Television is an extremely important communication tool to warn and assist the public during a disaster. Before, during and after disaster strikes, emergency management officials use television to communicate specific plans and procedures that end up saving lives and sometimes property. If emergency management officials have a warning of an impending disaster, they can broadcast special conferences days before the event to prepare the public. Emergency management officials also have the opportunity to communicate action plans during and after the disaster to ensure public safety.
Before the Disaster
Before disaster hits, emergency management officials hit the airwaves to broadcast their message of impending danger and a specific action plan on how the public can stay safe. Instances such as hurricanes, pandemics, fire, snowstorm and flood typically have warning signs, allowing officials hours and possibly days to prepare beforehand. Officials hold press conferences whenever they receive updated information about the disaster. Local and national television networks are notified of the press conferences and pre-empt regular broadcasting. These press conferences may occur every half hour, every hour or sporadically throughout the day, depending upon the urgency of the situation. Most local cable stations carry the press conferences to ensure that the instructions and updates reach the majority of the public.
During each on-air press conference, emergency management officials update the public on the current situation and give specific directions on how the public can prepare. Additionally, on-air news programs broadcast information to support emergency management’s plans. Special disaster preparedness news broadcasts air during prime television viewing in an effort to reach the masses. Some news coverage is interactive and allows the public to call the station and ask questions on air. Producers will often invite disaster management professionals to answer on-air questions and present special information to help the public prepare for the situation.
During the Disaster
Televised coverage is critical when disaster strikes. The public must be informed on what to do throughout the disaster to stay safe. If the public has no prior warning, coverage during the disaster is critical. For example, during 9/11 national news media provided 24-hour coverage on what people should do, where to go and who to call if they thought a loved one was a victim. The news media also provided updates on search and recovery efforts and tracked the government’s efforts to respond to the situation.
In other instances, television during the disaster may not assist people immediately affected due to power outages. During hurricanes, nearly everyone in affected areas lose power and television reception. In these cases, television broadcasting helps to keep others informed about the storm’s progress, track and possible damage. News reporters often stand out in the middle of the storm to report on the effects, which can help the viewing public assess the severity.
After the Disaster
Post-disaster coverage is vital to keeping the public informed of potential safety hazards and business closings. Schools and offices in the affected area close immediately following a disaster. Local television news stations broadcast which facilities are closed so residents can make alternate plans. News programs also cover which areas are destroyed or are dangerous. Emergency management officials will appear on TV to hold updates concerning service restoration. Television media coverage may continue as long as there is a threat to public safety.