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We’ve Been Warned

| April 16, 2018

By Howard B. Price


NEW YORK –We’re just under two months from the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and the tropical researchers at Colorado State University are out with their predictions. The headlines:


  • 14 named storms predicted between June 1 and Nov. 30.
  • Of those, researchers expect seven hurricanes, with three of those likely to be major storms (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5, with sustained winds of 111 MPH – plus)

The team bases its forecasts on over 60 years of historical data. And right now, they say 2018 hurricane activity could be about 135 percent of the average season. Last season’s hurricane activity, which produced four major hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate — was about 245 percent of average.

The CSU team will issue forecast updates on May 31, July 2 and August 2. But that will be too late to help stations impacted by early-season storms. So, the exhortation is: Prepare now.

And whether you’re in a region normally impacted by hurricanes – or a region where other threats are more likely – establishing and resourcing a culture of preparation keeps you ready for any disruption.

Here are some common-sense steps ANY broadcaster can and should take NOW to improve their resilience posture:

  • Checklist your response. Business continuity planning, done by the book, is necessarily detailed – and requires some resources to align with best practices. But even a simple checklist of what needs doing, who does it, and when, will go a long way toward keeping order and cool heads when contingencies must be invoked. Make sure this plan is drawn up collaboratively across all departments, that it is distributed to all personnel, and most important, is exercised BEFORE a real event to allow you the opportunity to find and fix weaknesses. Keep it short, simple – and actionable. Failure to plan IS planning to fail.
  • Essential at all critical links in your air chain: Studios, STLs, Transmitters. If you don’t have them, GET THEM. If you already have them, TEST THEM. Make sure you have adequate and refreshed fuel supplies, and that recommended routine maintenance is performed to keep the gensets at peak operating efficiency.
  • Backup sites and other remote capabilities. In the event you are forced from your primary facilities, do you have a safe, resilient backup site? Open discussions with your local emergency management agency to see if there is room at their inn – suggest being designated your market’s “official emergency station” and use that as the foundation for a community preparedness campaign you can sell to finance your own resilience efforts. If you have a news fleet, promotions van, or remote truck – make sure all of them have the ability to get you on the air from SOMEWHERE. Consider an investment in good ole’ two-way radio. And every station should have at least one satellite phone.
  • Supplies to ride out the storm. Conditions may make it impossible for your staff to enter or leave your facility. Lay in cots, disposable bedding, and sufficient shelf-stable food, water and utensils for at least 72 hours. Don’t forget LED flashlights and batteries, and make sure everyone has a spare battery case for their cellphone. Have fully-stocked first aid kits and a charged defibrillator on site; get your staff trained in first aid/CPR/AED.
  • Remind government leaders and local utilities that you are a “first informer.” Make sure your local water, sewer, gas, electric and telephone utilities put you on their priority restoration lists – keep their media relations teams on your speed dials. And lead efforts to convene pre-storm meetings and conference calls to keep your team in the loop with regard to community preparation and response. Use these meetings to develop content for your newscasts and special storm-related programming.
  • Cross-Train Your Staff. It’s quite likely that conditions will make it impossible for at least some of your key staff to get to the station. Power and connectivity issues may also impair their ability to work from home. Be prepared to keep a core group of employees on site to assure your ability to stay on the air. And since the mix of folks on hand may not always include “A-Team,” make sure all of your employees have sufficient training to pitch in as newsgatherers, call screeners, web editors — even relief air talent.
  • Flush the format and be prepared to go all-news, all-live, all the time. In many cases, this means preparing air talent for more serious and discerning roles than they usually are assigned. Your outrageous morning team is going to have tone it down; the music and non-news programming will go away for the most part, which means you’ll have a lot more time to fill. But those familiar voices? They will be beacons of hope, comfort and critical information. So, make sure they have the information and contacts they need to properly serve a frightened audience desperate in need of timely and accurate guidance.
  • Don’t forget digital. You should be freshening your website daily anyway, and always striving for user-friendliness. But during times of emergency, it’s simply vital. Get rid of your banners and anything not directly related to the emergency at hand. Make sure there’s someone updating the website constantly…and if you’re part of a cluster or group, make sure at least one of your sister stations can carry the load if you can access your website. The home page should always have the latest weather and emergency advisories…if you don’t have access to your own weather data or radar, partner with a local TV station to use theirs. Maintain a ‘Help Center” page with phone numbers and links to the emergency management resources in your market, including links to non-governmental disaster response organizations, and those for state and federal agencies as well. Consider creating a downloadable PDF version of that list for listeners to keep on their smartphones in the event connectivity to the web is lost.
  • Don’t forget sales. While traditional ads may go out the window in a disaster, there will be still be a need for commercial interests like insurers and local businesses to communicate with their staff and customers. So, make sure your sales and traffic team have the resources they need to get them on the air. Sales needs its own plan to figure out what to give away in the name of public service, and what to invoice. But doing something to help existing and potential clients through a disruptive event could win you increased buys or new paying clients when the crisis passes.

And when all of this is done – and done well – get out into the market and toot your own horn. Build a promotion campaign around your resilience and readiness – and let your listeners, sponsors and community leaders know YOUR station will be there when they need you the most.

Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is the former director of business continuity & crisis management for ABC’s News and Technology & Operations divisions, and has also served as senior manager, enterprise business continuity planning for The Walt Disney Company. A certified business continuity professional, and the founder of MediaDisasterPrep.com, he brings cost-effective resilience planning, innovation and thought leadership to the media industry. Reach him at HowardBPrice@gmail.com or 917-414-1751, and follow him on Twitter @mediadisaster

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Category: Advice