Presented By Incubation Lab: Covering a Natural Disaster, Part 3

Between September 7th and 8th, Tropical Storm Lee stalled over the Southern Tier of New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Throughout the heavy rainfall and the extensive flooding and damage that followed, WSKG staff determinedly provided coverage of the dangerous events. 

In this Presented by Incubation Lab three-part series, Teresa Peltier, Emerging Media Specialist, and Amy Wielunski, Manager of Membership & Special Events, share how WSKG carried on during and after the event, providing valuable online and on-air information to the community. 

In case you missed it, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.

Teresa Peltier, WSKG
A Personal Guide to Survive
by Teresa Peltier, Emerging Media Specialist, WSKG

Without a doubt, covering a natural disaster, even from a computer station at the dining room table, requires a lot of determination and internal motivation. But it’s also important to remember to take care of yourself. Here are some helpful tips that might aid others who find themselves in similar shoes (or rain boots).

Pack snacks.
From a real survival standpoint, please ensure your safety, and your family’s, before committing to any work responsibilities during a time of crisis.

Even if you intend to work from home, as I did, make certain to obey evacuation orders, road barriers and other warnings. Your computer isn’t going to work if you’re 10 feet under water. I went to the store twice to get bottled water and non-perishable food, and luckily made it out before the store flooded two hours later, cutting me off from any other food supply. So, pack your snacks in advance.

If you commit, know you are committing for the long haul. From a workload standpoint, even if you work with a staff that usually shares in social media work, you might find yourself the only one able to use a computer, the Internet, a phone, etc. I put in 14-16 hour days for seven consecutive days. At the end of those seven days, I took a five-day weekend, but still monitored and updated our social media throughout. Moreover, during an extremely stressful situation, such as a flood or a forest fire, users will want information updated frequently and questions answered almost immediately. The speed and intensity of information and demand for that content greatly hindered me from enjoying a home-cooked meal; granola bars became key.

Trust no one.
Okay, I am prone to hyperbole, but situations like the Floodpocalypse often involve intense emotions, immense anxiety and fervent panic. Subsequently, it is not a time to get sloppy. We are still NPR and/or PBS stations even when we’re online.

I found it important to double check personal or questionable information, often asking the source directly and seeking an expert when in doubt. Even in a more informal online setting, such as Facebook or Twitter, users expect (and appreciate) the same degree of quality and accuracy in our content. Three good examples:
  1. A user posted a one-sentence warning that a particular town should boil water. I asked how she knew this, as no formal town reports had come through. She said that local officials were calling each house asking residents to do so. I had no reason to think she would lie about this, so I shared the information. She thanked me for confirming the information before reposting. 
  2. A user asked a highly technical question about sustainable rebuilding efforts that I did not understand in the least. Instead of posting a polite “I have no clue what you are talking about” response, I asked a friend who does such work professionally and posted that response verbatim. The user later donated to our Flood Relief Telethon and became a member as a result. 
  3. A reporter stated on Twitter that a levee had broken. I asked if she had more info and did not get a response, so I did not retweet or post it to Facebook. A call came in from two WSKG staff members hearing the same information, so I decided to share it. It turned out to be false, and city officials adamantly asked us to correct, which I did. Unfortunately, this erroneous post likely caused much unneeded stress to those who read it and thought their homes under water.
Overall, keeping a cool head and a discerning eye amidst a dizzying plethora of information can present a challenge, but regardless of the content’s origin and destination, it must meet the high standards we subject all other non-emergency content to.

Keep your bearings.
Know that even if you take on coverage responsibilities during a natural disaster, you are still entitled to food and rest and even a little fun. I assure you it is necessary. If your roommate tells you to go to bed because you just called your computer a mean name, it’s probably best to heed that advice.

Taking care of yourself ensures competence in your online work and makes you all the more prepared to work the next day. Simple things for yourself, like walking the dog, and for the rest of the staff, like making sure to check categories on blog posts and keeping communication open through emails and phone calls, keep things running smoothly until the flood waters recede.

The Presented by Incubation Lab Blog Series tackles the digital media topics that matter to stations, while highlighting and celebrating the online efforts of stations. These regular profiles of products, people and trends can provide you with inspiration and potential collaborators for your own projects.

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