What happens if you have an emergency, and no one notices? Did it really happen? We’ve talked about that before, but in the context of multiple disasters happening simultaneously and the competition for the scarce resource of media coverage:
The reporter then went to Moscow, Ohio to cover another [tornado] touchdown. Even with that, the big story was out of Henryville, where the devastation was greatest. Never heard about Moscow, either, did you? According to the reporter, the media wasn’t given access until several days later.
Who told their story? Did not telling their story affect how they recovered? Did it affect the funding that came their way?
That situation makes some sense, though. When there is plenty of devastation to go around, the juiciest story usually will get the coverage. But what if you have a terrible disaster–HUGE disaster–and no one from the mass media covers it? Because it happens. And it’s happened recently:
The worst blizzard in recorded history of South Dakota just swept through the state. Tens of thousands of cattle are predicted dead and the much of the state is still without power. The Rapid City Journal reports, ”Tens of thousands of cattle lie dead across South Dakota on Monday following a blizzard that could become one of the most costly in the history of the state’s agriculture industry.”
The only reason I know this is because my parent’s ranch, the setting for Meadowlark, lies in the storm’s epicenter. Mom texted me after the storm. “No electricity. Saving power on phone. It’s really, really bad….” She turned on her phone to call me later that day. “There are no words to describe the devastation and loss. Everywhere we look there are dead cattle. I’ve never seen so many dead cattle. Nobody can remember anything like this.”
The post goes on to talk about why this was such a devastating event and why it will probably never make the national news. It didn’t damage facilities, it was far out in (what is sometimes termed by us East Coasters as) a flyover state, the human toll was basically zero and the economic effect won’t be seen for months (in the name of higher beef prices). Is there anything that would be a huge hardship to your organization or agency or county or town or state, but nobody else would understand? How would the response go? Would there be any Red Cross text message donation campaigns? Would the President grieve for your loss on evening TV? Probably not, and yet the damage could be just as great.
So, what do we do? As emergency communicators, does it makes sense to try to raise awareness of your disaster? Is that self-serving? (Probably.) Might it still help anyways? (Maybe.) How would you do it without sounding whiny? (I haven’t the foggiest idea.) In turn, I ask you. What would you do if your disaster, your community’s suffering, was completely unheard of by the larger public?