Friday, June 20, 2008

Safety first when covering severe weather

Recent flood coverage reminded me it's that time of year... hurricanes will be brewing and that means the inevitable coverage featuring reporters who put themselves in danger. I'm always amazed at reporters who do live shots and tell viewers, "Stay in your homes! These are dangerous conditions!" They should add another line and say, "I, however, being a member of the media, am bulletproof, and must prove to my News Director that hundred mile per hour winds and flying debris don't scare me."

Meanwhile, the staff weatherperson is breaking into programming, telling viewers the sky is falling and it's so dangerous outside you'd better get in the bathtub and pull a mattress over your head.

The first time I covered a hurricane on the Gulf Coast I was working with a veteran photog who'd been through dozens of storms. He told me the key to going home in one piece was to find a location that offered a good view of the storm while offering cover for the crew. We ended up at a boarded up restaurant, found a great windbreak and a safe spot from which to do live shots. They looked just as good as anyone else's, except I wasn't in the line of fire of the flying jagged two-by-fours that seemed to bang into the restaurant every few minutes.

But young, single people love to play cowboy on these stories. It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed by flying debris or gets sucked out into the water.

To illustrate how strong nature can be, let me relate one flooding story. We were sent to get some video of a flooded street, which was basically under ankle deep water. It had stopped raining but the water was still rushing across the road. I was amazed at how strong the current was as we walked across the street and didn't think we were in any danger. But the current was so strong, we later found out, that a road worker had been knocked off his feet, sucked into a drain and drowned. And the water only covered my shoes. No hurricane winds, just current, and a man died.

Keep that in mind when you're sent to cover severe weather, as dead reporters tell no tales.

There are several rules to follow for severe weather coverage:

-Never, ever, ever put the mast up on the live truck if there is lightning in the area. The photog or truck op should always have discretion on this.

-Never put yourself in danger to "illustrate" the conditions. If you want to show how deep water is, get video of the top of a car, a house under water, whatever. Standing in waist deep water just illustrates you're not smart enough to stay safe.

-Just because the rain has slacked off during a hurricane doesn't mean you can't get hurt. Flying debris can do just as much damage as water.

-Find a safe spot before shooting.

-Keep in touch with the weather department to find out what's headed your way.

-And finally, News Directors, it's time to give your staff a talk about staying safe during this coverage. If you don't you might be the one with blood on your hands. You also need to show your staff that safety tape about what to do if your live truck is struck by lightning.

I'm sure more photogs will post other tips along these lines. But bottom line, the viewers know when the weather is really bad, and are more likely to see you as an idiot than a brave reporter.

The phrase "too stupid to come in out of the rain" has been around a long time for a reason.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

also...if you're going to cover floods...for the love of god, invest in a pair of rubber boots. they're like $20 from Farm and Fleet and will protect you against any number of diseases.