Hunkering In A Hallway With My Two Grandmothers During Hurricane Andrew

September 7th, 2017

When Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida a quarter century ago, I was an upcoming college junior spending the summer at home. My parents had traveled to take my younger brother to start college in California.

Because recent hurricanes at the time had delivered some false alarms, I remember hearing conversations about whether people would take Andrew seriously. I did.

A friend and I stood in line for hours at a grocery store to stock up on supplies. We treated ourselves to snacks while the line weaved through aisles. 

Instead of weathering the storm home alone with our dog, I decided to hunker down with my two grandmas at one of their homes.

Before leaving my own home, I corralled the family’s outdoor cats and locked them in a bathroom, hoping they could co-exist despite their previous differences. I tried to catch a feral cat which considered our property his home. He escaped my clutches and I wished him luck.

After arriving at grandma’s house, I began lowering the home’s old hurricane shutters. The one hanging over the front porch wouldn’t budge.

When the electricity went out that night, I moved my grandmothers into a hallway without windows. I captured the moment, shooting video of my grandmothers and the dog in the hallway. One of my grandmothers squinted as the camera’s light pierced the darkness. (Today, the video tape still sits on a dresser at home.) On the radio, we listened to Bryan Norcross, a local TV weatherman. He provided a play-by-play as Andrew approached and plowed his way through.

I listened as rain and wind, in sporadic sheets, pressed hard against the big, unprotected window in front. I waited to hear shattering glass. Eventually, one of the grandmothers, who had spent four decades dealing with such storms, decided to disobey her 20-year-old grandson. Sitting in a chair in the hallway was not comfortable. She left and laid down in her bedroom beneath two windows.

When the storm ended, I looked outside. The storm had dismantled the overhead screen covering grandma’s pool. One of the hurricane shutters had ripped off the house and landed down the street. We were lucky. Grandma’s home, built in the 1950s, stood up to Mother Nature. But an uncle’s home took a direct hit. And debris flew into the window of a family friend’s home. Wind invaded their home and, with no exit plan, moved room to room, delivering significant damage.

The telephone lines survived the night. In the early morning hours, I called my brother’s college searching for my parents. Someone explained school policy prevented her from providing me personal information such as the telephone number to my brother’s dorm room. After I explained the situation, she received authority to break the rules.

Grandma’s house remained dark for days. I hadn’t realized how much we depend on artificial light until none existed, not even a single street light or the glow of a neighbor’s television. At night, I heard voices in the neighborhood but saw no one. I called a friend. He explained when his family evacuated their home on Miami Beach, it was the first time he saw fear in his father’s eyes. My friend and I spoke for three hours on the phone to occupy our time.

The electricity turned on at my grandma’s home before other locations. An uncle, aunt and cousins started sleeping over to take advantage of the air conditioning. My grandma welcomed the extra company but was not accustomed to the crowd. At one point, she lost her cool. I remember yelling.

I eventually transferred myself to my other grandma’s apartment, which still lacked electricity. One night, she and I sat on her upstairs balcony, talking for hours and listening to mysterious voices and noises below. That time together, the two of us alone with nothing but our words and stories, was my most memorable moment with her.

My parents flew back from California. We drove to our home. Street lights had crashed on to pavement. Debris punctured holes into the tires of cars attempting to navigate the streets. Fallen trees devoured the street I grew up on. We climbed through the woods to get home. The house, built by my father the architect, stood proudly defiant. A tree had toppled on it but split in two without damaging the home. We opened the backdoor and freed the cats. They gingerly stepped outside, sniffing the ground, confused by a different-looking world that changed within hours. The feral cat showed up, safe and looking as if I should have never doubted him.

Landmarks we had taken for granted, such as an otherwise undistinguished tree that reminded drivers where to turn, went missing. Neighborhoods changed.

A grocery store welcomed us inside. Their electric registers and scanners were useless. Someone handed us a black marker. The store employee told us to shop and write on the items the price listed on shelves. Cashiers would take us at our word.

Without electricity, I missed most of the national coverage of the storm. But I watched it a different way. Hurricane Andrew served as a defining moment for the community I grew up in. The only neighborhood I knew, where I had ridden my bike, where my dog had chased me around, never looked the same. The visual transformation was so striking, I felt I had lost a link to the past.

My family has since moved away from Florida. For one, hurricanes have a way of spiking insurance premiums. But home is never too far away. I regularly text the friend who spoke with me on the phone for more than three hours in the dark. He still lives near the beach in Florida. Now Irma is approaching. He evacuated with his family.

Hurricanes are nature’s fully clenched fist. They also demonstrate the compassion society can show for strangers down the street or states away. They remind us how determined we are to stand up when something knocks us down. They teach us to rebuild our communities stronger than before. They show us friends will keep us company in the dark. And they ensure we cherish family even when generations apart.

This hurricane season will eventually no longer dominate headlines. But the impact can last a lifetime. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

It’s A Bad Deed To Mislead

June 16th, 2017

highly misleading video that attempts to use unfounded fears to take advantage of people’s ignorance.

I Wore The Wrong Shoes To My Presentation

May 19th, 2017
explore thedeepestwaters

 

Loren gasped. We stood in a parking lot outside a building where I would soon provide a presentation to executives. She looked at my feet. A black Ecco shoe covered one foot. A black Banana Republic shoe covered the other.

When I put on my shoes on in the early morning in our garage with the lights off, I slipped on shoes from different pairs. Realizing this in the parking lot did not panic me. After all, I can share stories of earning a living on live TV as a news reporter.

Once, after days covering a hurricane and with no access to electricity or showering, I returned to the TV station. Someone unexpectedly asked me to appear on set to provide viewers additional thoughts about the storm. I quickly shaved without cream, gashing my chin. On set, one of the anchors tried to stop the bleeding during a commercial break. He then reassured me my chin was OK. It wasn’t. After presenting my hurricane story on camera, the anchor ended the segment by promising viewers I was OK. The blood on my face, he explained, resulted from shaving.

This is why unintentionally wearing mismatched shoes for a presentation did not scare me. I initially decided I would share the story as an icebreaker. Then Loren pointed out the larger Ecco shoe might appear as a modified walking boot. This persuaded me to stay silent about my shoes and dare someone to ask about what happened to my foot.

While we set up for my presentation in a conference room, the shoes turned into only a footnote when Loren and I realized we left our laptop at home. Leaving behind our laptop did not panic me. After all, I can provide a presentation without a computer.

But my audience would miss a couple key components without my laptop. Loren called my Dad. Could he pick up our laptop and drive 30 minutes to our location? Could he also bring my other Banana Republic shoe?

My Dad somehow arrived prior to the start of my presentation. Loren met him downstairs and then called me into a side hallway as the audience began filling their seats. She handed me the laptop bag. I looked inside a side pocket where we normally store documents or computer accessories. She had stuffed the matching shoe inside. I walked back inside the conference room holding a laptop and wearing matching shoes.

While I provided my presentation in the conference room, the laptop turned into an afterthought when Loren and I realized the copy store did not print one of our three handouts. Not including one of our handouts did not panic me. After all, I can provide key points on a whiteboard.

But how did the missing handout escape us? When we picked up the handouts, the cashier asked us to review our copies. I looked at them and confirmed our order. The different handouts looked similar. However, the copy store had printed double the amount of one of the handouts and none of another.

Did I mention my presentation focused on preparing ahead of time for a potential media crisis? The mismatched shoes, forgotten laptop and missing handout did not strengthen my self validation on speaking about the importance of preparation.

After my presentation ended, one executive told me the seminar exceeded his expectations. Two other CEOs characterized the presentation as excellent. The aforementioned issues had not panicked me. After all, I can still make my wife gasp, laugh and be proud of me within the same morning.

American Airlines Incident: Why You Should Media Train Employees Even If They Won’t Talk To Reporters

April 24th, 2017
During a media crisis, be prepared for reporters who seek your organization’s permission to report the story live from your property. (2)

 

 

When I worked as a television reporter and arrived on the scene of an incident involving a company, I normally first encountered a frontline employee before one of the organization’s executives. The employees sometimes stayed silent other than telling me I would need to wait for a spokesperson’s arrival. But other employees frequently talked to me, gave me information or got into a confrontation with me. I specifically remember an apartment complex office employee arguing with me with the camera rolling about our story on the property’s swimming pool.

In the recent American Airlines video involving a crying passenger, you can see an employee getting into it with another passenger. Media training is not only for top executives. That’s because executives aren’t normally on the frontlines of their businesses with daily, face-to-face contact with customers and unexpected visits from members of the media. Some of the same techniques executives learn during media training work when handling upset customers or any member of the public who might raise questions about your business. Even if you instruct employees to keep their mouths shut when a reporter unexpectedly arrives, those employees must still handle agitated customers armed with smartphones shooting video. And while those customers may not be journalists, journalists often can’t wait to get their hands on that video. We remember numerous times when companies escalated situations because frontline employees did not know how to properly handle our concerns.

You don’t need to train every employee to become a spokesperson or learn by heart every one of your brand’s key messages. But you should take steps to ensure an employee’s initial encounter with a reporter or angry customer doesn’t generate news before the real spokesperson shows up with all the right answers.

Training While Entertaining

April 14th, 2017

Hear This!

April 7th, 2017

Video Production

Preparing For A Media Crisis

March 23rd, 2017

Preparing For A Media Crisis

10 Tips To Lose Credibility With News Media

March 2nd, 2017

Credibility

  1. Make major shifts in key messages within short periods of time.
  2. Make statements that don’t match actions.
  3. Prohibit certain news outlets from attending media briefings.
  4. Ask reporters to profile your organization without providing a story angle.
  5. Answer questions before ensuring leadership is on the same page and then backtrack.
  6. Hammer away at opponents’ actions and then downplay allies’ similar conduct.
  7. Act as if important issues don’t matter.
  8. Share misleading soundbites.
  9. Blame the media.
  10. Lie.

 

C-SPAN Might Make You A Smarter Citizen

January 19th, 2017

TV

My mom asked me how she might ensure she is watching and reading the most objective news. I asked her to list the sources that provide her information. Media outlets that tend to reinforce her political views dominated her list. Understanding this is the first step for her and others. People often label as “objective” the news that leans toward their positions.

My first recommendation for my mom was to watch and read a news outlet known for providing points-of-view vastly different from her opinions. This could provide balance. She crinkled her face and implied watching that particular outlet would be the equivalent of forcing yourself to eat a meal you detested.

My second recommendation was the better one: Watch C-SPAN. Watching President Obama’s last news conference as president reinforced my advice. I didn’t watch the news conference live. I watched it in its entirety later on c-span.org.

C-SPAN offers us the option of viewing the news without filters. You can hear the questions that people are answering. You can hear complete answers instead of soundbites. After a news conference, we don’t need to hear analysis from talking heads. Take it from a former television reporter: Many journalists are not smarter than us. They often aren’t better educated. You don’t need talking heads to help you understand what you just heard.

Yes, many issues are complex. Perhaps you don’t fully understand the issue. Maybe you are skeptical the answers you hear reflect truth or facts. Then engage in your own form of fact checking.

In addition, you learn a lot watching an unfiltered version of the news. You can hear all the words and answers and not only the ones that journalists or talking heads determined are most important.

True, hearing talking heads who mostly agree with you might make you feel better about controversies in our society. But that path won’t necessarily make you smarter. Be strong enough to challenge your own ideologies.

You just might want to turn C-SPAN off before the station starts taking phone calls. That’s when you might again hear talking heads … not from the networks but from your neighbors.

Noticing Sunsets And Mountains

January 13th, 2017

We’ve been listening more frequently to 1940s music on satellite radio. This surprises us. We’re not even fans of what artists produced in the 1990s. But the sounds of what our grandparents’ listened to suddenly captivate our ears.

Most strikingly, this music is relaxing. It doesn’t fuel our adrenaline while driving and that’s OK. Slowing down, actually enjoying the drive and more frequently noticing sunsets and passing mountains are pleasant alternatives to a world of smartphones constantly demanding our attention.

We recognize some of the musicians such as the great Louis Armstrong. We’re familiar with the Andrews Sisters or is it the Andrew Sisters? We couldn’t discuss them without peeking at Wikipedia. Ironically, much of the music sounds similar, ironic because we’ve characterized much of today’s tunes in a similar fashion. Some of the lyrics make us laugh and understand how language changes with generations. One song appears to happily discuss jerks in a car. Another song delves into a detailed discussion about chicken.

The music naturally leads us to daydream about those who listened in the 1940s, a decade we so often define by a generation experiencing world war. We travel through a subconscious time warp and better understand why rock and roll dealt such a shock to the system.

Except for our distaste for what the 90s offered and the nostalgia we feel for the 80s, we won’t proclaim one decade’s tunes superior to another. But different decades take us different places on different paces.