Monday, March 05, 2012

Reporting Mother Nature's Fury in a Digital Age

In the wake of the devastating storms that ripped through our tri-state area on March 2, the value of clear and current information was never more evident. It also showed that some of the traditional media and technologies have been enhanced or even replaced with new ones.

In mid afternoon, as the storms approached our area the local commercial TV stations did a good job of alerting viewers to the worsening conditions and using advance radar were able to pin point the areas that were most likely to experience the full wrath of the winds and rain. To provide advance warning for storms traditional radio and TV remain among the most effective tools.

It was not only the radio and TV stations that were sounding the alarm early. A review of my voice mail on returning home that evening from work showed that I had received two “robo-calls” at home from the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency. One came in at 12:20 PM warning that conditions were worsening. The second call came at 4:17 PM indicating that there was a Tornado Warning for Harrison, and that we should take cover. While the second call proved to be inaccurate, it was comforting to have had the warnings in case we were at home and not watching or listening to the broadcast media.

Once the storms passed through and the destruction assessed, the importance of wireless technology was clear. Even with the fleets of remote trucks and portable video equipment available to the local TV stations, for hours after the storms subsided most of the on scene reporting was done with mobile phones. Pictures and video were sent back to stations and live interviews and reports aired on the TV stations using mobile phones. Most of the major damage happened in very remote rural areas or in Moscow, a town located in a very low spot along the Ohio River. This made live TV signals very difficult to set up.

WCPO, a local leader in using online technology, provided a live stream via the Internet of the reporting and weather tracking. Since many in the path of the storm may not have electricity, having this reporting available on a smart phone, tablet, lap top or other wireless portable device was invaluable.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook had information available in seconds. Pictures of the damage and of the actual storm were posted in almost real time. Individuals in the storm’s path but spared injury or damage were able to reassure family and loved ones. Some others were able to call for help.

As we move into the heart of the spring storm season be sure to have a weather radio turned on, your mobile phone charged and a plan for where you will go in case of the next storm. No amount of technology or warning can take the place of common sense and personal responsibility.

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