Tuesday, May 18, 2004

PJs are initial responders

WXnation.com webmaster Bill Young sent me a link to the U.S. DOS Crisis Awareness and Preparedness site. It had further links to the University of Illinois Extension Disaster Resources page. They have a PDF file, which would be a good idea for photojournalists to print out multiple copies and keep in their cars. It has the telephone number and a pre-call checklist for Federal Disaster Relief.

PJs are often the initial responders on location after a disaster. Because we cover the actual floods, tornadoes, fires, etc., we're often the first "official looking" person (i.e. outsider) the residents see after it's safe to look for help.

Before the police or firefighters arrive, we're already on the street with the people looking at the damage and trying to help whomever we can while documenting the first few moments of turmoil. As a result, we better have some helpful advice and some answers for these people. Otherwise, they'll direct all their newfound rage at us.

In addition to the wonderful hand-out sheet above, let people know the city, county, state and even federal law enforcement officials (depends on size of disaster) will come to secure their property within the next few hours. Additionally, the American Red Cross will arrive and offer food and arrange temporary shelter (motels) for the following few nights.

In the meantime, they need to make sure all their neighbors are accounted for and safe. If the area smells of natural gas, remind people it needs to be turned off and not to smoke or start any kind of fire. Let them know you're documenting their good work. Tell them it'll help get additional assistance and donations from the community in the coming days.

Get people busy doing those things they should be doing rather than directing rage at and creating problems for the local PJs. Although the PJ may have covered 50 bigger natural disasters, this is probably this victim's first time having their whole life ruined. Be professional and considerate, but mostly be helpful.

Enough for now,

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