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August 28, 2011

Wrapping Up Irene (tmi3rd)

Well, if you were in the affected areas, that's what it's usually like to go through a hurricane. It's a lot of rain, a fair amount of wind, and if you're in certain parts of the storm, you may see a tornado. If you're near the coast, you'll see high water.

There's a good discussion to be had about what is appropriate coverage for something like this. On one hand, if you don't point out the fact that hurricanes do break stuff and kill people, you have imbeciles standing on the seawall in the teeth of the storm, and they wind up getting killed. On the other hand, if you beat the drums to the point where everyone runs like hell and nothing happens, that's a problem as well.

Wrap-up on damage and some more thoughts on coverage below...

So in looking around, it looks like about 2 million customers are without power. The rivers in New Jersey are pretty high after around 8 inches of rain, and pretty much the entirety of New England plus eastern NY, PA, and most of NJ are under flood warnings. So far, we've got 19-22 dead, mainly by either falling trees and limbs or by drowning.

In Connecticut, three people are missing after deciding it was a good idea to go canoeing or tubing in the storm. I don't mean to be cavalier, but come on! What's next, Red Rover on the interstate during rush hour?!

12 are dead in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia from falling trees. There were a few fatal car wrecks attributed to the storm, but my absolute favorite among these other deaths is the guy who died from deciding to go camping in Harrisburg, PA, during the storm, and a tree fell on him. (insert editorial comment here)

Okay, you get the picture. Most of the fatalities happened from people being, well, stupid. The one fatality in NJ happened when a woman tried to drive through a flood, and she drowned.

So you had pretty good dire warnings, especially from the always quotable Chris Christie:

As disappointed as I am in him for his endorsement of science-free AGW crap, I love that he's willing to say something like this. Good stuff, and kudos to him. Ultimately, again, you still get the stupids out there who decide this is good surfing weather, and they get killed.

So now let's talk about the news business. First of all, severe weather is news business gold- news is based on drama, and drama is based on conflict. So, you have the drama of the conflict between Mother Nature's fury and the valiant emergency officials... we all know the script.

It's done to death when storms are hitting less-populated areas of the country, but you add in the notion of a potentially destructive storm hitting the most populated part of the country? Then you get dipshittery like this:


In many respects, you have each reporter trying harder than the last to do the freakiest story with the wildest visuals, a la the attention hounds who wear chicken suits to sing on American Idol. They'll put themselves in serious danger and do things they ultimately need to be rescued from just so that they can submit a stronger package for regional Emmy consideration.

Now here's where I'll offer some slight kudos- the normally-execrable Shepard Smith did a very credible job of downplaying the hype. He's unusual in the business, though, in that he grew up in Hattiesburg, MS, and thus has lived in hurricane country, and this leads to a significant point: Most of the media, particularly New York-based media, are no more prepared for hurricanes than New Orleans is for snow.

In New Orleans, we shut down the entire city for one inch of snow, even if it doesn't stick. Why? Partially because we don't have any sort of snow removal gear- why would we? In New York, hurricanes happen so infrequently that nobody's got any experience with them- especially in the ultra-narcissistic world of the media.

It's going to be a few days before the extent of what actually got torn up comes out, but in the near term, it looks like a lot of East Coast mass transit is going to be down for most of the day tomorrow, as there's a lot of rail to inspect.

So, something to keep in mind here- this was, in fact, not much of a hurricane. It didn't have the huge winds and 15-20 foot storm surge that we get with Category 3 storms and bigger, and that's a good thing. The thing that I worry about, having done some emergency management, is the problem of getting the message out forcefully enough without having people tune out.

What do you think? Given current communication limitations, what's the best way to get the message across without turning you off?


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posted by Open Blogger at 08:57 PM

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