A new world of hurricane coverage.


 Hurricane Ike near Key West…………We watched it go by and see below, did it safe and sane!





Don’t kid yourself, we hear it from viewers and they are serious when they say they think reporters are pretty stupid standing out in the wind and rain going live with hurricane coverage.  “You guys tells us to take cover, stay inside and there you are getting pounded by waves along sea walls and getting blown over by 60mph gusts.” I have been there and I have heard the complaints.


An old time network correspondent told me during Hurricane Andrew, “Hank, they want to see you out in it.”  “They” were the producers and news management folks up and down the network food chain.  The other “they”, the viewers thought it was pretty dumb.


There is a solution. I have seen and been a part of the future of Hurricane field reporting.  It is real basic and it is high tech.  WTVJ  News Operations Manager Rob Gibson,   Engineering Manager Jaime Bulnes and Chief Photographer Mike Zimmer wired up the station “Hurricane Hummer” weather promotion vehicle. Here is how Rob describes it:  “We have turned our Hurricane Hummer into a multi-cam, Skype capable, live roaming vehicle.  There are two permanently mounted cameras inside the Hummer, and room on a switcher for many more.  We put a small rack in the back of the vehicle with a switcher and a mixer all of which feed into a laptop which is mounted on top of the rack using a docking station.   The Hummer also comes equipped with 2ghz Digital microwave transmitter and a BGAN Video Sat phone if all else fails.” Skype is an Internet based system that transmits pictures via, in this case, cell phone and is carried by the Internet back to the WTVJ studios. 


There you have it. Small format cameras, the ability to transmit three different ways and all snug inside a heavy vehicle that can handle high wind gusts protecting the reporter, cameraman and driver from the elements.


We put the Hurricane Hummer to the test during Hurricane Ike’s September 9th, Key West brush by.


It was wonderful from a reporter’s perspective. I was out of the elements, no rain coat, I could hear our off air signal and producer  prompts through the IFB, I had my laptop on gathering information, we were able to move at will to locations where there was flooding, and best of all the viewer did not have to see me do what I call “the dance of stupidity” standing out in the brunt of what for Key West was a tropical storm.  Yes, I had the ability to be on camera. Much like our Chopper Six helicopter I could switch camera shots between a “talent camera” and two exterior cameras.  Frankly, it was nice to not be wet for hours on end and beaten up by the elements and in the main out of danger.


We did not go into extended coverage. We just produced “hits” for the regular newscasts including a tour right down Duvall Street at 11Pm. Duvall Street is the main drag in Key West. Our pictures showed a darkened but not deserted tourist focal point that is always a critical backdrop for the economic side of hurricane coverage.


Where the Hummer/Skype set up will pay benefits is eating up time during wall-to-wall coverage. The ability to move and report  along the way can sure help producers in a go-to situation when reporters tethered to Live trucks or fiber cable drops are searching for new material.  A Skype equipped vehicle can move on, provide new pictures and give the reporter plenty to talk about.


The down side: the pictures are not true broadcast quality. However the grainy images give the coverage an urgency that screams: “things are not ordinary. I am sure video quality issues will be solved in short order as technology advances and to tell the truth the viewer does not seem to mind, especially during hurricane coverage.


The overall experience was more than satisfactory. No question the viewers noticed. Response was forth coming when I encountered viewers and public official in the wake of Ike. They liked it and were not shy about saying that it was nice that “you did not have to get out in the storm.”  Amen to that!




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