Before, during, and after, Hurricane Katrina, the public was pretty much aware that this was going to be a major event. Meteorologists were predicting that this could very well be “the big one.” Unfortunately, they were right, and in the days and weeks, during, and after the storm, the media covered every event, non stop. While much of the media coverage was, admittedly, colored by network or person politics, it was apparent, in the days following the storm that local, state and federal governments had dropped the ball. It was also apparent, through the media coverage, that those in the most danger from hurricanes had no plan to survive one.
During Katrina, many of us, much further inland, and well out of the path of the storm, sometimes felt that we knew more about what was happening than the people themselves. Thanks to the media coverage, we also felt frustrated that so many people were still in harm’s way. Once the power went out in New Orleans, and all along the coast, residents that hadn’t been evacuated, or simply wouldn’t go, were without any source of information as to what was happening, and when help would arrive.
Reporters are well known for being in dangerous situations. It is their job. In Katrina, these news people were a major link between the citizens and the outside world. Braving high winds, walking in waist high water, and sometimes confined to evacuation facilities, they broadcast what was happening, and what the people needed to survive. In many instances, they seemed to know more about the situation than the local, state, or federal government. Mere reporting turned into crusades and campaigns to bring food, water, and shelter to victims, and to voice complaints, when citizens and victims were unable to be heard.
By the same token, the media did focus on the heroic rescue efforts of the military and local authorities. We could watch, first hand accounts of hundreds and thousands of victims, as they were air lifted to safety, or taken away in boats.
The media also brought to the attention of the country, just how vulnerable certain areas along the coast are when storm surge becomes an issue, and just how unprepared. Levees that had needed replacing years before, lack of adequate evacuation plans, and naive attitudes that a major hurricane was never going to happen, lead to disaster.
It is safe to say that because of the media coverage, volunteers poured into the devastated area after the storm, and organizations were set up to help with relief and recovery. Hot lines were established to locate missing persons, and families were placed in other areas and states.
While we sometimes become upset with the media, there are instances when objective and honest reporting is the only way that the rest of the country and the world can relate to what is actually happening during an extreme crisis such as Katrina.