An Introduction to Disaster Preparedness and Readiness for Freelance Photographers and Writers

Disaster Preparedness and Readiness 101 – Tips for Freelance Photographers and Writers
President of Resilient JC, Simon Pereira Shorey, offers advice on disaster preparedness and readiness to independent reporters
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Resilient JC [Resilient Jersey City] logo designed by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
“Getting caught in the rain” in a Pina Colada song scenario might seem like fun. Getting caught in the rain of a hurricane might not be that desirable. In a natural (or man-made) disaster, many seek shelter, but many reporters, including independent reporters, go out or are sent out on assignment to cover those very disasters. Some are caught in disaster-stricken areas, while on assignment.
If we find ourselves reporting from disaster-stricken areas, as freelance photographer and writers, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to protect ourselves, and also our gear. But what exactly should we be aware of and what exactly should we do in these kinds of situations? The best person to answer these questions is Simon Pereira Shorey, a community leader and disaster preparedness and readiness advocate living in NYC area.
Resilient JC - Simon Pereira Shorey
Simon Pereira Shorey, President of Resilient JC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Born and raised in England, Shorey is a trained volunteer responder who has traveled the world–from Europe to the U.S., from Brazil to North Africa and, in general, to places where chances for something bad happening are pretty high. Shorey has lived in the U.S. for twenty years. He was in the NYC area when September 11 happened. He was here for the Blackout of 2003, as well as hurricanes Irene and Sandy. A local businessman, Shorey is also a member of Jersey City CERT–that is Jersey City Community Emergency Response Team, and the president of a new soon-to-be nonprofit organization, Resilient Jersey City (Resilient JC), which specializes in disaster preparedness and readiness.
Shorey points out several general principles we need to keep in mind when it comes to being self-sufficient when caught in a disaster area, especially as freelance photographers:
1-2-3 to Disaster Preparedness and Readiness. Photo by Alina Oswald.

If you know you will be reporting from a disaster zone, do your homework, research the potential risks, have a plan.

Consider the environment in which you will be working. Are you going to cover a hurricane or a tornado? A riot? The most recent lava eruptions in Hawaii? Consider potential threats in that particular environment and try to protect yourself and your gear as much as possible. “Think about having appropriate clothing, footwear,” Shorey offers, “what we call PPE or Personal Protective Equipment.”

Writing. Caligraphy. Photo by Alina Oswald
Do Your Homework. Ink pen in hand. Photo by Alina Oswald.

“The idea is to get ahead of the curve,” Shorey says. Think things through ahead of time. By asking yourself “What if?” you can move from one preparation step to another and consider various possible scenarios for which to get ready. For example: independent reporters go into an area where there was a hurricane. What if? They might have to go through flooded streets. What if? They need to watch out for power cables that might be in that water. And so on….

“A simple phrase, ‘what if?’ can make you think things through,” Shorey emphasizes.

His other favorite phrase is “Proper Prior Planning and Preparation Prevent Poor Performance.” (that’s a tongue twister!) What it means is that you has to make sure that you’re prepared and plan ahead, and ideally have a plan in mind for almost every possible scenario that could happen.

If you find yourself in a disaster zone, do not become part of  the problem.

When on location, on assignment, maintaining situation awareness is vital. That means, “Do not have tunnel vision!” Shorey explains. Either you maintain situation awareness or have someone in your team, if you have a team, do that for you and for the team. In other words, be aware of what’s going on around you, don’t only concentrate on the reporting. This is important to keep in mind not only when reporting from, say, a hurricane devastated zone, but also on a daily basis, such as covering a street festival or public event of any kind. Because (bad) things can happen and do happen. For instance, a few years ago a news anchor and her cameraman were shot while reporting, in broad daylight. Nobody seemed to have noticed the shooter.

Another aspect to be aware of: especially when reporting from unfamiliar places, listen to authorities. “You are there to report on the problem not to become (part of) the problem,” Shorey comments. Don’t endanger the lives of those who’re trying to save you.

Live Lava Photography by Alina Oswald. Volcano National Park. Big Island of Hawaii.
Marking the path of lava that’s taking over the road. Hawaii Volcano National Park. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Disaster or not, don’t place yourself in harm’s way. No matter where you’re reporting from situation awareness is key. “Think about where you are all the time,” Shorey emphasizes. “And even if you don’t think of yourself as particularly wealthy,” he adds, “in most parts of the world you’re considered phenomenally wealthy. [If you find your self on assignment in these parts of the world] don’t dangle too much temptation in people’s faces. And if it comes down to a choice between you and your equipment, hand over your equipment. Hopefully it’s insured.” Try to minimize the potential loss of gear by not carrying everything on you. Rather, think in layers–have gear that you carry on your person, in your pockets or backpack, gear that you carry in the car or hotel.

Velvet Lock. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Velvet Lock. Lensbaby Velvet Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Be self-sufficient in equipment, supplies and skills.

If you’re caught in disaster areas, “you need to have the equipment, supplies and skills either with yourself or among your teammates,” Shorey says, because you can’t be sure you find the supplies anywhere else. “You need to make sure that you have enough water, food, batteries, sunscreen, medications, and even toilet paper. You need to make sure that you have whatever things you might need.”

If you find yourself in a disaster zone, it’s good to know first aid.

“You should learn basic first aid skills,” Shorey advises. That’s because you can get badly injured and you find yourself in a situation where you need to take care of yourself or your team, until medical help arrives. “You need to have a TQ (tourniquet) and learn how to use it. Or you might need to have some antibiotics for the wound so that it won’t get infected, [even] anti-diarrhea medications, in case you get sick and lose a lot of fluids. You want to be self-sufficient in terms of skills, equipment, training, until help arrives.”

Have a way to communicate with your family, friends and/or work.

“Before you go, make sure somebody knows where you are, and when you will call [or communicate in some way] next,” Shorey says. “That’s really, really important, because if something happens to you, by accident or [not], you need somebody to know that something has gone wrong. You need to make sure somebody knows where you are. And in case they don’t hear from you, write down a message for them telling them what they should do. You need to have an agreed procedure for [this kind of] situation.”

It’s a good idea to have at least two ways to communicate when caught in a disaster area. Satellite phones are often used in these cases. “Think things through,” Shorey advises, “and think of what to do if that communication dies.”

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Resilient JC alternative logo designed by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Mission and environment dictate the kind of disaster preparedness kit one should have. Presently, Shorey is working on a new nonprofit, Resilient JC, which will offer a wide range of information and guidance related to disaster preparedness, readiness, and becoming resilient. Among other things, RJC will offer training for independent reporters (and not only) who might have to put that kind of training to good use, when on assignment. “We’re striving to get ahead of the curve,” Simon Pereira Shorey explains, “to make our city [and NYC metro area] as resilient as possible to natural and man-made disasters that almost certain will hit us sooner or later.”

Find out more about Resilient JC by visiting online:

on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/resilientjc/.

on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ResilientJC @ResilientJC

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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