Florida TV Ramps Up to Cover Irma With Full Force

As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, local broadcasters are ramping up for the possibility of providing round-the-clock coverage for four, or even five, consecutive days, while simultaneously keeping staffers and viewers safe from potential devastation.

“We have to be prepared for just about any situation down there,” said Sean McLaughlin, E.W. Scripps VP of news. “There are so many things that can go wrong. But this is one of those times that people really rely on us, and when we are at our best.

“That’s what makes it so incumbent upon us to have three or four (contingency) plans deep,” he said.

Related: FCC Activates Reporting System for Hurricane Irma

On Thursday, reporters from stations around the country were heading to help their sister stations in cities including Miami and West Palm Beach, which could see Irma’s landfall – and predicted 8 to 12-foot storm surges – by Sunday.

With three Florida stations – WFTS Tampa, WPTV West Palm Beach and WFTX Ft. Myers – Scripps sent 50-plus out-of-market staffers to the state, as well as the technical resources necessary to provide coverage across platforms.  The CBS station group also sent news crews – from technicians and editors to meteorologists – to Miami, where its O&O WFOR has been weighing the range of possible scenarios that could unfold with the storm’s arrival.

“We are preparing for a dangerous and destructive event,” said general manager Adam Levy. “Our primary focus is making sure our community has all the information they need to stay safe and get through this the best they can.”

Related: FCC Outlines Irma-Related Dispensations

Yet doing that requires that news crews stay safe from the storm as well – and station groups have taken a multitude of precautions to make sure that they do.

For Mike Epstein, Scripps senior director of risk management & business continuity, that has included making sure the groups’ stations are equipped to be staffers’ home base, possibly for days. There needs to be ample fuel, beds and food. Advising out-of-town staffers to do things like, say, bring more than enough doses of any medications they take, and alert people of food allergies are also crucial steps, he said.

“We know this could be four days of 10 hours on, two off, 24/7 sleeping-in-the station work,” Epstein said. “We need to be physically ready to deal with this.”

Levy, too, said his team is “leaving nothing to chance.” He said station crews will be working in close cooperation with weather and emergency officials.

News director Liz Roldan said the nature of hurricane coverage will also depend on what’s feasible given the severity of Irma. “When you’re talking about a category five with potential of 185 mile-per-hour winds we won't be standing out doing the cliché live shots by the beach,” she said.

Levy agreed. “There will become a point where we will have to wait for the worst to pass,” he said.