Hurricane checklist

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.

Tybee Island GA, August 26 2011. Photo by Jim Jensen

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.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Hurricane checklist

  1. boib

    Doug (or anyone that knows) – Can you clear up something for me? Do the reporters doing live shots from big storms sometimes *exaggerate* the effects of the wind? Watching on TV it sure seems so. Their efforts to keep themselves from being blown away looks a little fake. But having not experienced such a thing before, I may have it wrong.

    Reply
    1. boib

      Answering my own question, here’s a blog post from the Telegraph UK: http://goo.gl/jxhDp. I enjoyed the description of the CNN reporter holding on for dear life while people casually moved around in the background 🙂

      Reply
  2. SpaceyG on Twitter

    Oh heck. YT pulled the Irene Made Me An Idiot clip of TWC reporter. Darn it all! Was priceless. What looked to be totally wasted college students were cavorting behind the live shot/clueless green TWC reporter… merrily shedding the very few pieces of clothing they had on. Was great TV. While it lasted.

    Reply
  3. juanita driggs

    With all due respect, your Point Number Six says it all:

    6. When shooting the surging tide, be mindful that the tide is surging. THERE’S NO REASON TO GET TOO CLOSE! (My caps and exclamation point provided.)

    Frankly speaking, there’s really no reason to even go at all. That’s what local reporters usually do better than reporters who come from far away and whose stations invest far too much money, manpower and material to do something that the homies can handle just fine. After all, they live in those places year in and year out. This speaks to a lot of the silliness of what local T-V does that it doesn’t really need to do.

    Reply
  4. Mike Daly

    And the next time you refer to a troubled politician as being in the “Eye of the Storm,” remind yourself that the eye is the calm part. Is this a Veazeyism?

    Reply
  5. Bill Nigut

    As to Tip #5: Dan Casey and I arrived in Charleston about 4 hours ahead of Hurricane Hugo, whcih, of course, was NEVER supposed to hit Charleston which is why I volunteered to go. I figured a couple of relaxing days in a wonderful city! As Hugo inconsideratley barrelled toward us, we took refuge in the most stable stucture in town – the AT7T long lines center.Within an hour after Hugo came ashore, switching equipment in the building began explosing around us. We had to evacuate and spent the night riding out the worst of the storm in our live truck parked in the lot next door. Quite a night!

    Reply
    1. Russj

      Bill –
      Hey… I was about 8 hours behind you… Zoom and I got lashed for about 4 hours in the rain… almost blown off a bridge… and I got a shotgun pointed in my face by a freaked out gas station attendant on the way into Charleston. It was a very adventurous evening!!
      And that night… Zoom and I stayed in a Southern Bell long-lines building… it had a floor above ground and three below… it was fully functional with A/C… they had rented some movies… one of them.. Rainman…

      Oh… and Douggie… very much yes to the beer… I had two before my noon live shot that next day… felt great..

      Hurricane chasing can be exciting, boring… and very strange… all at once, sometimes.

      Russ Jamieson

      Reply

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