Reporting in a Hurricane

There I was, 32 years old, sitting in a news satellite truck with two of my colleagues, feeling the large truck filled with broadcast equipment rocking back and forth in the powerful winds of Hurricane Frances in 2004. We were riding out the storm in Vero Beach. As the truck swayed, we started hearing a frightening sound outside — something smashing against the ground with malevolent force, sounding like machine gun fire. We looked at each other in fear.

That night and those winds and those sounds seemed to last forever. To say that I was terrified, would be a massive understatement.

When the sun came up, relief washed over us like warm, relaxing bath water. Relief filled our hearts and minds as we realized that the truck was intact and the sounds we heard were dozens of ceramic roof tiles that the hurricane flung off the building we were hiding behind. One thought crossed all of our minds — we’re ok.

Every time I cover a hurricane as a television news reporter I flash back to those moments, my first experience covering the unrelenting and all-consuming power of Mother Nature.

That moment came back to me this week as I covered Hurricane Irma in South Florida. As the days built to Irma’s arrival, the collective terror of those of us in South Florida rose like a child’s temperature when they have a fever. We fretted and feared the absolute worst that a monster storm with 185 miles per hour winds could do to our homes. To know that my job included being out in that kind of weather made me question my sanity a bit. Mind you I’ve covered lots of storms — Hurricanes Frances & Jeanne. Hurricane Wilma. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey. I’ve seen what hurricanes can do and I’ve become a self-proclaimed expert at handling the weather. I know how to stay out of harm’s way and I feel like I have knack for knowing when we need to retreat from a storm. But this time there was more on the line.

I’m a father of two and a husband of one and the owner of a home with a sizable mortgage. I have responsibilities and obligations. My goal is to not only do my job to provide for my family but also to be alive for them. Hurricane Irma seemed to put that in danger. Fortunately, Irma not only lost strength but she also shifted away from our area, lessening the impact to us. It was still a scary storm and I watched in awe as strong tropical force winds from the storm ripped through our area uprooting trees, covering roads with sand and water and doing some intense damage. My photographer and I stayed safe, found a place to report and not put ourselves in harm’s way and still managed to make it home at night.

But there’s a larger issue here — and it’s one that several major news organizations have begun reporting on. It’s this: Are news organizations making the safest choice by having reporters out in the middle of a major, deadly hurricane, especially one that the news organization’s own meteorologists are saying could produce  catastrophic destruction? In our case, we did pull reporter’s out from anywhere that could have faced significant impacts and I believe that was the correct decision. But I do think that we need to take a close look at whether reporters are in harm’s way during these storms. Is this being done because it makes good tv or is it being done to provide a necessary public service, namely showing people at home what it looks like outside and how their community is faring during a major weather event.

I get asked about this periodically and I always tell people that I make sure myself and my crew are in a safe place before we set up to broadcast. That is, without a doubt, the most important factor. I also tell people that we’ve done this before and, although we can’t predict every time a tree is going to fall or a street sign is going to whip through the air like a bullet, we do position ourselves in a way that takes our safety into primary consideration.

My other response is that we feel it’s important to remind people to stay indoors so that we can safely report on what’s happening and attempt to show why it’s critical that they remain inside.

I know that it can feel hypocritical and paradoxical and I, too, question it at times. It will take a smarter man than me to find the solution so until then all I can do is pray that hurricanes remain offshore, speak my mind to my bosses about safety and, when out covering severe weather, make the safety of myself and my crew my top priority.

(Photo credit: mudpig via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)

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The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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