Tag Archives: disasters

Covering tropical storms: Resources, related stories to help your reporting

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

As Tropical Storm Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, we have gathered tip sheets about covering natural disasters and the ensuing public health risks, along with articles written by journalists about covering the public health angle of disasters.

The compilation includes award-winning stories about covering health and health care systems in the aftermath of hurricanes – along with questionnaires about how those stories were reported. Links to resources and academic research should help you find story ideas and expert sources to help you evaluate and cover the public health response before, during and after the storm.

Among the collection:

  • Presentations from a panel about evaluating how prepared your city is for a disaster
  • A presentation about following the money in public health crisis preparation
  • Two articles about how journalists might cover and survive disasters as well as understand the medical systems in place to handle them.
  • Extensive reporting on health care in southern Mississippi and New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina
  • Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer-winning article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” about what happened at one isolated New Orleans hospital in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, as well as her  article for AHCJ, “Covering a complex story for the long haul,” in which she explains the reporting and writing process for that work.

Quake damage could cripple Calif. hospitals

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In her series on earthquake preparedness at California hospitals, California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting senior reporter Deborah Schoch look at what she calls the “Achilles heel” of hospitals in earthquake territory: internal damage to pipes and equipment.

While much of the legislative focus has been on preventing structural damage, Schoch writes that recent seismic disasters in places such as Chile and Japan have demonstrated that a broken water pipe or sprinkler system can shut down a hospital every bit as effectively as a crumbled wall.

To better avoid internal damage, Schoch writes, hospitals need to bolt down equipment, anchor water tanks and set up back-up generators. According to Schoch, “Many facilities locally and statewide are still years or decades away from making those non-structural internal fixes, even though they are required under California law.” This is largely thanks to a variety of deadline extensions and loopholes requested by cash-strapped hospitals which refer to the law as the largest unfunded mandate in state history.

As of 2009, fully 1,357 hospital buildings statewide had not made fixes that should have been finished at the start of 2002, according to a December 2009 report from state regulators.

Another 1,233 buildings, or 95 percent of buildings statewide, had not yet done improvements that were due Jan. 1, 2013, according to the report. State officials caution that some hospitals may have completed upgrades, but they do not have up-to-date statistics.

In the second installment of the series, Schoch uses state records to show that more than 40 hospitals close to the fault are rated at high risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

California hospitals were supposed to have fixed hospitals by 2008 or the state would shut them down. But that deadline has been pushed back multiple times: “Championing the delays, the state Legislature repeatedly extended the 2008 deadline to 2013, 2015, even 2020, under pressure from hospitals that said they can’t afford the fixes.”

Joplin hospital staff took action during disaster

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

If you haven’t already, take 90 seconds to read Tulsa World reporter Michael Overall’s brief, powerful account of how emergency preparedness translated to emergency action at the hospital caught in the center of the May tornado in Joplin, Mo.

joplin-hospital

Photo by Red Cross: Carl Manning GKCARC via Flickr

The staff had practiced severe weather drills and evacuations hundreds of times but, as one administrator told Oklahoma colleagues, “There’s no way you can plan for an F-5 tornado.” Nevertheless, Overall writes, the well-drilled staff of St. John’s hospital “evacuated all 183 patients in just 90 minutes with no major injuries,” a sentence you won’t appreciate until you read Overall’s narrative based on a hospital administrator’s talk at a conference for regional emergency workers.

For those of you looking for story ideas, you might look into local hospitals’ disaster plans. Have they really planned for every contingency? Certainly there are things no one can plan for, but it’s worth reading the story from this hospital and evaluating disaster plans with those events in mind.

For more, read AHCJ’s roundup and review of Joplin tornado coverage.

Journalists must heed ethics in disaster coverage

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A little more than a week after the historic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency in Japan, journalists are beginning to reflect on our profession’s performance. How good a job of getting the news and informing the public have we been doing?

The run on iodine tablets up and down the U.S. west coast is a discouraging example of the limited ability of the many balanced news reports about radiation risk – and iodine risk, including serious allergic reactions – to quell panic-buying. It’s Cipro and anthrax all over again.

Sailor provides food and water to Japanese citizens during relief efforts. Photo: Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

Sailor provides food and water to Japanese citizens during relief efforts. Photo: Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

Recently, AHCJ posted a statement about some of the ethical issues that face journalists reporting from disaster zones. The statement focuses on the public service value of reporting from disaster zones and the imperative that the spotlight must remain on the people and events reporters observe, not the reporters themselves.

“In summary,” the statement concludes, “do not exploit vulnerability for gain or glory.”

Each disaster is different. The people of Japan are not interchangeable with the people of Haiti. Nevertheless, journalists inevitably encounter people who need help. The need may be for a bottle of water or for urgent medical care. Aid should be given freely, without creating a sense of obligation. When one hand offers a thirsty person a bottle of water, while the other hand holds a microphone, is consent to be interviewed truly unencumbered? Or does such an exchange inevitably plant the thought in a person’s mind that the interview is payment for the water?

There are legions of aid workers moving into the northeast coastal region of Japan. Reporters seeking to tell stories of the people providing care and those receiving it should have no trouble finding examples. Stories that feature the acts of a reporter have an inherent “look at me!” aspect that offers no additional value to readers and audiences.

Every day and every story is unique, so it is impossible to say without exception how a journalist should act in each and every circumstance; yet when we intrude on a scene of personal suffering, we should always remember why we are there.

M.D. journalist suggests guidelines for dual roles

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Tom Linden, M.D., looks at the role of physician reporters in covering disasters, particularly in light of the Haiti earthquake which saw a number of high-profile physician reporters cover the story and render care.

As Linden points out in the Electronic News journal, the networks promoted their reporters’ medical efforts and showed them providing care. He brings up a number of relevant questions about the duties of a physician reporter, whether network s or stations should promote them providing care, privacy of patients and more.

Beyond asking questions and discussing the implications of such coverage and promotion, Linden proposes a set of guidelines “to help clarify boundaries between medical and journalistic practices.”

In short, he says it’s bad journalism and inappropriate for physician reporters to report on themselves providing care.

When physician journalists become the story, medical reporting loses its way.

Linden, a professor of medical journalism in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and director of the medical and science journalism program, is no stranger to the subject, as he has worked as a medical journalist for CNBC and local news stations.

Related

MSNBC tells of earthquake amputees, soldiers

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, an MSNBC team has set out to cover, through a variety of media, an American prosthetic group working at a rural hospital to fit limbs to hundreds of earthquake amputees. At the same time, the team is sharing personal essays written by American soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an unusual post-disaster focus that has yielded some impressive stories.

Here are a few of the most notable dispatches: