Weathering The Storm
Sherrie Brown, Media Adviser/Strategist
Hurricane Florence is a large, powerful storm that will continue to impact people and property. All eyes are on those that deliver information necessary for people to be prepared and stay safe.
My introduction to the extraordinary power of mother nature was on May 3, 1999, as a producer at KWTV in Oklahoma City.
There were dozens of deadly weather events after that which I embraced as my mission, my responsibility to participate. I realized then, the true power of local television and the positive role it plays in the lives of the people it serves.
I learned back in 1999, that it isn’t when a hurricane Florence emerges that it becomes all-hands-on-deck. Teamwork is something that must occur consistently. Everyone has a role in the organization before, during and after a big story. It not only provides the viewer with better coverage but also unites an entire station that is better at marketing, selling, technical research and development decisions which leads to innovation.
We did a lot of experimentation, some of it rough but we were able to do things first like provide live pictures via a laptop and phone line during hurricane Katrina.
When I walked into the newsroom at KOCO after another deadly tornado plowed through the Oklahoma City metro in 2013 I saw what would often occur before I left there six years ago. Sales people were answering phones in the newsroom, business staff sorting food and others loading it up to take supplies to field crews.
No situation is ever the same. Hurricane Harvey brought yet a different challenge. KHOU coverage continued digital platforms while the station evacuated. Remote operations were set up in Dallas where we created new workflows almost daily and communicated it to the staff spread out across the state.
The impact of hurricane Florence is still playing out. We do know that experience can provide some guidance for those who are covering the story. Meteorologists are key to a news organizations ability to provide reliable, immediate information to local viewers. Below is advice from noted meteorologists from across the country. . Stay Focused
“Communicate a clear, easy to understand message, engage viewers and followers on social media (answer questions!), and take a few short breaks from time to time to clear your head.” James Spann, WBMA, weatherbrains.com
“Know that the forecast will keep changing, and when it does you have to change with it. Be honest about what you (and all meteorologists) don’t know. Alan Sealls, NWA President and WKRG Chief Meteorologist
“If an official scary message comes in, just maintain your calm demeanor, business as usual.” Gary England, Consulting Meteorologist in Residence at University of Oklahoma; Former Chief Meteorologist KWTV
“You, better than anyone at the station can analyze how the storm is evolving. Coordinate with the crew what part of the ever-changing story needs to be shared immediately.” Bryan Busby, KMBC Chief Meteorologist
“Establish scheduled times for newsroom updates, otherwise you will be bombarded by endless questions, which will steal you away from time you need to remain situationally aware.” Nick Bender, KMBC Meteorologist
Talking to Viewers
“Don’t glorify the storm when the impact could be deadly and be compassionate.” Alan Sealls, NWA President and WKRG Chief Meteorologist
“Do not broadcast dated info, like “this storm had 83 ft waves”. Many viewers may think it is real-time and in fact such a wave was never going to happen on the coast anyway.” Gary England, Consulting Meteorologist in Residence at University of Oklahoma; Former Chief Meteorologist KWTV
“Avoid adjectives; catastrophic, devastating, historic, they leave a lot of room for interpretation. If it floods your house, and that’s never happened before, it’ll feel catastrophic, devastating and historic”. Nick Bender, KMBC Meteorologist
“Answer the questions your viewers have. Put yourself on their couches in their homes. Tell them where you are, what is happening, and why it is happening. You are the expert in the field. Know the situation you are in and own it.” Zack Daniel, WTVR Chief Meteorologist
“Pace yourself. Tropical weather is a marathon, not a sprint.” Alan Sealls, NWA President and WKRG Chief Meteorologist
“No doubt covering a major hurricane in the social media/digital era is a big challenge. No sleep, constant production. But they have to remember they won’t have this many big stories in their careers.” James Spann, WBMA, weatherbrains.com
“Support other team members. When doing a handshake briefing, take a moment to check on each other. People you may know or worse, yet your family may be impacted by what you are
covering. You need to be able to share those feelings with a colleague who can empathize with you professionally as well as personally.” Bryan Busby, KMBC Chief Meteorologist “Give yourself some grace. Communicate with one loved one, friend or family member, and let them handle everyone else.” Nick Bender, KMBC
Stay close to your weather team so you can make good decisions and they need your support, so they can be at their very best for the long haul. Sherrie Brown, News Director ~17 years, now dedicated to supporting meteorologists and news organizations in preparation, execution and recovery.