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Nov 28 2012

Tip Sheet

Tips on Covering Hurricanes

Following Hurricane Sandy, the Dart Center asked award-winning photographer Alan Chin to share his tips on covering disasters.

Click here for more tips from Alan Chin and other journalists who covered Hurricane Sandy.

1) Specific to hurricanes: Move your car to high ground beforehand! You may not want to evacuate out of the most dangerous zones, because that's your job to be there, after all. But make sure you have a second or third story perch above flood waters, in a concrete or brick building. Remember the three little pigs. After the water recedes you go retrieve your vehicle and you're back in business.

2) Gasoline: Have some gas containers. If not, you can use empty water jugs. Anything will hold gasoline. Although if the police/military are overseeing the distribution, they may only let you fill the approved containers. So have some on hand. One problem I encountered in Sandy's aftermath was that I had friends and colleagues returning from the continental hinterland where they had plenty of gas -- but literally every shop was sold out of the regulation red plastic jerrycans -- so in future this is something to think about. Unfortunately, gasoline is more important to news gathering than almost anything else.

3) Internet/Phones: Cell towers go down and lose power. Internet at home and at the office relies on electricity too. Copper-wire landlines are on an entirely different system so they often survive -- during the 2003 blackout I filed over a dial-up modem -- but these days not only do most people not have them any more, but the telephone company won't install new ones. So if you still have one, it's worth $20 a month to hold onto it. 

Most of us aren't going to have satphones for domestic use. So remember that if there is power somewhere, you can do things like sit outside a Starbucks and use their Internet even when they're closed in the middle of the night, because they usually don't turn the modem off. If you can get a cell signal, do plan ahead to have the capability to either tether your smartphone to your laptop or have it be able to turn into a mi-fi wireless modem. There are cheap or free apps that do this perfectly. 

Walkie-talkies are a great way to stay in touch tactically with your friends/colleagues while working in the field. Even the $50-100 hobbyist sets are more than adequate for our needs.

4) Navigating checkpoints: Press credentials sometimes don't help you, though sometimes they do. Your rights and the legalities that support them are irreIevant if they're not recognized and acknowledged. In crisis situations, you want to know exactly where you are and where you want to go. GPS devices and smartphones may not work properly or run out of batteries, so it's best to have real street and road maps. And when you do, you can often go down back alleys and side paths rather than waste time arguing with either legitimate or self-appointed guardians of access.

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Alan Chin

  • Since 1996 photojournalist Alan Chin has covered conflicts in Iraq, the ex-Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East. He contributes regularly to the New York Times, Newsweek, Esquire and Time magazines. The New York Times nominated his Kosovo coverage for the Pulitzer Prize twice, in 1999 and 2000. He is also a member of the independent journalism storytelling initiatives, Facing Change Documenting America and Newsmotion.org.

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