Posted by: conniebook | January 12, 2008

RADIO, Latin root radi, to emit beams like ‘rays’

New Orleans is clean tonight. January 10, 2008. The trash left behind the LSU win over Ohio State on Monday is bagged and on the curb. At the same time they’ve been cleaning, city workers are prepping for Mardi Gras, set to begin in just a few weeks. The police barricades and parade seating staged and ready for the reveille.

If you flew into the airport, traveled to downtown New Orleans and checked into your hotel, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t see much of the remains of Hurricane Katrina. If I didn’t know from childhood experiences that the tall building adjacent to the interstate used to be Charity Hospital or from a visit last year that those white trailers parked in front yards are FEMA trailers, it could be that you could arrive, check in and begin enjoying the city without one thought of Hurricane Katrina.

But on this trip, I can’t get Hurricane Katrina off my mind. In fact it’s been on my mind since the fall of 2006 when I happened upon the story of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans, an effort to bring radio back on the air quickly amid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I teach broadcasting at Elon University in North Carolina. I’ve been teaching broadcasting for about 20 years and with each year, I talk about broadcast radio less and less. The radio industry is working to stay meaningful amid a sea of competing digital music found on self programmed i-pods and the commercial-free efficiency of satellite radio. Every year I ask my students the same question, how many of you listen to local radio? Fewer each year raise their hand. So when I read about a vibrant, meaningful act by radio, specifically two radio groups Clear Channel and Entercom; I was excited. Radio was taking the lead, recognizing the role it serves as an industry—a role that includes significant investment in the communities it serves.

With me are 10 young Elon University students interested in careers in some shape or form that fall within the broadcast industry. They’ll be talking with radio leadership, public safety officials, engineers, disc jockeys and radio news broadcasters, learning as much as they can in the following days to support the reading and research they’ve been doing. The New Orleans radio industry has a story to tell, one every radio stakeholder in America’s cities can learn from and our goal is to capture that during our journey here.

The need for local media coverage is the one attribute I personally hope to explore while I’m here. We are a more transient society in every aspect. As a result, the role of media in providing local, national and international coverage is responding to that. The events of Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that while national news coverage of events can highlight and provide information, it can’t explain why. Only local coverage, local perspective can provide meaning, historical analysis and ultimately solutions to events in our communities.

Posted by: jayliotta | January 21, 2008

Richard Petty: State EAS Chair

            Since its modification in the mid 1990s, the Emergency Alert System has served as the key tool among the state and local government for distributing vital emergency information, such as weather or child abduction alerts. Richard Petty, the Louisiana State EAS Chair, sits at the helm of this important system and makes sure that it is always running properly. Petty has witnessed both the positive and negative areas of the Emergency Alert System and was happy to share his opinions.

The AMBER Alert (a warning that is distributed when a child abduction is reported) can be put out to the public in less than 15 minutes, which raises the potential for stopping kidnappers. Petty observes that this system is one of the more successful aspects of the Emergency Alert System. Also, despite the damage that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on the Louisiana area, only one radio station was so badly damaged that it could no longer maintain the cost of being a primary entry point for distributing emergency warnings.

            However, there is an issue of credibility that taints the effectiveness of the EAS. Petty partially attributes this lack of credibility to the number of severe thunderstorm warnings that were being distributed by the National Weather Service. Potentially, some people may begin to think that the alerts are a waste of their time and subsequently may ignore more serious alerts.

            As the federal government begins to test a new alert system, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), Petty oversaw the installation of the system throughout Louisiana. From his experience with the system, Petty discussed how the new system adds a level of flexibility that the EAS lacked. Although IPAWS is not without its flaws, Petty is certain that the new system will better serve people in an emergency situation.

Posted by: jayliotta | January 21, 2008

“You can’t show favoritism, obviously, in this industry.”

As we walked into the conference room at the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center, our group could not help noticing that the weather map documenting Hurricane Katrina’s trajectory was projected onto the wall. The coincidence was not lost on Lieutenant Lawrence McLeary, a public information officer for the Louisiana State Police. He explained to our group that the map was recently used by emergency responders as a training exercise. Hurricane Katrina brought to light several serious problems with existing emergency procedures.

One such problem was the ineffectiveness of the Emergency Alert System. As McLeary pointed out the EAS, a large black console with several employees monitoring it, he recalled his own personal frustrations with the system. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina forced first responders to react immediately to emergency situations, and the EAS proved to be a roadblock rather than a beneficial warning tool. During the crisis the EAS was manned by National Guardsmen, who were often pulled away from the machine to deal with other pressing issues. Unfortunately, that meant the only way to send out a message meant tracking down somebody authorized to send an alert and having them write it down before anything could be sent out. By the time that all this was accomplished “the information was stale,” explains McLeary. “The EAS doesn’t work in a fluid situation.”

Another issue that Lt. McLeary discussed was the inability of the police to use one specific radio station to distribute emergency information to the public. The competitive nature of the radio business causes many stations to cry foul if the state police try to use a single station in an emergency. “You can’t show favoritism, obviously, in this industry,” said McLeary.

However, there were also some successful communication stories. McLeary partially credits the reestablishment of successful communications among the police force to satellite phones, distributed by Motorola. The satellite phones proved to be essential to communication after Hurricane Katrina decimated vital communications infrastructure in the New Orleans area. Satellite phones allowed the state police to communicate essential information for rescue attempts.

Posted by: tiffanylyons | January 21, 2008

The Little Station that Could

On the morning of August 28th, Robert Carroll, the Chief Engineer for WWNO and his other staff members evacuated their studios as Hurricane Katrina approached the city of New Orleans. When their signal went off the air, they had no idea that it would take them 24 days before they would be able to broadcast again. Fortunately they were able to get help from the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios in Atlanta.The station also credits the Internet as being a major help for them to get back on the air. They used DSL lines to transfer information from Atlanta to their makeshift studio in staff member, Fred Kasten’s home. This set up allowed Kasten to send daily updates of the situation in New Orleans until the station would return back to their studios on December 19th, 2005.  It took WWNO until June 2006 to get back to their normal routine.

Posted by: craigrcampbell | January 21, 2008

“The Show Goes On”

Director of Homeland Security in New Orleans, Colonel Terry J. Ebbert.ebbert21.jpg

On Thursday we had the opportunity go to the office of Homeland Security and talk to Colonel Terry Ebbert. As the director, he was responsible for coordinating emergency response for the Office of Emergency Preparedness, The Police Department and the Fire Department. 

Ebbert started off by identifying the difference between commercial radio and operational radio.  He said that operational communications is a system that works internally without ever being heard, seen, or used by the public.  Radio communications, on the other hand, is a link to the public. 

According to Ebbert, Katrina is an excellent example of how not to use commercial communications. When the Hurricane hit, the government had not come up with a concrete, well thought out process to deal with public communications at times of crisis.  He said that it doesn’t make a difference if the government is communicating well with the media or not because somebody is going to say something.  The show goes on.  If you, as a public official, don’t supply the information, they will supply whatever story they can get.  Now, one of the very difficult challenges of all United States public safety is to figure out how to involve commercial communications.  New Orleans started with providing a station in each EOC because if anything, relationships have to be developed long before any emergency happens.

Besides having to address the most basic issues of operability, the government must still figure out how to build interoperability.  As of right now, he said, there is no way to combine systems such as Motorola or Maycom.  This proprietary aspect of commercial communications is one of the biggest problems for the government in creating interoperability.  Companies are not going to build an all-encompassing communication tool because they want to sell their iPods, phones, and radios separately.

I tried asking the Colonel to recall any specific events of broadcast radio being helpful in their efforts.  Like Sally Forman, Tom Levy, and Mike McKean, he mentioned that the radio was helpful, not in gathering information, but in providing it.  He told me that if policemen were using the radio to figure out who needed help and where, it was done on an individual basis.  It is interesting to note that while police cars have AM/FM radios and policemen can listen to broadcast news if they need to, fire trucks do not.

According to Ebbert, emergency preparedness is needed for more than weather. Hurricanes are, of course, a high priority but they also have to be ready for anything from marine hazards to terrorist threats.  I think that statement truly helps in understanding the importance of strong, functioning and redundant communication systems.  The inability to quickly and efficiently respond to the Katrina disaster in our own country, shed significant light on the dangers we, as a nation, are in if our communication systems are once again wiped out by a storm or foreign attack.

Navigational systems and New Orleans are not compatible. Otherwise, Magellans are not good navigational systems and a Garmin would be a better choice for any of you considering buying one. After an hour-long ride to a restaurant 15 minutes away, we finally met up with Doug Daspit, a patient youth minister at a small bible church in Algiers, New Orleans. During lunch we heard the story of his small congregation and their attempts to arrange communication among their friends and church members not with broadcast radio, but with Internet blogging.

Doug has a very unique perspective on the opportunity that the internet possesses. Doug is in touch with the use of internet because both him and his wife use it for their personal blogging. Since Doug was able to use blogging to help get information out, it allowed for another backup in the system of communication. Since a lot of phone lines and cell phone towers were down, the internet proved essential in uniting people. Doug talks about how he was able to get information from everyone in the church, even if they had limited knowledge of how to use the internet. Doug was part of the masses that had limited information about what was happening in New Orleans. Since so much of the information was unconfirmed, it was hard to know exactly how he could help. One thing that the blog allowed was to make accommodation’s until they had more information.

Another aspect of the blog that proved to be useful was something that neither Doug nor anyone at his church expected. Since the internet is a public line, anyone can get access to the information Doug was posting. People around the country were coming across this blog and the church’s website and were looking for ways to help. Since there are very few churches that have this kind of technology, a lot of help was directed at Doug’s. Church’s all over the country were more than willing to lend a hand and still are.

The internet, as proven by this case, is another form of communication that can proved to be so vital in a situation like Hurricane Katrina. It is accessible form anywhere in the United States and should be used more effectively in disaster situations. Doug Daspit has proven that this form of communication was vital to his experience and it could be vital for others as well. Blogging is just the tip of the iceberg in this situation but for right now, it is the most visible and has proved to be an excellent provider or information in times of need.

Posted by: craigrcampbell | January 21, 2008

Face to Face Communications

US Coast Guard, LCDR Mike McKean

My final interview of the week was with Lieutenant Commander Mike McKean of the United States Coast Guard.  I was especially excited about meeting him because the men and women who serve in the U.S. Coast Guard were outstanding heroes during the search and rescue efforts after the storm and the levee breechings. 

The Coast Guard is accredited with having the most efficient response because of two major reasons:  preparedness and comparatively functioning communication abilities.  I asked LC McKean why they were so prepared unlike every other department.  His answer was simple; they treat every Hurricane as if it were that one big one.  They moved their assets out of New Orleans to a predetermined center in Alexandria, LA and evacuated their families and prepared themselves for Mother Nature.

The breeching of the levees, however, was a surprise even for the Coast Guard.  Despite their readiness for the Hurricane, they too found themselves struggling for new ways to operate.  While their towers were still standing, connection was destroyed and left them to unconventional features such as Nextel’s “Push-to-Talk” and commercial Internet.  At one tower, in fact, they had a team manually relaying the messages.  And, in sync with every other department, the saturated 700mhz and 800mhz frequencies limited radio use.  Regarding communication, I believe the Coast Guard would have been in as rough a position as everyone else if they had not moved their command center out of Metairie.  Knowing that Hurricanes are destructive, Mike McKean emphasized that redundancy is the saving grace in situations mimicking Hurricane Katrina.

McKean had an interesting perspective that we had not yet heard until speaking with him.  He emphasized the need to not only search and rescue, which was their first priority, but also to get United States commerce based in New Orleans back on its feet.  The Mississippi river needed to be functioning before the corn harvest began.

As far as knowing where to go and who to save, McKean said they would fly or take a boat and just start picking them up and moving them to higher ground.  One lesson they learned was to establish predetermined drop points and know, before the search and rescue began, which ones were still available.  He also said that working with unofficial first responders was sometimes difficult but generally worked well because of the neighbor-like relationships they had.

In general, the Coast Guard was not aware of the work of the United Radio Broadcasters and they relied on their own systems to guide their rescue efforts.  LC McKean did admit that it is important to have liaisons stationed with broadcasters to send information to the public.  Out of all the different ways they passed information along, LC Mike McKean said that the best communication they had, the best communication any department has ever had, was face to face.

Posted by: karitaylor | January 21, 2008

“I don’t try to think for God.”- Loretta Petit

Loretta Petit- WYLD, 1/15/08

Loretta Petit is the voice of the popular gospel station, WYLD 940 AM, a Clear Channel station in New Orleans. Petit evacuated to Baton Rouge and broadcast from Clear Channel Baton Rouge as a part of the United Radio Broadcasters. Although she has a large Christian following with WYLD, Petit was most remembered during that time for her calm voice, uplifting attitude, and her partnership with Spud McConnell, an unlikely pairing.

Petit creates a very welcoming atmosphere when she enters a room. Underneath the cool and class, Petit possesses attitude that exudes strength from a supreme God. “I never left the consciousness of who God is,” she said of the trying times during Katrina. What was so cool about her is that she didn’t hide behind anything; she carries her faith out in the open for the entire world to see and to listen to.

When the cameras were turned off and we started to pack up our gear, Petit asked us if we had any questions about God, faith, church, or anything related to them. Because we were headed to another interview, we politely said no. However, I can’t help but to admire her for asking such a bold statement to people she’d only known for 45 minutes. Now, I can understand why Spud McConnell became a little bothered. She’s a hard act to follow.

Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 21, 2008

“That’s not our region. Tell them to call the 800 number.”

WWNO disc jockey and ham radio enthusiast Bob Dunn saw the best and worst of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. In the time immediately preceding and during the storm he was running the city’s emergency ham radio out of City Hall, the local government’s command center. While there he became disgusted with how things were handled. From government officials to the head of hospitals for the city, there was “a clear lack of preparation and a lot of pig-headed ignorance.”

After the storm passed and the city started flooding the command center was relocated to the Hyatt, where Mayor Nagin had been the entire time. Dunn was so frustrated with the incompetence of the government that he left New Orleans with his personal ham radio and conducted rescue efforts from Baton Rouge.

Dunn feels strongly about the relationship that amateur radio operators have with the community they operate within. He says that they have “permission to use airwaves for free because [they] provide emergency services” in times of need. Hams in New Orleans have taken this calling even more seriously since the storm. They have banned together and organized into fourteen teams of three who are ready to respond at all times. The Coast Guard has also created the 45th flotilla made up entirely of ham radio operators (the first of its kind in the country).

As for WWNO, the University of New Orleans radio station that is also an affiliate of NPR, it was evacuated along with the rest of campus. They did start webcasting almost immediately after the storm from Baton Rouge. For those with Internet access it was a valuable resource for information during the devastating time.

Sarah Comiskey- Director of Communications, Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1/15/08

Sarah Comiskey was a breath of fresh air. She was young and had so much passion for her job. I don’t mean to be rude but I think we expected her to be much older than she was. What exactly does she her job entail? Sarah maintains communications with every organization that falls under the Archdiocese umbrella, including the 86 schools and the 114 active parishes. Let’s just say she’s a very busy woman. When she entered the room and announced that she was late, I think we all developed a small infatuation with her for different reasons.

Although we were there to talk to Sarah specifically about radio, she also spoke to us about the schools and what hardships the students had undergone during the past 2 years in New Orleans. “We heard that schools would be closed for the academic year…As soon as we heard that, we knew that was unacceptable.” They placed students who were displaced by the storm into schools free of charge until more schools were able to function. We found that to be quite heroic of the Archdiocese.

To hear more of what Sarah had to say, watch the clip below.

Posted by: kellymurtagh | January 20, 2008

National Weather Service: Robert Ricks

  HURRICANE KATRINA… A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH…RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.  MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS…PERHAPS LONGER. 

            ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED.  CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE…INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE. 

            HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY…A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT. 

                        AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD…AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES.  SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED.  PERSONS, PETS, AND LIFESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

            POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS…AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN.  WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

            THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED.  LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED. 

            ONCE HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET… DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE! 

 

Click.  That’s all it takes.  One click of the mouse and this message gets sent to media outlets all over the country to alert the public of an emergency.  And that is exactly what Robert Ricks, forecaster at the National Weather Service office stationed in Slidell, Louisiana did. Though he humbly says that he was just doing his job, without this warning, several New Orleanians may not have evacuated to safety, and instead would have been trapped in a desperate situation.

 

Ricks also explained the National Weather Service’s role in monitoring weather patterns and alerting the public in the case of an emergency.  One particular ritual in monitoring these patterns, is deploying a weather balloon at 5 AM and 5 PM.  This balloon sends data to the office about the weather.  And we had the opportunity to let the weather balloon go sending it into the atmosphere!  We learned so many valuable things about the inner-workings of the National Weather Service, and their commitment to serving the public by alerting them of weather emergencies. 

  

Posted by: stevenhaas | January 20, 2008

“That Made Us Human”

 

Kay Wilkins – Executive Director, Southeast Louisiana Red Cross 1/15/08

Although the American Red Cross has received some criticism for their response during Hurricane Katrina, after talking with Kay Wilkins, CEO of the Red Cross in New Orleans, I quickly realized how well they prepared and responded in the wake of a catastrophic hurricane. The Red Cross had a plan in place for years prior the storm, so when Hurricane Katrina became a threat to the New Orleans area, they knew exactly what to do. The Red Cross opened shelters north of Interstate 12, which is outside of the designated “risk area” for storm surge. The plan was to move 1.6 million people of New Orleans to the furthest shelters before the storm came barreling ashore. It was against Red Cross policy to stay in the danger zone during a major hurricane, so therefore they made every effort to get as many people as they could to follow their evacuation plan.

The radio played a major role for the Red Cross during the storm and for the weeks following it. “Talk radio became the way you got all of your information, good, bad and ugly,” Wilkins said. During the weeks after Katrina, there was poor communication as a result of no electricity and cell phones not working. As a result, the Red Cross was able to use the radio to dispel some of the misinformation that people had. Wilkins began calling in to the radio at 7am and 7pm every day for 3 weeks to answer questions from listeners and provide information about the relief efforts of the Red Cross. “That was when we started really becoming human and becoming part of the group that was trying to find solutions.”

Posted by: sarahsager | January 20, 2008

Louisiana Public Broadcasting Service

January 16, 2007- Baton Rouge, LA

Inside the facilities of Louisiana’s Public Broadcasting in Baton Rouge, our entourage met Beth Courtney, the long time president of LPB.  She gave us a grand tour of her facilities, which encompasses several studios, two of which were news and sports broadcasting facilities. She explained to the group how she housed most of the news facilities, radio as well as television, local as well as national. The squat grey building was covered with reporters sleeping on floors and maximizing the usage of her facilities. She feels that the public broadcasters had some of the best coverage and also did well with long-term coverage for people displaced during Hurricane Katrina.

Courtney then introduced us to Robyn Ekings who actually stayed in New Orleans with her boyfriend during Katrina and felt the need to help after the crisis. She waded through several feet of water near the Superdome to be on air talent for WWL immediately after the hurricane. She then left and came back to work several days later for Louisiana Public Broadcasting. She said that it was overwhelming how many people were stationed at LPB the weeks after Katrina but that they did the country, the state of Louisiana and the New Orleans and greater area a huge service. 

Posted by: sarahsager | January 20, 2008

A shotgun house full of radio…

With his deep baritone voice lulling our group into an interested trance, Fred Kasten recalled his personal Hurricane Katrina story and experiences within that for radio.  Fred Kasten, a former employee of WWNO, now runs his Saturday night Jazz show from him own home studio. His home studio was always something that he wanted to start but when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, his dream not only came true but also became a radio necessity. Mr. Kasten evacuated to Jacksonville, FL during the brunt of the storm and temporarily worked for the NPR affiliate in the area. From his on air broadcasts he had neighbors feed his cat in New Orleans, until he realized the need to return to his hometown. Once he returned home he found his shotgun house still intact with some minor refrigerator spoiling and a light slimy film covering his possessions, the most of the damage to his house. 

While the NPR affiliate for New Orleans WWNO was not a part of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans, they were one the first stations to return on air for local as well as national coverage. Kasten recalls trudging up the four story stairs to the studio of WWNO in the pitch black, over 100 degree heat and carrying down the undamaged equipment to be transported to his house. From his small make shift radio station studio he did reports of local people who had lost everything in Katrina’s rage. He also stayed alone in the newly silenced by Katrina, New Orleans with his cat. He gave recollection over the air of different parts of New Orleans and the levels of damage in the area. One thing Fred Kasten did to try and bring back normalcy and hope to his city was restarting his Saturday night, hour-long Jazz show, which he still does to this day. He truly believes that New Orleans cannot lose its culture and heritage of  the arts. Kasten was not alone in keeping the efforts of his NPR affiliate station alive during this time period, but with the resources he had and in a heroic effort he gave back to the community to which he believe gave so much to him.

Posted by: lizpalka | January 20, 2008

Chris Wood – Hurricane Katrina blogger

Chris Wood is an IT at Tulane University. As Hurricane Katrina approached, the university was preparing for new student orientation. The campus was busy with the sight of families moving their sons and daughters into the dorms. On Saturday morning, Tulane closed down and students were given the option to evacuate to Jackson State University or to go home. Chris didn’t have the option to evacuate from his 100 year old house in the Garden District because his car was broken down. Plus, his mother had passed up several rides out of New Orleans. The storm “was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time,” Chris recalls. As Katrina passed overhead, Chris’ house was protected by the other houses which sit close together on his street. He listened to the radio the first few days after the storm and doesn’t remember hearing from any government officials for quite a while.

Chris had no idea the 17th Street Canal levees had breached. He was driving around with a friend, checking on his neighbors’ animals and making sure they were fed, until the water became too deep for them to drive in. They returned home and ventured over to a bar, Ms. Mae’s, which was serving warm beer and giving away food. Inside Ms. Mae’s, everyone was listening to the radio as they realized the city was filling with water. Chris eventually evacuated with his mother and a friend and returned to New Orleans in October. He was amazed that nothing had changed since he had left. Chris began blogging after the storm because it became one of the only things that helped people get by. He felt a lot of anger towards the situation New Orleans was in. Blogging was a way for Chris to release that anger. “When you share your feelings with the world, it goes a long way to resolving those feelings within yourself,” Chris said.

Anne Lucas worked the Saturday night before Katrina came ashore as a nurse at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Anne tried to evacuate from her home in Metairie on Sunday with her sick dog that was having cluster seizures. As she tried to bypass the deadlocked traffic, she got into a wreck and her car was totaled. She and her dog had to return to Jefferson Parish to wait out the storm. Anne describes the brackish water that she literally was watching rise. The dead silence was broken by the low hum of the water pumps and the helicopters flying over her neighborhood. The helicopters made New Orleans sound like a combat zone. They made Anne think, “Maybe there is someone else out there. Maybe I am not alone.”

Lucas claims that radio talk show host, Garland Robinette, saved her sanity during Hurricane Katrina. When she thought she was all alone, Garland was the only voice she heard for what seemed like 36 hours straight. She remembers Garland broadcasting out of a closet in a hotel because he would not leave his listeners alone. Garland would tell the listeners, “Don’t lose hope,” and, “Keep the faith,” while he was trying to keep from crying himself. Anne says anybody who was stuck in New Orleans during Katrina now has a deeper appreciation of local radio. She broke down in tears as she described her gratitude toward Garland Robinette and the people who kept him on the air during those weeks following Katrina. “Those guys were the heroes, “Anne said about the radio hosts and engineers, “The people that were out there actually doing things and the people that were in a closet in a hotel.”

Posted by: lizpalka | January 20, 2008

Chris Wood – Hurricane Katrina blogger

new-orleans-117.jpg

Chris Wood is an IT at Tulane University. As Hurricane Katrina approached, the university was preparing for new student orientation. The campus was busy with the sight of families moving their sons and daughters into the dorms. On Saturday morning, Tulane closed down and students were given the option to evacuate to Jackson State University or to go home. Chris didn’t have the option to evacuate from his 100 year old house in the Garden District because his car was broken down. Plus, his mother had passed up several rides out of New Orleans. The storm “was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time,” Chris recalls. As Katrina passed overhead, Chris’ house was protected by the other houses which sit close together on his street. He listened to the radio the first few days after the storm and doesn’t remember hearing from any government officials for quite a while.

Chris had no idea the 17th Street Canal levees had breached. He was driving around with a friend, checking on his neighbors’ animals and making sure they were fed, until the water became too deep for them to drive in. They returned home and ventured over to a bar, Ms. Mae’s, which was serving warm beer and giving away food. Inside Ms. Mae’s, everyone was listening to the radio as they realized the city was filling with water. Chris eventually evacuated with his mother and a friend and returned to New Orleans in October. He was amazed that nothing had changed since he had left. Chris began blogging after the storm because it became one of the only things that helped people get by. He felt a lot of anger towards the situation New Orleans was in. Blogging was a way for Chris to release that anger. “When you share your feelings with the world, it goes a long way to resolving those feelings within yourself,” Chris said.

Posted by: kellymurtagh | January 20, 2008

The Ninth Ward, Two and half years after the storm

The ninth ward in New Orleans.  You’ve heard about it.  It is infamous for being one of the most devastated areas in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  But regardless of what you’ve heard or seen on TV, no matter what horrific image you’ve conjured in your head, actually being there is incomparable. 

 

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Two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, we drove on dilapidated street after street in the ninth ward.  It was a wasteland.  Empty lots where houses had once stood, succumbed to the growth of tangled weeds.  Debris lay forgotten on the side of the road, waiting to be picked up by a trash-man, who still hasn’t come. 

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 It was desolate, eerie, and deserted.  A true testament to the severity of Katrina.  The few houses that Katrina had spared, had spray painting on them begging, “Do not demolish, work in progress.”  However, they seemed forlorn, families begging for donations to rebuild, but the process is stagnant.

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You can imagine just how many houses were in this neighborhood, how many families lived here, and how many families have yet to return.  A few houses have been rebuilt, but instead of neighbors, the homes are surrounded by empty lots, emphasizing the slow and grueling process of rebuilding.  However, though the process may be unbearably gradual, it’s necessary.  It’s necessary to rebuild, infusing life back into this city.  And although I did not see as much rebuilding as I would have liked, I did see one construction zone.  A beacon in a sea of nothingness, this site was a symbol of rebuilding and a positive reassurance that New Orleans will be back.     

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Posted by: lizpalka | January 19, 2008

“Failure is not an option. Dead air is not an option.”

Today we sat down with Dick Lewis, the regional vice president of Clear Channel in New Orleans. Dick Lewis was a leader in the formation of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, competing radio stations had to rely on each other’s assets to get back on the air in order to provide critical and essential information to the public. The decision to unite radio stations created one talk format signal that would be simulcast on all Clear Channel and Entercom stations throughout New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Two independent stations also joined the United Radio Broadcasters and at one time more than 120 stations picked up and retransmitted their satellite fed programming.

Upon making the decision, Lewis said to the group the only way they were going to make history was to work together. Though the radio hosts were the comforting voice providing solace for unsettled citizens, the radio engineering and support staff working behind the scenes were heroic in keeping radio signals operating. Without engineers physically maintaining the infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians and others in the impacted areas would have been left without communication.

Dick Lewis addressed the fact that people don’t often realize the role broadcast radio plays in their every day life.  Lewis said, “Katrina reacquainted the community with the value of radio and reaffirmed its importance.” In a state of emergency, information is paramount. The accessibility of radio during a time of crisis made it the primary medium of communication during Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by: craigrcampbell | January 19, 2008

We’re not going to leave you behind.

Interview with Sally Forman, Director of Communications for Mayor Ray Nagin.

Today we found that rumors of New Orleans’ amazing hospitality is pure fact. This afternoon we had the opportunity to interview the director of Mayor Ray Nagin’s communications team, Sally Forman. With kindness and excitement, Mrs. Forrman opened the doors of her old Louisiana home and rushed us to the kitchen for refreshments and cookies before the interview began. Once we were all comfortably settled in the parlor of her home with her dogs wagging their tails around us, Sally Forman gave us the city’s story of Hurricane Katrina as she saw it from the make-shift offices of the city government in the Hyatt hotel.

Acting more like a secretary or chief of staff, Forman stayed alongside Nagin for the entirety of the storm and the crisis that occurred thereafter. It was Sally Forman, in fact, who coordinated the now famous interview between Garland Robinette and the emotional Mayor. She told us of her recognition of the importance of Clear Channel and Entercom broadcasting to the people and of her desperation to get the peoples’ leader on air with WWL. A maelstrom of emotion followed with the finding of a functioning phone line and their contact with the United Radio Broadcasters.

Having walked through the Superdome a couple of times, Sally Forman noted how comforting the radio was to her fellow New Orleanians. At one point she walked by a woman in the late stages of her pregnancy with her radio resting on her rounded stomach and her head laid back and eyes closed. That radio was bringing her and hundreds of people the information they needed to stay sane. The story has been the same for everyone who has spoken with us. The radio brought so much to these victims: uncomfortable, scared, and seemingly alone.

We then asked her how she used the radio knowing its importance to the people stuck in the superdome, convention center, or the roofs of their own homes. She told us that they tried to send messages to them that were consoling and fitting to the desperation of their people. They told the people that they were working 24/7 on dealing with the situation, that they hadn’t abandoned them.

Posted by: karitaylor | January 19, 2008

“Fire ants float. I had no idea.”

David Cohen- News Director, WWL Radio 1/14/08

Today our team visited Entercom’s WWL radio and we caught up with David Cohen, the news director. Cohen verbally walked us through how WWL prepared and weathered Katrina, starting at Friday morning. He told us that they had fixed their emergency plan after Hurricane George, a category 3 hurricane that made landfall in New Orleans in 1998. During Hurricane George, citizens had to seek refuge “of last resort” in the Superdome for the first time in history, and as a result, WWL began to plan for storms as strong as or stronger than a category 3.

WWL partnered with Clear Channel and formed the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans. “Convincing people to sleep was difficult,” Cohen said as he was explaining how hard the staff worked. The formation of the United Radio Broadcasters gave respite for those who listened and offered a fresh voice of talent.

Cohen expressed his faith in the changes WWL made after Hurricane Katrina to better prepare for future emergencies. The station doubled the number of redundant technologies so they can continue broadcasting in the event one of their systems fails. WWL also acquired a mobile broadcasting RV with two complete studios, giving them the capability of broadcasting anywhere in the nation.

 

Posted by: tiffanylyons | January 19, 2008

“The glue that held everything together”

At 6 months old, Richard Petty battled polio. Doctors told him that he would never be able to walk, but he proved them wrong. He proved them wrong through persistence.  When he describes himself, Petty says, “I may not be the smartest engineer, but I am the most persistent.  I’ll find a way to get the job done.”Petty, Director of Engineering at Clear Channel, had been through 15 hurricanes, but nothing could have prepared him or the other members of his crew for the magnitude of Katrina. As employees in New Orleans evacuated, the members of the Baton Rouge engineering staff began preparations to control the empty studio remotely. Fortunately for Clear Channel, their employees knew how electronics worked and were able to figure out ways to get their broadcast out and into New Orleans.  They also had resources at the national operations level of Clear Channel to help find solutions, an often unconsidered asset of cosolidated radio.In order to get things done in a crisis, there are certain key elements that are needed. First, Petty says, employees need to have the same mission and must be willing to do what ever it takes to get the job done. If everyone is working for the same goal then reaching that goal becomes easier. Next, there is the need to know how equipment works. The engineers of Clear Channel were able to work with what they had. They took different types of technology that were not normally used to send radio signals out, like Radio Shack scanners and DirecTV satellite dishes. It is also important to know your limitations.For his work during Katrina, Petty was named the “2006 Clear Channel Radio Engineer of the Year”for the Southeast region.The radio station engineers are truly some of the forgotten heroes of Katrina, because without them, millions would not have received the information that they needed. 

Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 17, 2008

“This is as simple as it gets.”

Today was insanely busy. Every time I think we have done about as much as physically possible to fit into one day I am proven wrong by the next day. It was especially interesting today when I met with Matt Anderson and Roger Farbe who are both ham radio operators with the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC). It is a group of completely volunteer ham radio enthusiasts who are a part of the state of Louisiana’s emergency response plan.

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They became part of the response plan after it became apparent that ham radio was an invaluable resource during Hurricane Katrina. When all other forms of communication were down or unreliable the hams were totally accessible and engaged in the recovery effort after the storm.

Ham radio, considered a primitive form of communication in a world filled with blackberries and cell phones, has become so advanced that it is possible to send and check email or even watch television. Because the system is so simple, there is less room for things to go wrong, making it dependable during a crisis.

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The Louisiana Emergency Operations Center now has a permanent ham radio set up specifically for use during emergency situations and a mobile communications unit with the ability to connect to virtually every radio frequency available. The state has clearly learned its lesson from Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by: karitaylor | January 17, 2008

Oh, just the thought of you…

So we just got back from Baton Rouge 30 minutes ago and I am so tired! During the last interview of the day, I was giggly because I was tired. You know the type of giggling where your mind just starts wandering and you find yourself having trouble controlling the giggles rising in your throat. And it’s not like I was giggling about seriously funny things. It was stuff like the way somebody held their head when he/she was writing or a comment that I remembered from the day before. Maybe it wasn’t because I was tired; now that I think about it, I’ve been giggling and laughing ’til I cry all day. I just love to laugh, especially when it’s too funny. At one point, I laughed so hard I almost regurgitated my lunch. Not cool. Not cool at all.

Baton Rouge reminded me of my hometown, but with more morning traffic and the most beautiful homes. We stayed at Kelly’s home and it was so nice to be in a real family setting; I think everybody misses that at some point, especially when you’re in college. Kelly’s parents are just so nice and inviting. I totally loved it. And the shower had water pressure. In Le Cirque, there isn’t any and we miss that a lot. I don’t think any of us wanted to get out of bed this morning. I mean, it was perfect. It was raining, we were all cozy in bed in our pj’s, and we could smell the breakfast downstairs. Oh! I wanted to just stay there and be lazy all day! Today was just like a 9 to 5 job with a 20 minute break for lunch, which we were surprised we had. I think today was the first day I’ve eaten all 3 meals on time. We have begun to appreciate the tiniest things in life like water pressure and lunch, which is quite comical.

None of us want to leave. Coming here, I didn’t think I’d love New Orleans as much as I do. There’s so much to do here and the city has so much to offer. I just love that I can go out for beignets in the morning, shop in the Garden District in the afternoon, experience a little bit of culture in between, and then go out for a drink at night after having fried alligator for dinner. And then go back for beignets. I just love that idea…

This kind of work is exhausting. And it’s not like these stories are necessarily fun to listen to. I’m glad that people are telling their stories and for some, this is the first time they’ve been able to share their experience but goodness! I don’t think anybody could’ve prepared me for this. I don’t say this lightly. For those of you who are reading this and wondering how one can get tired from just listening, try listening to multiple recollections of one of the largest tragedies in US history that you experienced from the couch in your living room. The exhausting part comes from trying to fully wrap your mind around it and still not understanding the magnitude. All in a day’s work, I tell you.

Fabulous.

“They gave you hope. They made you feel like you weren’t alone,” expressed Missy Barnett about the United Radio Broadcasters. A native New Orleanian, Missy truly loves her city which is why she was so reluctant to leave while Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans. Missy and her two sons, Trevor and Taylor, eventually evacuated late Sunday evening to Baton Rouge, as Katrina was just beginning to slam the Gulf Coast.

 

“Waves were flying over I-10 from Lake Pontchartrain, and my son was screaming ‘We’re going to die’, and I thought we might” said Missy. Her husband refused to leave, staying behind in New Orleans to help in any way he could.

 

After successfully evacuating, Missy describes how she was glued to the radio, keeping a notebook of all information pertaining to relief efforts. But the radio did more than announce what gas stations had fuel and where to buy food. The radio hosts were from New Orleans and suffering their own losses as well. Missy explained that because of the localism of radio, there was no need to turn to national news. To Missy, “they weren’t just doing a job, their heart was there.” The radio hosts were speaking directly to the people affected by Hurricane Katrina.

 

Missy couldn’t stand being away from New Orleans. Missy would drive as far she could into New Orleans, and then used unclaimed boats to get to her property in Metairie. Her neighborhood had flooded and her house had four feet of water in it, making it uninhabitable. Not to mention, looters had lined up computers and other electronics in their hallway to come back for eventually. The storm stripped her of irreplaceable belongings, such as baby pictures and furniture that had been passed down for generations. Missy brought to tears as she recalled the pain caused by the storm and how Katrina left so many with nothing.

 

Two years later, Missy has a strong sense of loyalty to the talk radio genre. She will flip to the radio stations that proved invaluable to her during Katrina and think to herself, “What if they had one more thing to say about the storm?” During Katrina, the radio was her best friend, her comfort, her lifeline.

Posted by: kellymurtagh | January 13, 2008

“When you are willing, you will find a way.”

When we first met Monica Pierre, she immediately caught our attention with her charming disposition and down-to-earth character. As she meaningfully shook each of our hands and repeated our names, it was evident why so many New Orleanians felt comforted by her presence as they waited for relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Monica Pierre was a part of the United Radio Broadcasters, completely dedicating herself to being on the air and serving all those in need of information and comfort. She stressed how important it was that each of the radio personalities were locals and struggling with their own losses, as they were more relatable to their audiences. The typical competitive nature between radio stations was forgotten during Katrina because uniting to provide a radio signal was the only option.

She sat down with us and described her work during the early days of the United Radio Broadcasters effort.

 

Posted by: conniebook | January 12, 2008

Monica Pierre’s Gratitude

In hindsight, it was the right decision to evacuate; but even today New Orleans radio talk show host and journalist Monica Pierre debates that decision in her head. As a radio broadcaster, she felt compelled to stay, to be on the air with her listeners, communicating emergency information. As a wife and a daughter, she felt compelled to evacuate to preserve the well being of those she loved. In the end she made a deal with Ray Romero, the other Clear Channel broadcaster on the air, that she would stay with him until midnight; but at midnight she would leave the city and then return once the storm passed to relieve him. In the end, Clear Channel management would order Romero and the handful of employees that stayed behind to leave New Orleans—a mandatory evacuation to Baton Rouge where Clear Channel owned six radio stations and had negotiated a handful of hotel rooms at the nearby Embassy Suites.

Romero and Pierre would meet again in Baton Rouge just 48 hours later—but in that 48 hours the world changed.

As Pierre remembers the events of the United Radio Broadcasters, she reminds us how thankful she is. Thankful that her home didn’t flood, thankful that she had a rental house in Baton Rouge where she and her husband could live quietly and privately while they waited to return to the city. Thankful for the leadership at Clear Channel during the storm, for the chance the United Broadcasters of Radio gave her to meet and work with others in the radio industry, to help callers to the radio show who felt safer hearing her familiar voice on the radio. In fact, Pierre’s “attitude of gratitude” has me thinking how much I have to grateful for—it’s infectious—and the City of New Orleans is infected with it.

My last visit to New Orleans was in June. Eight months later, I can see visible recovery, more city workers at work and police on the streets. Gratitude is in the air and people working look happy. Happy to see me, happy to be working, happy to be home. Monica Pierre’s simple reflection of her own gratefulness reflects a city’s healing and reminded us all to count our blessings.

Posted by: tiffanylyons | January 12, 2008

“The Weatherman Who Cried Hurricane”

Today we went to Clear Channel Radio. After spending the morning with Dick Lewis, we had the opportunity to speak with two other Clear Channel employees, Ray Romero (talent) and Aimee Lavespere (sales), about their experience with the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans (URB).

If you have ever heard the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” thats New Orleans when it comes to hurricanes. However, for some reason this time when Romero saw the media coverage and Lavespere was told to leave by her roommate’s father, they knew this was the “big one.”

One of the most compelling stories these broadcasters had to tell was what drove them to continue working, as they themselves had their own problems to face. According to them, their jobs kept them busy enough that they couldn’t contemplate on their loses or even cry with their families.

In many instances, radio stations had more information than government first responders, such as FEMA, whose tasks were to organize, evacuate and provide aid to victims. As a result, when FEMA representatives were calling the radio station with contradictory information, Ray found himself extremely frustrated. He was counting on these officials to provide the services that his friends, neighbors and City needed. But instead, Ray was providing information to the people that should have been providing information to him.

After speaking to Clear Channel VP, Dick Lewis, about the creation of the URB, we were interested in when Ray and Aimee thought their mission had been completed and they could return to their normal broadcasting. During the URB’s stint, there were two distinct parts. The first few days of radio broadcasting were all about recovery. The second phase was assessing the damage and then during the third phase everyone began asking why this had happened. The united broadcasters began to have differences as they reached out to their target markets. This was the beginning of the end for the URB. The consensus was that after providing enough coverage of the hurricane, it was time to get back to what they did: entertainment.

Watch Ray and Aimee share their URB experience.

Dave Walker – Media Reporter, the Times-Picayune 1/11/08

We sat down and had a conversation with Dave Walker from the Pulitzer Prize winning Times-Picayune newspaper this afternoon. Walker has reported on media issues in the New Orleans area for more than decade. Although our project is focused on radio, his insights on the New Orleans media market gave us an historical perspective on the significance of radio broadcasts during Katrina. We spoke to him about how the radio helped to manage different situations during Katrina.

The Times-Picayune is located in New Orleans and makes its home in a building that was made to weather serious storms. A bunker, as Walker described it. “It used to be that the staff and their families would come here and bring their pets and ride out the storm here. And then 2 or 3 days later go home and clean up; but we don’t do that anymore.” Walker evacuated his family first and then went to Baton Rouge to meet them where electricity could provide him access to television and radio signals, the bread and butter of his reporting.

When asked about the radio and how people were listening during Katrina’s aftermath he described road conditions in ballooned Baton Rouge, “The traffic was so horrible in Baton Rouge…people were listening as captives in their cars.” The population of Baton Rouge doubled overnight as New Orleanians sought shelter there.

We captured images of Walker visiting our group and recorded his interview. The segment below highlights his comments on an indiscriminate Hurricane Katrina’s wrath and the importance of Hispanic radio during the storm.

 

 

Posted by: conniebook | January 12, 2008

“What is five pounds of radio?”

“What is five pounds of radio?” Dick Lewis, Clear Channel Radio

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there were some key moments on the radio, but one is still recalled by most in resigned detail two years later. It was late Thursday afternoon, September 1st, the day the United Radio Broadcasters officially went on the air, 72 hours since the breech of the levees and four days since Katrina’ s landfall in Baton Rouge.

Garland Robinette, WWL talk radio host using Clear Channel radio’s resources, called Mayor Ray Nagin’s press person to get a status interview. One can imagine that both Robinette and Nagin were physically and emotionally exhausted. By Thursday, resources were beginning to arrive and as a result some of the immediate pressures of threat to further loss of life were slightly down.

As Nagin spoke with Robinette, who was unusually quiet during the phone interview, the listener could feel Nagin’s anger escalating. He was tired and frustrated and asking for the president and the governor to give him the authority to get the job done. A request that he would later be criticized for–many believing he shouldn’t have waited for permission.

Times Picayune media reporter, Dave Walker, was in his car in Baton Rouge when he heard the broadcast. He said he knew that this broadcast was going to be significant, “I was driving and couldn’t write anything down so I asked my son to take notes.”

And then, like others do when they describe the broadcast, he talks about the 15 seconds of dead air when Nagin and Robinette both go quiet. The silence follows a grieving Nagin’s observation and perhaps realization as he said it that, “The City of New Orleans will never be the same.”

The line reminded me of a short story I read in college, the story of Phillip Nolan, The Man without a Country. Published at the height of the Civil War, Nolan, a convicted traitor just 30 years old, bemoans at his sentencing, “Damn the United States. I hope I never hear of the United States again.” The appointed judge grants his request, sentencing him to a life at sea and instructing all sailors to never speak of the United States to him again. Later in the story, Nolan, desperate for the sense of connectedness and meaning his citizenry gave him, would beg for news of home, “What of Texas? What of California?”

What does it mean to belong to a place and then to watch that place be destroyed? Perhaps the essence of New Orleans is an intangible. Dick Lewis with Clear Channel radio asked my students, “What is five pounds of radio?” He went on to say,Radio is a force, a power, you can’t touch; but you can feel.” The reason two years later that listeners can still recall the Nagin/Robinette interview is because they felt the grief for a lost City, for a man without a City. They felt it on the radio.

Listen to the Nagin/Robinette interview at:

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread166864/pg1

Posted by: kellymurtagh | January 11, 2008

I miss this place

Whenever I’m away from this place, I always miss anything that is “Louisiana-esque.”  But I never miss Louisiana more, than when I am actually here.  I am reminded of how much I truly love this place, the food, the heritage, the people.  Louisiana is in a league of its own, unmatched with its eclectic culture.  With tourist-like enthusiasm, I find myself wandering into every cheesy souvenir store, having an urge to buy all of the Louisiana trinkets, because I have so much pride for being a native of this place.   There’s something in the air, a certain feeling, a way of life, a hospitality, that is like no other place.  No matter where you go, people are happy you’re there, welcoming you with open arms and a plate of jambalaya.      

Posted by: jayliotta | January 11, 2008

Scar Tissue

The Lower Ninth Ward still bears the scars left from Hurricane Katrina. The houses that were not entirely destroyed by the flood or torn down later remain largely boarded up, each one bearing a prominent X on its side. The X’s were used by rescue workers to mark homes as they were searched. Each quadrant was used to correlate information to other emergency workers in the area, such as the date the house was searched, by which organization, and whether the house was inhabitable. The lower quadrant displayed how many bodies were found in the home. Most homes are marked with a zero, a sign of a successful evacuation. Unfortunately, this makes the homes without a zero painfully obvious to the community.

And yet, the residents of the Lower 9th who have come home seem to have returned to their daily lives. Children played energetically sidewalks, all too happy to give directions to a couple of lost outsiders.  Elderly men sat on the steps outsides their homes, swapping stories and jokes. Hank’s Supermarket still serves up a surprisingly and tasty spicy shrimp po’boy.

One of the images that stuck with me was a specific house marked with an X indicating inside two lives were claimed by Katrina. Somebody attempted to paint over the X, perhaps the victims’ family, but the neon green 2 in the lower quadrant was still visible. As we passed, I noticed a man loading groceries out of his car and taking them inside this home without glancing at the X as he entered. The juxtaposition of one man doing something so normal despite the obvious display of devastation was striking.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina made land fall, this image seems indicative of life in New Orleans.  Although faded reminders of loss still exist in the city, the people are rebuilding their homes, their lives, and hopefully returning to life as it was before the storm.

Posted by: tiffanylyons | January 11, 2008

Speechless

There are no words to describe walking around the streets of what used to be the Lower 9th Ward. I had seen the pictures and heard the stories, but never in my life had I seen such destruction. It was absolutely heart breaking to pass homes that were still completely destroyed and uninhabited. We drove by one home where 2 bodies had been found  and seeing the markings on the house made me realize just how devastating Katrina had been. Everyone in New Orleans was affected. 

Posted by: jayliotta | January 11, 2008

Scar Tissue

The Lower Ninth Ward still bears the scars left from Hurricane Katrina. The houses that were not entirely destroyed by the flood or torn down later remain largely boarded up, each one bearing a prominent X on its side. The X’s were used by rescue workers to mark homes as they were searched. Each quadrant was used to correlate information to other emergency workers in the area, such as the date the house was searched, by which organization, and whether the house was inhabitable. The lower quadrant displayed how many bodies were found in the home. Most homes are marked with a zero, a sign of a successful evacuation. Unfortunately, this makes the homes without a zero painfully obvious to the community.

And yet, the residents of the Lower 9th who have come home seem to have returned to their daily lives. Children played energetically on sidewalks, all too happy to give directions to a couple of lost outsiders.  Elderly men sat on the steps outsides their homes, swapping stories and jokes. Hank’s Supermarket still serves up a surprisingly tasty spicy shrimp po’boy.

One of the images that stuck with me was a specific house marked with an X indicating inside two lives were claimed by Katrina. Somebody attempted to paint over the X, perhaps the victims’ family, but the neon green 2 in the lower quadrant was still visible. As we passed, I noticed a man loading groceries out of his car and taking them inside this home without glancing at the X as he entered. The juxtaposition of one man doing something so normal despite the obvious display of devastation was striking.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina made land fall, this image seems indicative of life in New Orleans.  Although faded reminders of loss still exist in the city, the people are rebuilding their homes, their lives, and hopefully returning to life as it was before the storm.

Posted by: craigrcampbell | January 11, 2008

3,000 Users on Five Channels

The United Radio Broadcasters were one of many heroes of the Katrina catastrophe, the men and women of the New Orleans Fire Department were overcoming their own communications radio obstacles in the on-going relief efforts. Tom Levy, Director of Communications for the New Orleans Fire Department, spoke with us today about his experiences.

When Katrina hit, Levy was in a different position within communications at the fire department and he worked to not only prepare the back up communication system before the hurricane hit, but also react and make the necessary repairs for the failures that occurred as a result of the unexpected levee failures. Because of Director Levy’s work and the preparations of the entire department, communications were never completely lost during the storm.

According to protocol, however, the Fire Department was forced to shut down their rescue teams during any wind forces consistently stronger than 40mph. Unable to perform the most essential task of a fire department, Levy and his department found themselves listening to calls begging for assistance and not being able to do anything to help them.

Once the levees broke and all standard emergency communication systems stopped functioning, public safety officials found themselves nearly muted by minimal communication abilities.

Shocked by the storm and divided by the flood, the individual precincts of the devastated parishes were unable to reach any type of central command center to reorganize and rescue. Like posses of the Wild West, firefighters did their jobs as best as they could. The only interaction they had was given to them from an open spot on one of the five, 800MHz channels available.

With over 3,000 public safety users, open lines were extremely rare. Several difficulties resulted from the inconsistent communication. One particular story that I remember is about the water drops that privately owned helicopter companies subcontracted by the federal government were dropping over flaming buildings. The helicopter pilot was using a different radio system and the fire department couldn’t communicate with them. Without that communication, firemen were left working in the same location tons of water were being dropped onto the building. Director Levy said that his men described getting hit by some of the falling water as causing a stinging pain. Levy worked to resolve the problem and ultimately had their radio signal piped into the helicopter’s cockpit speakers.

We also learned some other innovative ways of fighting the fires that were happening all over New Orleans. At one point, because the fire hydrants were no longer functioning, the firemen actually pumped the floodwater into their hoses and sprayed it onto the flames.

Later on in the interview we asked Levy about his personal experiences with broadcast radio. He told us that because there were no radio receivers in their fire engines they weren’t able to use the broadcast information as a tool while they rescued victims.

Director Levy did however affirm what Dick Lewis of Clear Channel told us on Friday morning. The radio is like light: you don’t miss it unless its gone. Initially, Tom Levy couldn’t tell us that he had listened to the radio while driving to and from work, but as he thought about it he realized that he did in fact turn the radio on and listen for reports about progress as he drove to work each morning. He described the broadcasts as giving him comfort.

He also mentioned that they had learned a great lesson in not having HAM radios where they worked. Because cell phones and landlines went down, Levy and the rest of the department were unable to reach their families and find out how they were. If only they had a HAM radio to relay messages for them they would find themselves much more at ease. Now the communications building has both a military and a HAM radio for their own personal use as men and women with families and loved ones need to make contact in an emergency.

It was interesting for all of us to finally hear some perspective from a safety official rather than a professional broadcaster. We are finding out what it was like for men on the ground and we understand how important it was and is for good communication to be available so that the people who need to help others can do so.

Posted by: karitaylor | January 11, 2008

Suckin’ My Fingers at Hank’s: 1/13/08

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Today was fabulous. The weather was nice, I ate well, and I feel like I saw more of the area. I tagged along to an interview with Tom Levy, Director of Communications of the New Orleans Fire Department. He was so nice and had so much information on our topic. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel, dropped off our stuff and then went to the 9th Ward. The 9th Ward is the area that most people saw with stranded people on their houses and water everywhere. Surprisingly, it was bustling. There was much more activity than I had expected but there were also a lot of empty homes. Most of the houses were still marked with TFW, or Toxic Flood Water. It was a sight, even after 2 years.

We were hungry so we were driving around looking for local restaurants but most of them were still closed. What we’re finding is that most of the national restaurant chains were able to rebuild simply because they could afford to rebuild. We ended up at this place called Hank’s Super Market down on St. Claude. It was a little neighborhood stop n’ shop place that locals seemed to like. The place had food and so we stopped in and ordered. It was great because everything was fresh and well seasoned so it tasted wonderful. While we were waiting, Dwayne, one of the guys who was working the counter, offered us some crawfish. It was my first time eating them; we don’t really eat those in North Carolina. Dr. Book taught us how to eat them and we must have learned quickly because we killed that pile. Dr. Book ended up buying a pound and we ate them out of a plastic bag in the back of the car.

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After we ordered our food, however, we were just waiting around the store. It was a little awkward, I will say, because we obviously didn’t fit in. We stuck out like sore thumbs, if you will. The plan was to get food and then go see Brad Pitt’s Pink Houses in the Lower 9th Ward but we didn’t know how to get there. So I went up to the counter and asked Dwayne and Z, the two men who were at the counter. They asked me what we were there for and so I told them. Dwayne walked me and Tiffany outside and gave us directions to the Lower 9th.

Afterwards, I asked him if he listened to the radio during Katrina. “I experienced her,” he said. “I was stranded on the roof of my house for nine days.” “Nine days? How did you get off? Did you have to wade?” I asked. “My radio went out. I heard boats one day and it was the military. That’s how I got off.” Dwayne was up on his roof alone; he had evacuated his family to Baton Rouge well in advance but he stayed. “I didn’t think it would be that bad, so I just sent my kids with their mom and just stayed to watch things.”

Honestly, I didn’t really know what to say. I mean, what was I supposed to say? It just doesn’t compute to me, I don’t think. It’s hard for me to fully grasp what happened here. In a way, I’m bothered by that because it’s difficult to understand what I haven’t experienced for myself. So talking to people about it just bothers me because I can’t understand. It’s a frustrating job to do.

Yeah, today was fabulous.

As we stepped off the plane into the humid air of New Orleans, the rain filled clouds loomed eerily above our heads. The culture of jazz bands, heavy accents and amazing seafood sets the mood even while walking through the airport. My first glimpses of New Orleans was experienced crammed into the front seat of a Chrysler that native of Louisiana, Kelly is driving. While not having our third rental car makes traveling with eleven people plus luggage quite a bit more difficult, I sense that it is making our group grow closer.

Upon arrival at the Hotel LeCirque I already know that I love New Orleans. I immediately wanted to jump onto the streetcar and draw in the rest of this historic city. After we rested for about an hour our class journeyed close to Bourbon Street for the most amazing dining experience. Oysters!! We each had to taste charbroiled oysters soaked in a lemony butter sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese. I find it so amazing that I have never tried these amazing foods as I have tonight. After our appetizer my main dish was a fried oyster Po-Boy. The combination of French bread and oysters was one I would never have thought of–yet remarkable.

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After dinner we ventured down Bourbon Street. While most of what we saw would be inappropriate to write about, the neon lights and swanky music captured my heart. Walking through Jackson square, past Café du Monde and looking into the Mississippi River filled with massive ships at sunset, is so beautiful it’s hard to imagine that this city has even been in as much pain as what Hurricane Katrina brought. This picture perfect venture is nothing like what America saw on major network news at the end of August 2005.

Bourbon Street

The group then sat at the romantic Café du Monde, ate beignets and drank Café au Lait’s. I later share this moment with my dad and he recalls to me being ten years old and experiencing Café du Monde. The powder sugar covered beignets contrasted with the sharp coffee is a memory that really does last a lifetime. We finally made it back to our rooms about 7:15 central time but our entire group is dragging our feet. We have gained an hour as well as a tiny bit New Orleans culture.

Posted by: maxharnett | January 11, 2008

I Got The BABY!

So today was very interesting. To start the day off we interviewed Tom Levy of NOFD. He had a very interesting story about what they did during the flooding. However, my day really got interesting when we went visit the lower ninth ward. This is the area of New Orleans that was engulfed by the water. You might think that after two years, that it would start to look normal again. Anything but…

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This place is amazing to see. There are “x”s on all the doors and most of these homes appear to be uninhabited. Its hard to imagine my home being reduced to what these homes are now. It really does strike a different cord with you once you have a chance to look at it in person.

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But the day got much cheerier when we went to Kelly’s Aunt’s house. She and Kelly’s mother made us a delicious meal. There really is nothing like some good home cooking, especially some Louisiana home cooking. They were so nice too. We talked about “Project Runway” for a while. HAHA. Brilliant. And to top the night off I got the baby in the king cake. Which is an honor but I am in line now to buy the next one. It is definitely worth the honor though. HAHA. I love it down here though. I dont want to go home.

HARNETT OUT

Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 11, 2008

“Those are the stations that are the real heroes”

When recounting the long month after Hurricane Katrina hit, Jim Ellinger has a very different view than most radio operators. Most radio stations in the Gulf Coast area were shut down in the wake of Katrina, and the few that stayed operational felt the support and gratitude of the communities they served. Ellinger, not being a part of the mainstream media (MSM) , did not have this experience.

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Jim Ellinger runs Austin Airwaves, a part of the Independent Media Center. The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media outlets for the telling of accurate and radical truth. In the wake of the hurricane, Ellinger sent a transmitter down to the lower 9th Ward to help set up a pirate radio station named Radio Uprising. The station was promptly shut down, much to the displeasure of Ellinger, who then sent down another transmitter to get the station back on the air.

A pirate station is different from a low power FM station in that is operational without an FCC license. It has no assigned bandwidth, but just pushes its signal to everyone who can pick it up. Two pirate stations were set up in the 9th Ward in the aftermath of the storm, Radio Uprising and Radio Harlequin, to broadcast crucial emergency information. Both were shut down twice by the FCC. Ellinger was frustrated with the situation because he believes “these were the station saving lives, and these were the stations being shut down.”

Meanwhile, in Texas, Jim Ellinger traveled to Houston to set up a radio station in the Astrodome to help communicate to the many people taking refuge there. He did note the efficiency of the FCC in granting licenses during the emergency. It had taken him fourteen years to obtain a low power license prior to the storm, and four days to obtain one after.

Unfortunately, after providing 10,000 radios for the survivors, Ellinger and his team encountered stiff resistance from the operators of the Astrodome. He eventually had to set up his station in the parking lot. It was only operational for six days at six megahertz, and by that time 90% of the evacuees had left the facility. “It was a mostly symbolic gesture,” said Ellinger. Still, he has continued his efforts at providing crucial community service, whether through LPFM or pirated stations.

Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 11, 2008

“We accomplished what we set out to do.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Louisiana Public Information Coordinator and District Emergency Coordinator David Gore found his hometown of Monroe flooded with evacuees and volunteers.

“We had a shelter operation running for about a month,” to help people locate family members lost in the storm. Hams from all over the nation responded in the time of crisis, some traveling to northern Louisiana and others operating from their homes as far away as Conneticut to help while all other communication systems were down.

Gore’s responsibilities at the time included setting up well-rounded interviews to help convey the importance of ham radio to the media and public, lining up volunteers to work at the shelter, and maintaining contact with the other parishes.

When asked how the Amateur Radio Emergency Services managed to react so quickly in the dire situation, Gore observed, “during an emergency, all rules are barred.”

Posted by: lizpalka | January 11, 2008

The Big Easy

Beignets at Cafe Dumonde

Craw puppies. Mardi Gras. King cakes. Beignets. The M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I river. (I was saying that in my head all day.) The causeway. OYSTERS. Actually enjoying the humidity. I’ve already looked up the origin of the po’boy on Wikipedia. I am utterly fascinated by New Orleans and just plain happy to be here. I’ve just arrived and I’m already planning my next trip back.

I hadn’t anticipated how the stormy weather would affect me. I kept staring at the ashy gray sky wondering what it looked like on August 29th, 2005.

We are so eager to get out there and talk with people. Just to learn more about the culture, the people, and their experiences. I want to talk with everyone and listen to everything they have to say. I want to hear the stories resonating from the Gulf Coast and take them back with me to North Carolina, to Maryland, and to wherever I go after.

I think were unsure of how everything will pan out…but we’ll make it happen!

Posted by: jayliotta | January 11, 2008

House of the Rising Sun

“Are you guys taking some kind of pictures or something?” our stewardess asked me, glancing at the tripod in my hands.  I laughed to myself and offered a hasty explanation as I took my first step off the plane into a gust of hot wind.  We were finally here.

After meeting Alfred at our hotel (“Like the butler in Batman,” he explained) we followed Kelly’s lead and headed down into the French Quarter. We stopped at the Acme Oyster House for dinner. Despite my complete dislike for oysters, they looked too appetizing to pass up.  They were better than they looked.

As a group, we walked down Bourbon Street. One of the local bars was blasting The Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun”, which I felt was fitting. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Café du Monde, and then made our way back to the hotel just as it started to rain.

By the time we made it back to the hotel the rain had gone from a light drizzle to a downpour. I looked up to the statue of Robert E. Lee as we passed through Lee Circle, and wondered to myself how much of this column was swallowed up by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina hit. The mere thought that so much of what we saw today was submerged under water over two years ago seems unimaginable. I look forward to meeting the people who experienced this nightmare, and I only hope they will want to share their stories with us.

Posted by: stevenhaas | January 10, 2008

We’re here!

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After much preparation and research over the past few weeks, we’ve arrived in New Orleans! As our plane approached the New Orleans vicinity, the one thing that caught my attention was how massive Lake Pontchartrain was. Looking down from my window seat on the plane, the bridge across the lake was the only thing visible. The bridge spans about 24 miles! My thoughts drifted to what the scene on the bridge must have been like during the days prior to Katrina as people fled the city of New Orleans, trying to escape the wrath of the storm. After settling in to our hotel, we began to explore the French quarter. My first thought was that this city is so unique and unlike any other place I’ve been before.

We were all starving after the plane ride and craving some authentic New Orleans cuisine! Although I’m not normally adventurous when it comes to eating, I decided to order some chicken & andouille gumbo, which was delicious although quite spicy. I also tried an oyster for the first time and it was better than I expected! Although I don’t consider myself to be a big seafood eater, I’m excited to try some new foods while I’m here since New Orleans is known for excellent seafood. As we were walking back to the hotel in heavy rain with the Superdome in the distance, it was erie to imagine the horrific conditions during the flooding in this city just over 2 years ago. The next 8 days should be an excellent learning experience for all of us as we seek to document the stories of emergency broadcasting during Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by: craigrcampbell | January 10, 2008

It’s Go Time.

We have spent a considerable amount of time preparing for our trip down to New Orleans, Louisiana so that we can meet and interview people about their experiences with broadcast radio during the Katrina catastrophe. For several days we have known that we were going to have to talk with people and hear their stories.  Nevertheless, it didn’t seem real until we got down here.

One would think that talking to people is a typically easy social interaction.  In our case, however, the complications escalate when the conversation is actually an interview with a stranger who has no idea why you are talking to her or why she is talking to you in the first place.

All of a sudden, I found myself walking by real-life versions of the people Ineeded to talk with.  Moreover, I had Dr. Book telling me that we should start asking these people about their stories.  We should start practicing.

All of a sudden, the seven days of planning were over and I found myself walking up to a waitress, awkwardly introducing myself and quickly asking some questions about her experience.  I’ll bet she’s sitting in her house right now wonder what happened to her at work today.

So the interview was a little shaky and not exactly productive, but it helped me build a little confidence.  Also, it helped me realize that these are people, they do have stories, and maybe all I need to do is have a conversation with them and let the interview happen on its own.  You can’t learn unless you practice.  It’s go time.  

Posted by: tiffanylyons | January 10, 2008

What can I say?

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What can I say, New Orleans is amazing. I’ve only been here for a day and I’m already in love. First of all, the people are so friendly and nice. It was like a dream walking through the famous French Quarter. It was like nothing that I have ever seen before and more than I had expected. Walking down Bourbon St. was the most insane thing I had ever seen. I thought I had witnessed it all, but boy was I wrong.

The food is also incredible. Oyster po-boys are my new favorite and I’m really afraid that I will gain about 15 pounds after eating all of this food for a week. But it will be worth it and at least the gym is free at Elon.

I’m getting excited for this week and all of the people I’ll meet. It should be interesting!!

Posted by: maxharnett | January 10, 2008

Make It Rain

So we made it!!! We loaded up the bus at 9 this morning and took off on our way to the airport. Made it through the airport pretty quickly (except getting through the check on security point, because we had like 15 thousands tubs to go through the x-ray) and made our way towards the plane. We actually had to walk down onto the tarmac in order to board the plane. It was this tiny little thing but the flight was no big deal at all and I slept most of the way.

Touched down the land of the delta blue. Well not exactly, but it was louisianna and there is plenty of good music here anyways. At the aiport we all loaded into the two cars. It was extremely crowded but it helps build character, that is my policy.

My favorite part of the day had to be when we arrived at the hotel. Besides the obvious getting out of the cramped car, we got to meet alfred. This guy is a character. He helped us unload the cars and he brought all our stuff upstairs. He is extremely friendly and a think a fairly good exposure of teh type of people down here in New Orleans. Can’t wait to here more from this guy. HAHA

So we went down to the French quarter to grab some grub and check our the scene. It was great food. I had oysters and crawfish etouffee (i think thats how you spell it). We also went to cafe du monde. That was fun too. By the time we started heading back, it was raining cats and dogs. But luckily its warm enough down here to keep me alright.

overall it was a break day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Harnett OUT

Posted by: stefaniemeyers | January 10, 2008

Day 1 – good food!

Bourbon Street

We finally made it! After all the preparation and research we have been doing for the past week we coasted over Lake Pontchartrain and into a fittingly wet and windy New Orleans. It set an appropriate tone considering the topic that brought us here – Hurricane Katrina.

Once we got all of our stuff into the hotel – and that was quite a feat – we got settled down and then regrouped to procure food. It was nice to walk down to the French Quarter and see some of the set up for the future Mardi Gras parades. My first impression, New Orleans is like no other city. When I search for a point of reference to compare it to, nothing comes to mind because it is so unique.

We got an early dinner at Acme Oyster House where I ate my first oyster ever! I had char-grilled oysters and fried oysters and they were both great. We will definitely not be hurting for good food to eat while we’re down here.

Everyone loved the fried oysters

We then walked to the levee through Jackson Park. As we stood on top of the levee it amazed me that all that stood between the city to my right and the Mississippi River on my left was this seemingly small barrier. I can’t imagine living in a city where the water is constantly in the background, ominous and ready to engulf everything like it did in August 2005.

Beignets at Café Dumont were amazing as expected. Dr. Book was nice enough to buy the whole group a couple of platters of the delicious dessert, which we tried hard not to get all over ourselves.

All in all, it was a great way to start the trip. I’m excited to spend ten days in this city!

Posted by: karitaylor | January 10, 2008

N’orleans

Cafe Du Monde!

My first thought upon reaching New Orleans: I didn’t get barfy on the plane.

Ladies and gents, I am in New Orleans! This is my very time in Louisiana and I am happy to be here. Almost everybody I’ve met since the landing has been so friendly. The first friendly person? Easton, the man who drove the budget shuttle bus. When we got out of the airport, we crammed ourselves and our stuff into 1 SUV and a car. And when I say crammed, that’s what I mean. I was in the SUV and I feel like we were comfortable in comparison to the other car. But we made it to the Hotel LeCirque, which looks like a youth hostel from the outside but is loads better on the inside. We’re in close vicinity to the French Quarter, which is within walking distance. We walked it tonight, and that would’ve been fabulous had it not started storming. But we went to Jackson Square, stopped at Cafe DuMonde, and walked down Bourbon street. The very thought of Bourbon Street just makes me chuckle. I’m excited about going out when it’s sunny so I can really see the city and take some pictures.

Tomorrow we start working. I’ll be honest and say that I am nervous; nervous about what I may see, nervous about what I may hear, nervous about what I may experience. I’m hoping that I am cut out for this kind of work seeing as to how I could be doing this within the next 2 years. I have so many ideas but I’m not sure if I can do all of it. We’ll just have to see, won’t we?

I feel like this may be moving too fast. It seems like we just started yesterday and I quite simply haven’t caught up yet. There is just too much to see, do, and experience and it’s almost an overload. I’ve never been so tired and I bet half of the reason is because I’ve been going through so many spurts of emotions during the past 6 days. I have a feeling that I’ll be even more tired as the project progresses.

Posted by: kellymurtagh | January 10, 2008

Arriving in Louisiana

The wave of humidity that greeted me when I stepped off the plane from Raleigh to New Orleans, was a familiar presence abruptly welcoming me back to my home state.  I drank in the heavy Louisiana air, and could barely contain my excitement. The food, the french quarter, the family.  I could not wait to share these elements of my Louisiana upbringing with my fellow classmates who were unfamiliar with this foreign land.   Read More…

Posted by: katrinaradioelon | January 3, 2008

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