"Fay," what's left of her, has finished passing over Florida and left much of the state under water. The winds, while stiff, didn't cause anywhere near as much damage as the rainfall, which reached record proportions. Hundreds of thousands are suffering.
In all the excitement, I almost forgot that the 24th marked the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew's sweep across South Florida.
Funny, because last week I asked a former colleague at WCIX (now WFOR) if the station had any plans to mark the anniversary. You know, documentaries series, whatever. He said no, none of the current management had lived through Andrew, and not many had the heart to look back at those gut-wrenching days. I asked him if, after all this time, Andrew was just a "speed bump" on the "road of life" and he agreed.
So I won't do much reminiscing about those days. How about one or two quick "So You Want to be a News Director?" anecdotes. Maybe some lessons learned. I guess these fall under the heading of "The Best Laid Plans..."
Because everybody had a plan. I don't know what the hurricane game plans look like today, but back then they came in big three-ring binders. Everyone on staff had one, and they were constantly being updated.
If I remember, WCIX's divided the staff into "teams;" "Gold" and "Silver." When the spit hit the fan the plan was for us to go 'round-the-clock, 12-on and 12-off. The "Gold" team of newscasters and anchors and producers and reporters and staff would work 12 hours, then be relieved by the "Silver" team.
Lesson One: someone's on vacation, and someone else is stranded in another city and can't make it back, and someone else has a pregnant wife and has just rushed her to the hospital. You can have all the designations you want, but you can't have all the people you want when you want them. And you'd better look out for your staff's well-being by making sure they have time to look out for their families' well-being. So we did a lot of scrambling. But the plan was otherwise solid. The idea was when a hurricane closed in and the winds and rains started picking up, staffers would get their families to safety and then meet and fan out throughout the area. Where to go? We suggested hospitals. The parking garages are built to handle force-five winds, they're big enough to shelter live trucks, and the hospitals themselves make great havens.
Lesson Two. Early in '92, thinking about hurricanes, our news operations chief came to me with the idea to put some four-wheel-drive vehicles on reserve. His thought was that a hurricane would knock down trees and flood roads and we'd be stranded without high-clearance 4WDs to drive. He also was smart enough to start rounding up some hand pumps so that if the power went out we could still fill our gas tanks at local stations. Great ideas.
But I upped the ante on him. WCIX in those days had no helicopter. I figured a chopper would be critical, so I told him to line up two helicopters. I told him I didn't care where he got them or where they were hangared, but I wanted two choppers in the air over South Florida within three hours once the weather had cleared.
Damn, I'm brilliant!
With Andrew heading at us I double-checked with my ops guy. He said he didn't know where they were, but that the helicopter owner had ferried both ships to Miami and had them stashed. I didn't ask (and didn't really care) where.
I found out later that he had them both in the same hangar at Tamiami Airport. I found out later that two of our guys in a live truck saw them in the hangar and figured that might be a safe place to weather the storm. It wasn't. I gave a silent prayer of thanks when I found out that no one was hurt when that hangar collapsed.
Much later--much, much later--I was able to laugh a little when I realized that I lost two helicopters and one live truck at Tamiami Airport that morning.
Tamiami is about ten miles north of Homestead--where the eye passed and where it knocked down the WCIX tower.
Best laid plans? And you want to be a news director?