Inspired by a post by Spacey G called Old Field Producer Hurricane Survival Tips (click on it— it’s much more whimsical than this post), here are some useful tips for TV hurricane coverage. It’s too late for Irene, but it’s never too late.
1. Don’t overestimate the severity of a hurricane. That Cat 1 over Bermuda only occasionally strengthens to a destructive Category 5 bearing down on your local shoreline. Odds are it’ll be a two or a one by the time it reaches landfall. When it gets to you, you’ll probably be covering a yucky, breezy rainstorm.
2. When it looks like it’s bearing down on the coast of Georgia, think again. It’s actually headed to the Carolinas. (But when Savannah gets clobbered, if it happens during what’s left of my career, I’m so going.)
3. Bring backup. If you’re a one-man-band, insist on rolling with a photog or another one-man-band. Insist on a Sat truck. Don’t let them send you to a hurricane with an evil plan to just use Skype. You deserve better than stop-action live shots.
4. Try to arrive before the hurricane arrives. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. When you’re convinced it’s hitting Charleston, it’ll hit Wilmington instead. By the time you realize you have to leapfrog to Wilmington, the evacuation is all but finished and your live truck is tacking in the breeze like the Santa Maria.
5. Seek shelter. If you actually arrive in advance of a dangerous hurricane, find a sturdy spot for yourself and your truck (especially if you’ve arrived too late to check into a hotel, which has almost always been my experience). Mike Daly and I rode out Hurricane Opal in a fire station. Helen Lester and I snoozed through Hurricane Andrew in the lobby of Miami’s Federal Reserve Bank.
6. When shooting the surging tide, be mindful that the tide is surging. There’s no reason to get too close.
7. Get supplied. Bring a cooler. Bring trash bags and sanitary wipes. Bring hand sanitizer. Water, dried meat products, nuts, and candy are essential. Find sources of caffeine. Keep an eye out for suppliers of fuel and ice. Fruits and vegetables are optional. You won’t be gone long enough to get scurvy.
8. Bring beer. It’s not only a splendid refreshment at the end of an 18 hour day, it’s also useful for barter with other media and logistical help. It can also buy goodwill amongst folk who’ve lost property. “Mind if we shoot some video of your destroyed house? May I offer you a cold beer? You look like you could use one.” It’s the decent thing to do.
9. Find room for cots and camping chairs. Once the hurricane passes, hotels will be filled with those whose homes are too damaged to inhabit. The weather will rapidly improve, making sleeping outdoors an option. Walmart and Sam’s Club will allow urban camping in their parking lots, as will friendly hometown TV and radio stations. And they have rest rooms. It beats driving fifty miles to find a vacancy in a motel with no power.
10. Get some sleep. True, you’re in the hurricane zone to work. Expect to spend every waking moment working. But if you volunteer for live shots from 5am to 11pm, you’ll rapidly become irritable and useless.
11. Get creative. Everywhere you turn, there’s a story. But your stories of destruction will very rapidly start to look and sound the same as the last story you told. Avoid exhaustion-fueled clichés: Path of destruction, eye of the storm and above all: It looked like a war zone. Even if you’ve been to an actual war zone, don’t use it.