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Gulf Coast Stations Prep for Next Big Storm

When the next big hurricane hits, local broadcasters ravaged by Hurricane Katrina said they will lock up fuel, supplies and housing in an effort to avoid the scrambling and shortages that plagued them after the ferocious storm devastated the Gulf Coast last August.

“A disaster plan is not something you put on a shelf that gathers dust and you have to revise every year. When you need it, you really need it," said Sandy Breland, executive news director for WWL, Belo's CBS affiliate in New Orleans. "Planning for the long haul is equally as important as planning for the event."

Breland and executives from other Gulf Coast local media gathered Tuesday in Las Vegas, at the annual NATPE convention, to discuss lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.

Mason Granger, General Manager of Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WDSU, said access to fuel was the most critical element. "That's what you're going to need to keep your power going and keep the operation moving," he said. "There is nothing more important."

After the storm, Emmis Communications, owner of Fox affiliate WVUE, quickly created a Web site for employees to exchange information and post their whereabouts.

"That new technology was a major savior," said Raymond Schonbak, Emmis' executive VP, TV operations.

Emmis is trying to sell WVUE as part of the overall sale of its TV-station group, but so far has not secured a buyer.

The station managers said their operations treaded carefully in coverage to weed out fact from rumor.

"The only thing we can do is be as responsible and sober as we can be," Granger said.

And the story continues to dominate headlines. Says Granger, "People are so hungry, so thirsty, so wanting for information."