I’m watching NBC News report on Hurricane Irma making landfall near Naples with a life-threatening storm surge on TV and I’m getting irritated. In all fairness, the hypocrisy of the reporting is not limited to NBC. Just about every major news broadcast is guilty of what I’m watching. Nonetheless, it’s folly and it’s unfair to first responders.
NBC’s Kerry Sanders is reporting from the exposed top deck of a parking structure where the eye of the hurricane is about to make landfall. The wind is blowing so hard that he can barely stay on his feet. Rain is falling almost horizontally and I can see debris flying through the camera shot.
Sanders can barely hear the anchor through his ear monitor and the roar of the storm is almost drowning out Sanders’ voice in the broadcast. But I can hear he’s reporting that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. He’s telling us that the ocean is beginning to rapidly rise onto land and it’s going to be a record storm surge. It’s very dangerous to be outside, so everyone should have evacuated the area, he says.
Meanwhile, who are the only people cavalier enough to be out in Naples? That’s right—the NBC news crew (and I’m sure other networks’ crews). But we don’t need to see Sanders standing outside in a Category 2 hurricane to realize that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. It’s a hurricane and that’s what they do. NBC has been telling us for days that the storm surge could be twenty feet high when Irma makes landfall in Florida.
The local authorities have already told everyone to evacuate because of the extreme danger in riding out the storm. The authorities warned that anyone who chooses to shelter in place should not expect any response to emergency calls that come in while the winds are high and the waters rising. They have been warning residents that there will be no rescues during the brunt of the storm because doing so risks the life and safety of the first responders. Police officers, firemen, and other emergency workers will need to be healthy to move into the devastation as soon the winds die down.
However, you can bet that Sanders and other news crews would expect immediate treatment in the overburdened hospital if one of them got struck in the head by the debris we can see flying by at over 100 miles per hour. Even though these reporters willfully and knowingly put themselves into this danger just to make a report that is no more informative than it would be from a hardened shelter, they would call 911 if they suddenly found themselves in an emergency situation. And they would want a Coast Guard rescue helicopter to be there if the storm surge took them by surprise and swept them away.
If they were acting responsibly, news agencies would mount unmanned camera feeds out in the storm and have their reporters report the latest news from a safe and secure location. Nowadays, the most up-to-date information comes through telecommunications that would be most reliable indoors out of the storm, so their best reporting would come from such a location anyway. There’s even a possibility that reporters already on location during the storm could obstruct or distract the rescuers’ ingress. Hurricane reporting would actually be more valuable to viewers if the reporters moved in just after the first responders than it is when they are on site before the storm.