What not to do when the reporters arrive...
Many days have passed and the first real wave of national coverage is beginning on Hurricane Sandy. They wait until things settle down some, then send in their anchors and ancillary personnel to show the faces of frustrated people in the midst of the crisis. It makes better play that way. Send them in too early, and too much is unknown, and they might not get the ten minutes of clips to broadcast. Awful, isn't it?
Now some people like venting, and I can understand that. When you vent, you get out some of your pent-up frustration plus 15 minutes of fame. The problem is, you most likely look ridiculous. While the journalists may certainly raise awareness, and in some ways some people are good communicators and put a face on the crisis, and maybe some CEOs donate water, food, supplies... whatever, the vast majority really aren't helping themselves.
Think of the sound bites and short video clips you've heard in the last few days. Most of them don't really help the people on the ground. What they do is help sell commercial time for the news programs. The usual stories are the ones that show bedlam.
Worse things can happen. Because of the anarchy that's developing, people are foolish enough to tell reporters that they've armed themselves with baseball bats, machetes, guns, bows and arrows, etc. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Even worse, some people have admitted to booby-trapping doors to prevent theft and told reporters that looters will be shot. Foolish. Do you really want the police and later some lawyer(s) coming back later and using that footage against you?
What to do before the reporters arrive...
Organize. Facilitate and bring the community together. Protect yourself and each other, but keep it deliberately low-key. How can you increase security by banding together? How can you secure buildings? What materials are laying around? Who has tools and ability? Who has military or law enforcement backgrounds?
Who needs help? Who has clean empty containers that can be used for water collection? Who has wheel barrows and garden carts? Who has extra clothing? Who can help house someone else? Who has lost power to freezers and refrigerators? Who has barbecue equipment? Who's the best cook? Who has worked on a cooking crew before? If you throw a block party, then you can share that food that would be wasted anyway. Who can watch children? Who has medical skills? Who has strong backs and good attitude and are excellent go to people to work? Who has spiritual training?
Who knows prepping and or survival skills? This doesn't necessarily mean sharing valuable resources, but it certainly means showing people how to create a makeshift shelter, pitching a tent in a living room and showing them how to huddle in it to stay warm, purify water, create brick rocket stoves, make pine needle tea, etc.
Where is every neighbor that you know of? Some people may have died. Some people may be clinging to some debris in the water. Some children may be alone. Some people may be shocked and confused.
Who has a criminal background? Who is a sexual predator? How can you eliminate this concern as much as possible?
Write carefully prepared statements. You'll have minutes to say something intelligent that might catch the ear of officials or business leaders, and you want to be most effective. Winging it is the most ineffective way to motivate the people who have the power to help and act.
When the reporters arrive....
How can you put your best foot forward? Who can communicate the most effectively and or poignantly? Show them what you have done, what you need, who has been helped, what is missing, etc.
Say something like, “Look at how we've organized. Despite that, we've found ____dead and wounded people, we're desperately short of water, baby wipes, infant formula, energy bars, MREs, etc. We're coming together as a community, but exposure and illness is a major concern. Here's why....”
What have I left out? Many things. The situation will change based upon the scenario. Work together so that not only are you all more secure and better fed and warmer, but also so that you can motivate the journalists to interview you and put your spin on the catastrophe.
This is a far better way to respond than what we've seen unfold the last week.