Tag Archives: earthquake

Quake damage could cripple Calif. hospitals

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.”

Conference discusses reporting on disasters

While everyone’s attention was focused on some conference in Philadelphia, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and Boston University were busy putting on a show of their own, this one focused entirely on reporting on disasters (agenda).

As is the fashion, the highlights of the conference were on Twitter (#disasterstrikes) within seconds (and aggregated in this CoverItLive feed seconds after that), which means it’s time to speed-read through the conference with a little Covering Health roundup. @BUPublicHealth coordinated the live discussion and thus we relied heavily on their work. I edited tweets to add attribution where appropriate.

haiti-aid-workersPhoto by EDV Media Director via Flickr
  • @BUPublicHealth: (John Hammock of Tufts University, former director of Oxfam America) International aid is very helpful but most people survive using their own coping strategies #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Carroll Bogert from the Human Rights Watch): We at Human Rights Watch are reporters who advocate for policy change. (Human Rights Watch is an NGO btw) #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (USA Today reporter Donna Leinwand Leger): Self sufficiency crucial. “You can’t, as a journalist with any ethical compunction, be a burden on these countries.” #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: Dorsinville: Size of conference and attendance dispels myth that Haiti has been forgotten #DisasterStrikes
  • @gonevertigo: #DisasterStrikes (Nancy Dorsinville, senior policy adviser of UN Office to Special Envoy to Haiti): the relationship between stretched-thin government resources and deadline journalists can be tense
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Boston Medical Center physician Thea James): The training we have is not to speak to the media unless given direct permission. #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Monica Onyango, BU professor in the department of international health) It’s important to recognize the local responders. They are heroes as well. #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Konbit Sante executive director Nate Nickerson) 1. if tell a story, it has to be factually accurate; 2. it needs to be contextualized somehow; (cont) #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: Doing it right: 3. Story sheds light doesn’t just generate sensationalism; 4. Story gives voice to ppl being impacted #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Mass. General physician Larry Ronan): Having a large media presence at these events can influence policy at a large level. #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: (Kerry Sanders, Miami-based NBC correspondent): Journos need to know first aid. #DisasterStrikes
  • @BUPublicHealth: Sanders: Journos can be obnoxious. After Chilean miners rescued, journos tried to sneak into hospital dressed as drs. #DisasterStrikes


Journalist makes case against sanitizing disaster coverage

At a time when the ethics of anecdotal and emotion-heavy disaster coverage have come into question, as they tend to do in the wake of events such as the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and the upheavals in the Middle East, it’s worth looking back on commentary from Donna Rosene Leff, Ph.D., titled “In Defense of Appealing to Emotions in Media Coverage of Catastrophe,” published last year in Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association’s online journal about ethics.

Leff builds her case around a few key examples, most notably the collective decision not to air or publish images of men and women jumping from the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001 – a decision she questions with some help from Tom Junod. It centers on the idea that journalists ought not withhold their most intense images and stories, because they can “put viewers in touch with what” victims experienced.

Sanitized stories about groups of victims or general circumstances may inform to a degree, but they also allow us to avoid experiencing the true devastation occurring on the ground. Emotional appeals—and disturbing images of disaster victims are the very epitome of emotional appeal—illuminate the reality of the situation in ways that mere facts cannot.

After all, Leff concludes, “journalists’ moral responsibility isn’t to elicit a particular reaction or outcome; their responsibility is to bring home the truth.” Though that conclusion leads to a few questions, the most salient being one she alludes to earlier in the piece. In modern disasters, from the Indian Ocean tsunami to the Haiti earthquake, news coverage hasn’t just brought home the truth, it also has home billions upon billions of dollars in donations. Disaster journalism seems to be a major driver of relief dollars, dollars that are often given in response to the most emotional coverage.

For AHCJ’s guidance regarding disaster coverage and aid to victims, see our relevant statement.

Journalists must heed ethics in disaster coverage

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.

MSNBC tells of earthquake amputees, soldiers

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: