Covering the storm itself is just the beginning

August 29, 2017 01:30

Editor's note: WAFB-TV news director Robb Hays has been watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and remembering what happened when a big storm hit his own market a year ago. He sent along this list of list of ideas.

The August 2016 that damaged nearly 150,000 homes in WAFB-TV’s viewing area, led to months of flood-related reports by our station. Our viewers were hungry for any and all information that we could provide. Here are some of the lessons learned:
During the storm
  • We had representatives from FEMA and NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) in our studio to take viewer calls. Our phones rang non-stop and our viewers were very thankful for the longer-form method of getting information.
  • Drone footage is absolutely perfect for capturing flooding, much better than chopper footage. Try to shoot drone footage of multiple neighborhoods/communities and post that full video to digital platforms with clear labels on each.
  • Put out a call among your staff (and family and friends) to find boat owners you can hire to get footage of the flooding. The problem with hopping on a rescue boat is that your crew will often be taking up space that could be used to put more victims in the boat. Be sure that you have life jackets for your crews.
  • Many people evacuate without their pets. As animal rescue groups go out to help, they come across some incredible images. Contact those groups now and ask them to shoot video with their phones and email it to you. Remind them to hold their phone horizontally!
Gutting and rebuilding phase – advice for victims
  • These items quickly became scarce during the August 2016 Louisiana flood:  Bubble wrap, heavy-duty trash bags, plastic storage containers, bleach, surgical masks.
  • Be sure to wear a surgical type mask during all demolition.
  • Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up-to-date.
  • Take detailed photos of all damage.
  • If you are removing sheetrock, try to cut the sheetrock that’s to be removed to be the same size as a standard piece of sheetrock. That way, you can easily install a full replacement sheet and not have to worry about cutting as much. After wet sheetrock and insulation is pulled, you MUST WAIT for the wall to dry. You will want to use a meter to test for proper dryness before installing new insulation and sheetrock.
  • You should gut your home as quickly as possible to prevent mold.  
  • If you have flood insurance, DO NOT start rebuilding your home on your own without prior approval from your insurance company. (Gutting is fine). We had many instances in Louisiana where people rebuilt themselves thinking they’d be easily reimbursed. But, most insurance and mortgage companies require that the work be done by a licensed contractor.
  • Replacement doors (bedroom, bathroom, etc.) quickly became very hard to find.
  • The single biggest holdup among Louisiana flood victims was getting cabinets made and installed. Many of the local cabinet makers flooded themselves, only adding to the delays.
  • Check your contractor’s references. Hundreds of people in Louisiana, who’d already lost so much in the flood, lost their money to contractors who did not complete the work.
Post-storm story ideas
  • Once FEMA starts dispersing money, you’ll likely find homes in a single neighborhood that sustained almost identical damage. However, their FEMA payouts end up being much different. Do a story comparing three-or-four homes in the same area. The typical cap for FEMA payouts is around $34,000. Some homes get the max while others get only a fraction of that.
  • Get with a contractor and go into a gutted home for an explainer piece on how to do it.
  • How do your restore water damaged photos? What about antique furniture?
About a month after the event, your staff will grow tired of covering “the flood.” Don’t let that stand in your way of continuing your coverage. Your viewers are looking to you to keep them informed.

Does your station have a storm coverage plan? Send it to and we'd be happy to include it in our list of newsroom resources.


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