TO DEVELOP AN EMERGENCY PLAN
|| Many newsrooms are well-prepared to cover a major disaster.
They have a plan in place, they practice it often, and they've used
it more than once. But others either don't have a plan or can't remember
where they put the one that somebody (who no longer works there) put
together years ago. There's no time like the present to develop or
update a comprehensive plan for how your newsroom will handle a crisis.
|We've pulled together some tips (at the request of
one newsroom), with help from Paul Skolnick's Thunder
and Lightning news service site. Let
us know if this helps you, and if you have any other advice
to add, send it along. You might also want to check these examples
of newsroom disaster plans: the St.
Paul Pioneer-Press, KBJR-TV (Duluth, Minn.)
- Learn as you plan. Assess what kinds of disasters
might happen in your area and how likely they are. Look back at
what's happened in the past to see what sort of damage was caused
and how authorities responded. Meet with a few experts who can
help you imagine what could happen in future. Get together with
disaster response officials in your area to learn more about their
plans for dealing with emergencies.
- Put a group to work. The group should include
people from across the station, not just from news but also from
engineering and facilities. You'll want a comprehensive plan for
the entire station. Look not only at how your news crews will
respond, but how your station might handle a blackout or other
service disruptions. How will you stay on the air if the transmitter
is affected? Is there an alternate site you can broadcast from?
What will you do for emergency power? Will that source power your
computers, or should you have a backup plan for scripts? Some
newsrooms keep old manual typewriters stashed away, just in case.
- Organize contact information. Make sure your
assignment desk has an up-to-date and complete staff roster, both
on computer and hard-copy. The roster should note exactly where
people live (a map can be helpful), and other critical information
(has camera gear at home, drives a 4-wheel SUV, wife is a doctor,
etc.) You also might want to create a laminated card with key
names and numbers for all staff members to keep with them.
- Map the community. That big coverage area map
on the newsroom wall: How long has it been hanging there? If it's
more than five years old, chances are there are new streets and
housing developments it doesn't list. If it's older than 10 years,
there may be whole communities missing. In a crisis, having a
few extra pocket maps at the desk can save a lot of time and effort.
You can hand one to the intern who's been pressed into service
couriering tapes back and forth and another to the AD who's trying
to make a graphic of the path of a tornado. Take a look at the
topographical maps the engineers use to bring in microwave shots.
Look for new places to put your microwave truck in case the usual
spots are inaccessible.
- Review your routines. When and where do you
refuel your news vehicles? If you only use one gas station, you
could be in trouble if it's closed down. When are batteries put
on charge? Make it a station-wide habit to check gear daily. Prepare
for the possibility that, during a disaster, employees may spend
long hours at the station, and some family members may come with
them. Do you have cots? Food? Water? Blankets? Foul weather gear?
Flashlights? Batteries? What about first aid kits? Do you have
enough at the station and/or in news cars? What else should you
stockpile? Who will check the inventory and how frequently? Also,
be sure everyone knows what happens to days off, vacations, and
so on, if the plan is implemented.
- Update your systems. Make sure that everyone
who deals with audio knows how to patch a phone call through to
air. Make sure that everyone on your desk knows how to get an
incoming call switched to the control room or to the number you
use for live phoners. Make sure the computer and monitor in the
studio are up-to-date and fast enough so anchors can get information
- Examine key questions. Hold an internal, top-level
meeting to determine what your station's role should be in the
event of a disaster (and what kind of disaster)--when you would
take air, on whose authority, how long you might suspend commercials,
when you should return to the network, etc. This is crucial, so
you aren't being second-guessed while also trying to run a news
- Spell out the plan. Detail how people will
be notified and what is expected of them. All of them. Use an
all-page system to get in touch with those on pagers. Give everyone
a special phone number to call in case they can't be paged, or
create a phone tree to get the word out. Give everyone an assignment
and a place to report in the event of a disaster. Create on-call
schedules to cover your newsroom at all times. Have a back-up
plan for renting extra equipment, putting people up in hotels,
and bringing in personnel from other stations in your group, if
- Prepare personnel. Remember to send people
home so you don't exhaust everyone in the first 48 hours. Assign
reporters according to expertise and coverage areas, like medical,
consumer, and public safety. Take a tip from WCBD-TV in Charleston,
SC, which has a 40-page plan for dealing with disasters like hurricanes
that often strike the area. The station keeps a large freezer
of food on hand. Sales department staffers are assigned as cooks
to feed staffers who are working a storm. Traffic department employees
move into the newsroom to answer phones, freeing the news staff
to focus on coverage.
- Practice the plan. The plan should be written
down and provided to everyone--not just managers and not just
news personnel. By all means, put it in the computer system, but
create a paper version too and keep multiple copies on hand. Make
sure you review the plan every six months or so, and update it
as you need to. Discuss it when you have regular meetings, to
be sure it's fresh in people's minds, and that new staff are aware
of what it entails. Then practice it on a regular, unannounced