Thursday, September 2, 2010

Covering Hurricane Earl

(reposted for people who think they're bullet-proof)

Eventually, it is going to happen.

A reporter or photographer is going to die covering a hurricane.

Then, and only then, will managers rethink the policy of covering storms by putting crews in the line of fire. Until then, they'll push the envelope, just like they did with helicopters in Arizona until someone died. Until then, we'll continue to see reporters doing live shots standing out in the wind and torrential rain, trying to prove their, uh, "bravery" in the storm.

When we were children, our mothers told us there were people too stupid to come in out of the rain.

And now we get to watch those people on television.

For those who have never witnessed the power of a hurricane, let me tell you that it will literally make your jaw drop. After Katrina we were doing a story in Mississippi about a school that had sat on the waterfront. When we arrived at the location I looked around and didn't see anything but a few bricks. I asked the superintendent where the school was.

"You're standing on it," she said.

Imagine, wind and water trump brick.

Then we drove down the road to Biloxi. The storm had picked up an entire casino, one of the biggest in the area, and deposited it across the street.

I later saw a railroad car five miles from the nearest tracks and a house washed up under a gas station canopy.

Imagine what that kind of force could do to a human being.

Yes, hurricanes demand coverage, but you can do a good job and still be safe. We always looked for windbreaks and cover, so that you can still do an impressive live shot without putting yourself in harm's way. One of the biggest dangers in covering a hurricane is from flying debris. Imagine how nice a two-by-four would feel whacking you in the head at a hundred miles per hour.

When you're young, you're bulletproof. You drive too fast, take too many chances, and always think "those things" happen to other people. I was the same way. Trust me, there's no force field around your body to protect you.

There's no reason to prove your bravery by standing out in a storm and getting your hair wet and having your face pelted by rain. You can show and tell without using your body for the "show" part. Photogs have zoom lenses so they can get the shots they need from a safe distance.

And if you think a resume tape with a standup showing you standing out in a storm is going to blow away some News Director, think again. We've seen that a million times.

Have a healthy respect for Mother Nature, and live to report another day.

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