resilience projects.

In 2011 Wendy was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to study disaster recovery programs and community resilience in the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and New Zealand. This experience informs Wendy’s practice and she brings an in-depth knowledge and passion to working with disaster affected communities.

Deputy Director, Head of Forensic Services - Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine

The science of communication compassionately

David Ranson is the Deputy Director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and heads the Institute's Forensic Services Division. He is responsible for the provision of Forensic Pathology, Clinical Forensic Medicine and Forensic Medical Toxicology and Molecular Biology at the Institute. His work includes includes responsibility for the Mortuary and the Coroners Admissions and Enquiries team.

David has been a medical specialist in forensic pathologist for over 30 years working in both the UK and Australia. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and the Royal College of Pathologists (UK). David is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University and has been a member of the Federal Government’s “Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council”, a Member of the Forensic Science Advisory Committee of the National Association of Testing Authorities and the Anaesthetic Morbidity and Mortality Council in Victoria.

As a Disaster Victim Identification specialist, David has been engaged in the response to multiple disasters around the world including; the conflict in the Balkans, the Bali bombing and the loss of MH17 and has worked with families of victims and members of the community traumatised by both small and large scale tragedies.

Program Manager – Mindframe – Everymind
Responding to incidents of suicide in the community and self-care for professional communicators

Marc leads the Mindframe National Media Initiative, ensuring safe and effective portrayals of mental illness and suicide in mass communication in Australia. Marc has more than 18 years working in health, media and communication in both UK and Australia.

Marc joined the Everymind (Hunter Institute of Mental Health) in February 2009. He is a qualified journalist and communication professional, having completed the National Council for the Training Journalists pre-entry course (UK) and a Bachelor of Communication (Honours). Marc is also a full member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). He has 16 years’ experience working in and with the media, both as a senior print journalist (UK), in media and communication for the National Health Service (UK) and the South Australian Health Department (mental health reform).

State Political Reporter - Nine Network Australia
The Media-PR relationship – getting the story right

In a tragic mix-up, a baby died and another was left with severe brain damage at Bankstown Hospital after being given nitrous oxide instead of oxygen. Chris O’Keefe quickly verified a tip-off to give a concise live cross confirming the details on Nine News. Within hours O’Keefe made contact with and interviewed the bereaved parents.

Chris O’Keefe is Nine News NSW state political reporter. He joined the Nine Network in 2012 as a junior reporter on the Gold Coast after three years as a producer with Network Ten in Sydney. He moved to Brisbane as a police reporter, winning an award for his work on the “Broadbeach Bikie Brawl” that sparked the Newman government’s ill-fated bikie laws. He returned home to Sydney for Nine News, covering mainly crime, before a keen interest in politics saw him land his current role covering the Baird Government.

Director, Media and Communications -
St Vincent's Health Australia, Sydney

Taking care when communicating tragedy - knowing your audience

David Faktor has been Director of Public Affairs at St Vincent's Health Australia, Sydney for the past 15 years. In that time, he has raised the profile of the NSW hospitals that are part of SVHA to make them some of the most prominent health facilities in the country.

David has been particularly involved in driving health advocacy campaigns including the drive to address alcohol related harms in Australia.

He has also embraced a transparent approach to media engagement which has included the participation in ground breaking TV series including Kings Cross ER on Nine and Miracle Hospital St Vincent's to be screened on National Geographic in 2017.

Managing Director, Cannings Strategic Communications
Masterclass emcee and leader of the hypothetical session

The hypothetical session will role-play a real-life scenario that requires a multi-actor first-responder response to a tragic incident. This scenario will involve the all participants and speaker working together to develop a LIVE plan and execute it as the incident unfolds. Aided by technology and live participant feedback through the day, the hypothetical will aim to ensure that all participants will have the opportunity to put the thinking into action, and debrief after the fact.


Manager, Media & Public Affairs, Ausgrid

Balancing media and customer via social (during an incident)

Michelle Stone is a writer/director of broadcast and digital content. She has worked as a senior journalist for every major television network in Australia, and has 20+ years’ experience producing and presenting news, documentaries and films.

As former US Bureau Chief for Network Ten Australia, she was nominated for her coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack on New York City. Michelle Stone also has substantial experience in the political arena, as a Senior Media Advisor and Senior Manager within Government. She has also worked as a senior communications and marketing strategist for a major Destination Marketing Organisation. Michelle has formed an extensive network in Australia and overseas and has a strong understanding of the television and digital marketing arenas.

Terms & Conditions

Please read the PRIA Cancellation and Refund Policies and PRIA general event terms and conditions before registering.

PRIA event tickets can only be purchased online via credit card payment in advance. Members are required to log into PRIA website to obtain the appropriate discount and to ensure continuing professional development points are tracked.

If you wish to purchase group (more than five) event tickets and require direct deposit details please call (02) 9331 3346 or email Note that cash or credit card payment at an event is no longer available.

Event Location: Aerial UTS Function Centre,235 Jones Street Level 7, Building 10, Ultimo NSW 2007
Registrations Open: 24th Nov 17 12:00 AM
Registrations Close: 8th Feb 18 11:59 PM
Price: AU $ 699 (Inc. GST)


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