How nsw.gov.au is responding to the floods
When a natural disaster strikes, customer expectations of government assistance become a major focus. Read how nsw.gov.au is responding to help our customers in their time of need.
This year, NSW is experiencing some of the heaviest rainfall on record, leading to several devastating floods across the state. The ongoing support of nsw.gov.au in this time of need is critical to help the communities affected by flooding.
Flood events evolve rapidly and can potentially be life-threatening, so it is crucial for the NSW Government to communicate the dangers to citizens quickly and clearly.
But with at least 15 agencies and clusters involved, doing so is not always straightforward.
NSW Government Digital Channels, the team responsible for making nsw.gov.au the central, trusted source for information from the state government, saw an opportunity to help.
Solving the disconnected user journey
Prior to the first major flooding event in February, no single Government website contained information on:
- how to prepare for a flood
- what to do during a flood event
- financial and practical support after a flood.
Some of the information existed, but it sat on multiple government agency websites, such as NSW State Emergency Service, NSW Health, NSW Fair Trading, Transport for NSW, Service NSW and Resilience NSW. This meant that residents, struggling with limited internet connectivity in affected areas, would have to undertake numerous searches to find the appropriate assistance.
By rapidly launching a floods hub on nsw.gov.au that was mobile-friendly and optimised for search, we were able to establish a focal point for agencies to channel all communications to the public.
The team quickly fleshed out what the information architecture (IA) should look like. The initial IA focused on three key pillars – planning, emergency and recovery. They undertook a landscape review to find which pages already existed on government websites and used Google Search Trends data to see if there were any gaps.
Within 72 hours, a minimum viable product (MVP) of the NSW floods hub was launched. It provided information on preparing for floods and where evacuation and recovery centres were located. It also provided practical advice, such as how to safely clean up your property in the immediate aftermath. As the situation evolved into recovery, more resources were provided for families, businesses and primary producers on where to seek financial disaster relief and how to access mental health support. As the flood emergency continues, this hub continues to support those affected by flooding around the state.
Learning from COVID-19
At the height of the pandemic, nsw.gov.au consistently received more than 1 million daily visits to the site. It became a source of timely COVID-19 information and saw the development of an interactive case location map and a searchable, testing clinic finder.
We were able to use the crisis communications processes and governance that had been established during this time, to help build the flood pages. The content team could hit the ground running, drawing on the experience formed during COVID-19.
The team forged strong working relationships with other agencies during the pandemic, meaning that we were able to quickly identify the right stakeholders to engage, ensuring that content was quickly approved.
What did we need to deliver to our customers?
The February and March flood events caused widespread destruction. Almost 8,000 NSW residents were temporarily displaced. 15,000 homes were damaged, 5,000 of which were rendered uninhabitable. People had lost everything, from prized possessions to important identity documents.
In such difficult times, customers needed to swiftly find relevant information. Many didn’t have access to power or computers.
Our response and delivery needed to be quick, targeted and accurate.
Content needed to be constructed so that it was mobile-friendly. Our approach was to provide a summary of key points with links to more information, if required.
Our pages needed to communicate with the whole community. We wrote content in plain English and met accessibility requirements. We provided translated resources for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
As the flood waters subsided and the clean-up commenced, it became apparent that customer needs differed depending on which local government area (LGA) they were in. The team developed a flood recovery map that enables residents to search for relevant local information, such as:
- locations of evacuation and recovery centres
- skip bins for clean up
- temporary accommodation
- traffic hazards
- road closures.
This recovery map continues to serve critical information to those affected by floods today.
The floods hub has received just over a million visits since it was launched on nsw.gov.au in March. Nearly three quarters of those sessions (73%) have been on a mobile device, with most people (65%) finding the content through organic search. Financial support is the most sought-after information.
A blueprint for the future
The 2022 Flood Inquiry recommended that emergency public information should continue to be delivered by the Department of Customer Service.
NSW will face further natural disasters in the years to come. By developing the floods hub, we have a template to deal with future disasters. The framework is scalable to accommodate other potential disasters, such as fires or earthquakes. Many of the components – such as the local information map – were designed to serve in multiple emergency scenarios.
We have evolved our IA to include additional stages – prepare, plan, emergency, recover and rebuild. This content structure means we are quickly able to prioritise information to be shared with residents, according to the phases of a disaster and what support people need at that time.
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