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Houston Stations Brace for Hurricane Ike

Southeastern U.S. stations are getting plenty of opportunity to practice their extreme-weather-emergency plans as Hurricane Ike bears down on the Houston DMA.

The storm is expected to crash into Galveston, Texas, and make its way up to Houston sometime in the late-Friday to early Saturday period. With an estimated 75% of their viewers still in the market (the rest have been evacuated), the local stations are ready.

Fox owned-and-operated KRIV was wall-to-wall with coverage from 5 a.m. Thursday until around 10:30 p.m., and it then had cut-ins every half-hour into Friday morning. The station is also simulcasting pertinent info on and offering preparation tips in the downloadable Fox26 Hurricane Handbook.

KRIV/KTXH vice president and general manager D’Artagnan Bebel -- who produced his own “Lessons Learned” handbook after working Hurricanes Rita and Katrina -- will spend the night at the station. He said skies were dark at around 2:30 p.m. local time, but there was no wind or rain. Of course, that’s not the case in Galveston, around 50 miles southeast of Houston.

KRIV staffers have stocked up on food and supplies from the likes of Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart, and they will avail themselves of the area’s hot-food options as long as the places remain open.

Bebel said the crew ready for action. “Most of them have been through this before, and unlike myself, most are native Texans,” he added. “The mood is good. They know we’re prepared and they know they’re providing the coverage people need.”

KTRK president/GM Henry Florsheim said the biggest challenge thus far has been getting the various emergency messages out to viewers, including mandatory-evacuation announcements that came very late.

The station has been using its Web site to stream live news conferences with Gov. Rick Perry and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and it is also offering live radar showing Ike bearing down on Galveston.

Florsheim said the ABC O&O has been tracking Ike for nearly one week. “We’ve been going at it aggressively in various ways for 5-6 days, ever since we saw the potential for Ike to be a pretty big storm,” he added. “We’ve had near continuous coverage since [Thursday] morning, and we’ll see it through.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.