A guide for media covering a major transport accident


A guide for media covering a major transport accident

This brochure provides a brief overview of how the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will work with the media when investigating a major aviation, marine or rail transport accident. The brochure also outlines what sort of information the ATSB is able to provide to the media about an accident.

Because the Commonwealth shares jurisdiction with the States and Territories for the investigation of marine and rail accidents, arrangements may have to be made in consultation with state or territory governments and authorities. State or territory Coroners have a role in all accident fatalities.

The ATSB is responsible for investigating and determining the contributing factors to serious civil aviation accidents and incidents in Australia (other than sports aviation). Where the Australian Government has jurisdiction, the ATSB also investigates a number of marine and rail accidents.

The ATSB's investigatory role

The ATSB is an independent Commonwealth Government statutory Agency. The Bureau is managed by a Commission and is entirely separate from transport regulators, policy makers and service providers.

The ATSB's function is to improve safety and public confidence in the aviation, marine and rail modes of transport through excellence in: independent investigation of transport accidents and other safety occurrences;
safety data recording, analysis and research; and fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action.

The ATSB is established by the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act) and conducts its investigations in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Under the TSI Act, it is not a function of the ATSB to apportion blame or provide a means for determining liability. The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action.

Responding to a major accident

If a major transport accident occurs in Australia, involving tens if not hundreds of fatalities and serious injuries, State and Territory agencies will activate well-developed emergency response plans. If necessary, they will also draw on federal government resources coordinated through Emergency Management Australia (EMA).

Where there are fatalities, the state or territory Coroner will have a significant role. In most cases, state or territory police will take initial control of the accident site and manage site access. Depending on the nature of the accident site, the ATSB may take control after it arrives, once the immediate fire and rescue services have completed their emergency response functions.

ATSB media operations

IIn the event of a major accident, the ATSB will establish a media centre in Canberra. The centre will provide a central call number for all media enquiries, and will coordinate media conferences, interviews and media releases. Contact details will be sent to all newsrooms by Faxstream as quickly as possible.

All ATSB media releases, factual reports and contact information will be posted on the ATSB website.

ATSB media operations at a major accident scene

Once the nature of the accident has been established, an initial team of investigators and safety personnel led by a senior transport safety investigator (the 'Investigator in Charge') will travel to the accident site to begin the investigation.

At least one communications officer will accompany the ATSB investigation team and liaise with the media at the site to coordinate media conferences and other requests. When and if conditions permit, communications officers will organise tours of the accident scene for the news media, either in total or in a pool arrangement. Please keep in mind that there may be limitations posed by physical and biomedical hazards and the preservation of evidence.

The ATSB will maintain a communications presence at a major accident scene for as long as circumstances warrant.

The ATSB will keep the media informed and will hold media conferences as appropriate. Sometimes the accident site's location and other operational requirements such as the preservation of evidence will determine when and where the conference takes place.

Information about the major accident and the ATSB investigation

The ATSB is not an emergency response agency. It will be the job of the police and the emergency services to preserve health and life, and to manage any environmental impacts. Emergency Management Australia and Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) may also have a role in this regard.

While on scene, the ATSB will not normally announce the contributing factors that led to the accident. Indeed, many of these factors may not be finally determined until many months after the accident. Only the ATSB may authorise the release of information about the ATSB's investigation.

The ATSB's spokesperson will only discuss factual, verified, documented information. They will not analyse that information or speculate as to the significance of any particular piece of information.

The ATSB will not release the identities of victims or survivors of accidents. Such information may be sought from the transport company involved, or from the police after permission has been given by the Coroner.

The media should be aware that, at most accident sites, the ATSB will issue a Protection Order over the site and any associated evidence. It is a criminal offence to remove or interfere with any evidence without the permission of the ATSB. In addition, the ATSB will generally establish an exclusion zone in the air above the accident site. That zone is in the interests of the occupational health and safety of the police and ATSB investigators as they undertake the on-site phase of their respective investigations. The exclusion zone is promulgated via a notice to airmen (NOTAM) and all pilots (including news pilots) routinely access such notices.

Background information

The ATSB website offers a large library of accident and statistical information, and other useful data.

Other agencies' websites may also help when gathering background information. For example, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is the source for aircraft major defect reports and Australian aviation regulations, while Airservices Australia has prime carriage for the provision of air traffic control services. For marine accidents, relevant background information may be obtained from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and for rail, from state and territory transport authorities. Links to most of those agencies can be found on the 'Related Sites' page of the ATSB website www.atsb.gov.au.

Information on aircraft, ship or rail rolling stock models or engine types can be obtained directly from the respective manufacturers.

Families/next of kin of accident victims

The ATSB is not responsible for coordinating to meet the needs of transport accident victims and their families. In the case of aviation, for example, that function is managed by industry and response agencies under protocols coordinated through the Department of Infrastructure.

In the event of a major aviation accident, the air carrier will be chiefly responsible for assisting victims and their families. The code for preparing airline family assistance plans (the 'Family Assistance Code') is available online at the Department of Infrastructure's website State and Territory governments also have a significant role in disaster response.

After the on-scene investigation

Even after the ATSB team has left the accident scene, the fact-gathering phase of the investigation continues. Factual reports, which become the basis for later analysis, may be issued before the Bureau releases its final report. In the case of major occurrences, a preliminary report will normally be issued within 30 days of the occurrence, and interim factual reports will normally be issued every 6 months thereafter.

The final transport safety report, containing the Bureau's assessment of the contributing factors and safety issues relevant to the accident, will be released to the public as soon as it becomes available. Stakeholders, such as the aircraft, ship or train operator, the regulator, or other parties can take safety action at any time during an investigation. Alternatively, and depending on the level of risk associated with an identified safety issue, the ATSB may issue safety recommendations at any time during an investigation, or in the final report.

Type: Corporate Brochure
Publication date: 1 July 2009
Last update 07 April 2014