IRE Conference Blog

Investigating in the aftermath of natural and man-made a disasters

By Gwen Girsdansky

Reporters and editors from The Oklahoman, Newsday, CBS News and WFAA shared their secrets for covering disasters Friday at the 2013 IRE Conference. 

Paul Monies of The Oklahoman recommended having a “go bag” ready before a disaster strikes. Fill it with items like a full change of clothes for after a night in the newsroom or out reporting, rain coat and rain boots, and equipment and batteries. Brett Shipp of WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth was adamant that you should fill up the bathtub as soon as you check into wherever you are staying, just in case the electricity fails.

During a manmade disaster occurs, Shipp recommends that you immediately ask “what did they know and when did they know it?” Then find out as much as possible about the facility - what its record is, what its plans are, who was supposed to know what was on the site and did they?

Then there are the questions during the aftermath, but question officials. Scott Keenan, CBS News, said to make sure the official numbers are correct because there can be a lot of confusion. A lot of people think they are in charge when they might not be. There is also a lot of money to be made, said Will Van Sant from Newsday. Political leaders can start assigning contracts -- and in disasters they do not have to follow normal procedures.

Disasters can take a toll on entire newsrooms, not just reporters in the field. Reporters and editors need to be conscious of that. Monies said that The Oklahoman set up a quiet room for staff to reflect on what is happening. They also provided the opportunity for massages to help relieve some of the stress.

Gwen Girsdansky is a journalism student at the University of Missouri

Log in or register to comment on this story.