Getting Hurricane Messages Out Through the Media

Ever wonder how the media gets life-saving hurricane information to you? It isn’t easy when every media outlet is demanding an interview at the same time.

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami faced that dilemma for several decades. As NHC’s director in the 1970s and ‘80s, Dr. Neil Frank recognized the importance of the media in getting the message of hurricane preparedness and timely warnings to the public. 

Media descend on the new NHC media room during Hurricane Isabel, Sept. 2003.

Media descend on the new NHC media room during Hurricane Isabel, Sept. 2003.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

But its facilities in the rented space on the 6th floor of a Miami, Florida, office building were never designed for a crush of media. Cameras and reporters were competing for the space in the same area used by the hurricane forecasters.

When Hurricane Gloria threatened the U.S in 1985, cable news had begun, marking the beginning of continuous 24-hour live national coverage.  “That was probably the first storm where it was wall to wall people and equipment," said former NHC Director Dr. Bob Sheets. And it was still first come, first served, all in a very tight space.

In 1995, NHC moved to a modernized facility in West Miami Dade. The new building offered a media room next to the hurricane operations area. Access panels in the floor offered TV stations permanent access to their fiber lines, eliminating the need for microwave or satellite trucks parked outside.

However, after the busy 1995 hurricane season, it was obvious that the room could not handle the all of television cameras, radio microphones, and reporters at one time.

Everybody into the Pool

NHC Director Bill Read speaks to the media as Tropical Storm Faye approaches Florida, August 2008.

NHC Director Bill Read speaks to the media as Tropical Storm Faye approaches Florida, August 2008.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Creating a formal media pool proved to be the best solution. Comprised of all local English and Spanish television stations and network bureaus, the idea was to meet the needs of the media while getting important information out in an orderly and fair manner.

The pool is triggered when a hurricane watch is issued along the U.S. coastline. A media advisory is sent out to pool members as well as those media outlets in the hurricane watch area, announcing the opening of the pool and providing contact information.

The first shift arrives with staff from a single local English TV station and Spanish TV station. Three other local English and Spanish stations handle the second shift duties.

Two pool cameras are set up, one for the English broadcast, the other for the Spanish broadcast. Each faces the respective desk and large monitor on the edge of the hurricane operations area. The phone lines are opened to the pool producer for those stations in the path of the storm to book a five minute interview window.

The first broadcast occurs at the top of the hour — a generic version for any station that wishes to carry it. The NHC director, deputy director, or a hurricane specialist sits at the English desk, giving the latest information on the storm. A Spanish speaking meteorologist does the same a few feet away at the Spanish desk.

Robert Molleda (left), Warning Coordination Meteorologist for WFO Miami, provides a Spanish language briefing to television viewers while NHC deputy director Ed Rappaport provides the English language briefing  during Hurricane Ida, November 2009.

Robert Molleda (left), Warning Coordination Meteorologist for WFO Miami, provides a Spanish language briefing to television viewers while NHC deputy director Ed Rappaport provides the English language briefing  during Hurricane Ida, November 2009.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The English and Spanish audio portion is recorded and placed onto the NHC Web site as a podcast for use by radio and Internet outlets.

For the rest of the hour, local pool members and those stations in harm’s way can conduct a live interview with NHC personnel. The priority goes to those stations in the path of the storm. The pool remains open until the hurricane makes landfall. 

In the back of the media room, tables and chairs are filled by radio and print outlets who want to be on-site for the event. Appropriate NHC personnel are brought to these reporters for interviews when time permits, as media is not permitted in the operations area at any time. 

The Long-Term Forecast

With local and national television outlets cutting back on staff and resources, having NOAA’s hurricane experts accessible via the Internet will help fill the gap. Live audio and video broadcasts delivered via the Internet could be the next generation of hurricane forecasts, watches, and warnings.

Anyone with a personal computer could access live audio and video broadcasts simply by clicking onto a link on the NHC Web site. And TV stations may be able to conduct broadcast-quality interviews with NHC using a closed Internet link. 

Learn more about the National Hurricane Center, visit their Web site. NOAA logo.