How to report on an emergency situation

How to report on an emergency situation

How can journalists best cover an incident that involves emergency personnel without hindering the work of those on the scene?

That was the topic of a discussion last week hosted by The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

B2 principal Kyle Parks was on a panel with two officials from B2 client Sunstar Paramedics – communications director Brian Eels and director of operations Richard Schomp. They were joined by Brad Dykens, public education officer for Seminole Fire Rescue.

Panel moderator Bradley Wilson, director of student media at Midwestern State University, asked the panelists how a journalist should interact with emergency services personnel at the scene of an emergency.

Some tips for journalists that came up in the discussion:

- Assess the situation before you jump in. Determine who’s in charge and see if they can direct you to the right person to answer questions.

- An emergency scene is usually divided into three zones – “hot”, “warm” and “cold”. Don’t immediately try to enter the “hot” zone. Position yourself in the warm zone to stay close to the situation while not interfering with operational procedures in the “hot” zone.

- Wear your credentials. This will help differentiate you from onlookers that may have gathered on the scene. The public information officer will be on the lookout for media when he or she is prepared to issue a statement.

- Look for other story angles while waiting for updated information. For example, is there interesting background information about the people involved in the situation? Or is the incident part of a trend?

- If covering emergency situations is part of your regular beat, form relationships with emergency service providers’ public information officers. In an emergency situation, officials may be more likely to talk with a familiar face that they trust.