WINK News participates on panel at Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Emma Heaton
Published: Updated:

On day five of the Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference (FLGHC) in West Palm Beach, WINK News anchor/reporter Emma Heaton sat on a panel joined by Emergency Management Directors and experts from the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service.

According to the FLCHC website, “The GHC is the nation’s largest and best-attended conference focusing on hurricane planning, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation! The GHC is an opportunity to learn from the successes of others and identify proven best practices, as well as learning what mistakes to avoid BEFORE it’s too late.”

The panel

The panel, organized by University of Alabama Associate Professor of Journalism and Creative Media Chandra Clark, focuses on communication in the 2022 hurricane season.

Panelists included WINK News’ Emma Heaton; Scott Garner, the Dixie County Emergency Management Director; Chris Evan, the Citrus County Emergency Management Director; Jamie Rhome, the Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center; Dan Brown, the Senior Hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center; Felicia Browser, the Meteorologist in Charge for the National Weather Service.

Improving communication strategies

One of the primary goals of the panel is to address challenges encountered during the 2022 hurricane season, particularly regarding communication and localized information.

By examining these challenges, the panel seeks to identify areas for improvement, ensuring that accurate and timely information reaches the public, especially through local leaders and media outlets.

The discussion surrounded what can be done to better prepare the public better, and why these continuing relationships are so important to saving lives and property.

Building resilient communities

Effective communication is crucial for building resilient communities that can withstand the impact of natural disasters.

By enhancing communication between local media, national weather offices, and emergency management agencies, the panel hopes to help communities better prepare for and respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Looking ahead

The panel not only reflected on past experiences but also looked to the future. By examining current relationships between local media and national weather offices, the panel identified concrete examples of improvements in the communication process that can help save lives and property in future storms.

Journalist’s perspective

WINK News anchor Emma Heaton’s portion of the discussion:

“I stand before you today as a journalist who experienced Hurricane Ian, a storm that forever changed our community and the lives of its residents. It was my first major storm, and its intensity left a lasting impression on me both personally and professionally.

During Hurricane Ian, effective communication between storm prediction agencies, news stations, and the public became crucial. Timely and accurate information was essential for informing the public about the storm’s track, intensity and potential impacts. However, disseminating this information was challenging.

Our news station, like many others, faced significant challenges during and after the storm. The intensity of Hurricane Ian forced us off the air as water slowly crept into our studio while our anchors and meteorologists were delivering critical information to our viewers. We lost cars, equipment, and the ability to broadcast on television. Instead, we relied on our radio streaming service, transmitter site and even used a whiteboard to convey crucial weather updates to our viewers.

Role of storytelling/informing the public: What’s needed to get it done? 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, I encountered stories of resilience and recovery that touched my heart. Many residents struggled to navigate the complex process of filing insurance claims and accessing assistance from FEMA, facing financial hardship and emotional trauma. One main theme? They wished they had more warning.

Reflecting on Hurricane Ian, it is clear there is much work to be done to improve our disaster preparedness and response strategies. We must strengthen our community networks, ensure that information flows freely and accurately and support one another in times of need.

Meteorologists I work with continue to stress that the impacts of a hurricane can be felt outside the cone. We need to find a way to better communicate this to the public. People are not in the clear just because they’re outside the cone.

False comparisons between hurricanes, like comparing Ian to Charley, create false senses of security. How can we find a way to make practical comparisons that truly prepare people for what’s to come?

We also need to find a way to get emergency management offices all on the same page. In Southwest Florida, some were quick to issue evacuation orders while others took their time, which cost lives.

I worked closely with emergency managers through the storm. While coordination and communication were generally effective, there were some challenges, particularly in disseminating information to the public in a timely manner. Improving this aspect of our emergency response should be a top priority moving forward.

As a journalist, storytelling is the heart of what I do. During Hurricane Ian, I saw firsthand the power of storytelling in informing the public and highlighting the human impact of natural disasters. Moving forward, we need to continue to prioritize accurate and compassionate storytelling to ensure that the public remains informed and engaged during times of crisis.

In conclusion, Hurricane Ian was a sobering reminder of the importance of effective communication and preparedness in the face of natural disasters. As we move forward, let us commit to learning from the lessons of the past and working together to build a safer, more resilient community for all.”

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.