September 30, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs says after a catastrophe like Hurricane Ian, first responders commonly suffer from “survivor’s guilt,” which is an overwhelming feeling that they could have and should have done more to help people. They cannot see themselves as you and I see them: selfless heroes who risk their lives for the rest of us.

The IAFC says survivor’s guilt “can take the form of feeling extremely sad or depressed, feeling helpless and feeling as if your own undamaged self and lifestyle is a source of pain in itself when faced with the suffering of the many who have suffered so much loss.”

I have seen similar symptoms in journalists who cover disasters. A meteorologist that I know suffered a long bout of depression after he saved lives during a tornado outbreak but had trouble convincing himself that he had done enough. I first saw this guilt feeling vividly after Hurricane Katrina. Poynter faculty spent time in the storm-damaged communities talking to journalists who felt guilty that they had not lost anything themselves but were constantly talking with subjects of their stories who had lost everything.

Some newsrooms will include people who lost their homes while the person sitting next to them escaped harm. The IAFC offers this advice to rescue workers, and I think it applies to journalists, too:

  • Understand that there is nobody to blame when nature vents her fury. Accepting this is essential because it allows you to see that everyone feels powerless when a terrible natural disaster event occurs that harms and kills many people. Nobody could have stopped it, and nobody is at fault. Sure, there will always be things that could have been done better, from improving building codes, adopting FEMA flood maps, to giving out more warnings, but the actual event itself will always stem from something over which human beings have little control.

  • Minimize your media intake. If you find yourself getting upset by all the images, to the point of not being able to function or crying and feeling upset, take a break from the television, newspaper, or media blogs until you feel a little better. Slowly start bringing media back into your life.

  • Find ways to act constructively. From helplessness, turn to doing constructive activities that can help the victims. Whether you have suffered damage yourself but have survived the event intact or whether you are someone who lives nearby or someone who has read about it all unfolding online, feeling that you can help is an integral part of minimizing survivor’s guilt. If you have skills or knowledge that can directly assist those in need, offer your time. If you have medical, organizational, cooking, first aid, legal, accounting, animal welfare, counseling, child-minding, plumbing, electrical, building construction, etc. skills, all of these and more can help the people in need. Just plain old volunteering goes a long, long way to assist those who drastically need help.

  • Be a donor. In a disaster situation, money is the best possible thing you can donate in our current times. Money enables people to purchase what is needed rather than being confronted by well-meaning but unhelpful donated items. When donating, please ensure that your money is going to reputable charities such as the American Red Cross, United Way, etc. If you want to donate items, wait until aid organizations and governments clarify precisely what is needed via their publishing lists.

  • Stay in touch with people you know in the disaster area. Even if you cannot physically help them, you can help them emotionally by talking to them by phone, emailing them, and sending them anything they might need. Let them know how much you love and care about them and that there is always a bed at your house if it becomes too much.

  • Rediscover your sense of humor. While natural disasters are terrible events and are not a joke in themselves, many survivors find strength in joking about the manner in which they are coping. If you are not in the disaster yourself, recognize the sense of humor of survivors as a coping mechanism, not a form of belittling the event, and support their endeavors to stay strong through the humor.

My wife and I teach sessions for newsrooms going through traumatic stress. One piece of advice my wife, who is a therapist, offers is to “be generous.” Gratitude is a huge stress reliever. A number of university studies show an association between gratitude and happiness.

Is it time for TV reporters to stop standing in the hurricane wind?

Let me stipulate that I honor and respect the journalists who have covered Hurricane Ian and will cover Ian in the days ahead. And I respect them enough to say the time has arrived to come in out of the rain. We have enough remote cameras and other ways to witness the strength of a storm without some rain-soaked journalist standing in the wind telling us what we can clearly see. There was a time when this kind of reporting might have been needed because people didn’t respond to forecasts and warnings as they do today. But with so many cameras now trained live on beachfronts, highways and neighborhoods, we can see what is happening live from a zillion angles. Standing in the hurricane wind is dramatic and visual. It is sort of a rite of passage for reporters here in south Florida. But it has become a trope, a punchline and it undercuts the serious work that journalists do during storms.

One more thing: I cannot say enough good things about the journalists in the Ft. Myers TV market who not only did what they could to save lives but will be there long after the out-of-town crews leave to chase Ian up the East Coast. WINK-TV in Ft. Myers, which is a terrific station, got washed out but is still hustling to get back on the air. You will notice the station is updating its website nonstop and its Facebook is refreshed.

I also want to praise our newspaper colleagues for their work documenting Hurricane Ian. Some of the most remarkable storm images are not video but stills from skilled photojournalists who somehow got to where others could not.

Journalists to the rescue

There is no telling how many lives Florida journalists have saved this week. Most will never be known but WESH 2’s reporter Tony Atkins and crew noticed a woman waving for help. Atkins waded into the water and walked her on his back. Roll that video.

An Australian photojournalist was shooting a live shot when he spotted a family wading through water. Yahoo reported:

During the live coverage for Australian breakfast show Sunrise, on Channel 7, cameraman Glen Ellis noticed a family struggling to carry their belongings through rising floodwaters in the background of his shot.

Ellis is seen running into the floodwaters to assist, as the camera continues to roll.

Sunrise host David Koch can be heard through the live cross asking if everything is OK.

7NEWS US correspondent Tim Lester confirmed the crew was fine, adding that it is “an enormous storm”.

“We’re just helping some people through the water here. That is our camera operator, Glen Ellis, out there. I think you can see he is trying to help people who are moving away from their homes,” Lester says.

And The Wrap reports:

NewsNation correspondent Brian Entin helped rescue a dog and cat in the middle of his coverage on Hurricane Ian, as the storm hit a Florida harbor.

Entin tweeted a video of the animal rescue, in which a Florida man waded through wind-blown waters to grab the dog from a sailboat, leading her to Entin, who then put her in the trunk of a white SUV.

According to Entin, the man who rescued the dog went back for a cat stranded in the storm, as well. Watch the video from Wednesday here or at the top of this post.

Don’t forget Puerto Rico

The Biden administration has finally done something to allow a ship carrying diesel fuel to offload its cargo in Puerto Rico after sitting offshore for days while the island pleaded for fuel. A fourth of the island is STILL without electricity.

Why insurance companies include a hurricane damage deductible

When a tree crashed into my house following a hurricane a few years ago, I called my insurance company which reminded me that when a named storm causes damage, there is a “hurricane deductible” meaning the first couple of thousand bucks or so came out of my pocket. The deductibles are usually based on a percentage (roughly 5% to 10%) of your coverage rather than a flat dollar amount. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners says:

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of hurricane or named storm deductible in place. These nineteen states are currently Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Other states may allow insurers to include hurricane deductibles in property insurance policies.

Named storm deductibles first came about in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. They became more common after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the insurance industry lost $64 billion.

For the loss to be covered, it must be caused by a named storm. According to the Center for Insurance Policy and Research (CIPR), a hurricane deductible usually applies to damage from a National Weather Service (NWS), or National Hurricane Center (NHC) declared hurricane. Named storm deductibles can also apply to other NWS or NHC weather events, such as typhoons, tropical storms or tropical cyclones.

A named storm deductible is usually a percentage of the home’s value, making a policyholder responsible for a larger portion of a loss compared to their normal homeowner’s deductible. Percentages can range from 1% to 10% of the value of the insured home. For example, if a homeowners policy has a 5% named storm deductible on a $300,000 house the policyholder would be responsible for paying $15,000 out of pocket. Named storm deductibles can also be a fixed dollar amount.

You can get details on the individual state regulations on hurricane deductibles here.

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Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at or on Twitter, @atompkins.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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