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Breaking News Tips: Resources to cover earthquakes, other natural disasters

IRE is collecting resources for journalist who are covering today’s earthquake, which affected large portions of the Eastern Seaboard. Share ideas with us at or send us a note on Twitter or Facebook.

Story suggestions:

  • Request your community’s emergency/disaster plans. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many areas beefed up their disaster response plans. Were those procedures followed?

Online Resources:

IRE Tipsheets (must be a member to access)

  • Investigating Unlikely Disasters:Post-Disaster Approaches — Many natural disasters happen so rarely that we forget what to do when one strikes. Jeff Donn, Associated Press, gives great tips on what and how to investigate the post-disaster story.
  • Measuring risk: From earthquakes to nuclear plants, how to investigate community preparedness — Get tips on how to investigate community preparedness. Corey Johnson offers lessons learned from “On Shaky Ground,” a 19-month investigation of the seismic safety of California’s schools.
  • Be Prepared, Before the Storm Hits — Start planning before the storm hits. Stephen Stock, WFOR-TV (Miami), and Augstin Armendariz, Callifornia Watch, provide this useful PowerPoint on what to do before it’s too late.
  • Investigating After Weather Disaster — Jeremy Finley, WSMV-TV (Nashville, Tenn.), winner of Breaking News Investigation category-IRE 2011, describes in detail what to do before, during, and after the weather strikes.
  • Covering Natural Disasters — Covering natural disasters can be an overwhelming task, use these tips from Robert McClure, Chief Environmental Correspondent at InvestigateWest. He provides advice for before the weather starts.
  • Working the edges — This tipsheet by Nicole Vap, KUSA-TV (Denver), addresses being ready to cover disasters – beginning with a “spot-news” checklist, and recommendations for handling coverage once a disaster happens.
  • Data Before and After a Disaster — Brad Heath, USA Today, lists and describes different federal programs that provide financial assistance after a natural disaster. He discusses where to get records of each program’s spending, and how to best incorporate that information into a CAR story. Heath also describes the programs used by federal agencies to run simulations and assess potential damage; most of those programs are available for free and could be useful for reporters covering a recent disaster.
  • Resources for Covering Disasters — Ron Nixon, The New York Times, lists resources and databases that are helpful when covering natural disasters. The list includes four NICAR databases, such as Federal Contracts, and nine other resources, like the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
  • Types of Earthquakes — Wendy Shindle of the USGS shows journalists tips and tools they can use to help their readers and viewers better understand earthquakes, from Did You Feel It maps to USGS ShakeMaps.

Data Library Data Sets

SBA disaster loans
The Small Business Administration is a big player in assisting the owners of homes and businesses after a declared disaster. The data include loans since 1980 and are current through September 2010. It includes information on loans given in connection to prior earthquakes, including the 1994 Northridge and the 1989 San Francisco quakes. The database includes such information as the individuals’ name or company name, the mailing address, a code for the type of disaster that occurred, the date the disaster loan was approved for an SBA guarantee, the amount of the loan, and, for businesses, whether the loan was fully paid or charged off (went bad). The main table contains more than 750,000 records.

Federal assistance
After every disaster, the federal government provides assistance money. In a given fiscal year, that amounts to millions. With this database you will be able to track federal assistance — grants, loans or insurance — and see where and how much money the government is obligating to organizations and projects.

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