Hurricane Gustav: New Orleans Stations Gear Up

In covering Hurricane Gustav, stations in the New Orleans market apply lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.
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The stations in the New Orleans market are activating the emergency plans they've been regularly rehearsing since Katrina's devastation three years before. 

WWL President/General Manager Bud Brown says some key capital purchases, such as two-way radios that hold up better in extreme weather than cellphones, are helping the Belo station get the news out to those still in the area--and those who've departed for neighboring regions.

Brown says the station also has MREs, ample fresh water, and staff accommodations for up to 50 in Baton Rouge, where the station partners with Louisiana Public Television to get the word out.

He says the mood is upbeat, if a bit apprehensive, at the station. "Nobody has to stay here if they don't want to," he says. "We have water, food and security, so as long as we're providing that kind of environment, people are pretty comfortable."

Market leader WWL never lost its signal amidst Katrina's 135 m.p.h. winds. Some 60% of the staff were forced out of their homes at the time.

Brown said Sunday started with sunny blue skies, then began clouding up. He expects the tropical winds to hit around 1 a.m. ET, with the full hurricane force pulling in around six hours later, and lasting until Tuesday morning. He says the city's evacuation was extraordinarily smooth and security is airtight.

The station is also getting the word out via WWLTV.com, with streaming news and viewers' video and photos from all corners of the DMA. Elsewhere in the market, Hearst-Argyle's WDSU.com has live video of Mayor Ray Nagin called the hurricane the "storm of the century." Louisiana Media Company's WVUE has reports of the mandated curfews in various parishes, and Tribune's WGNO site has news of the so-called traffic "contraflow" on the region's various highways, along with evacuation pick-up locations and suggested emergency items one might not think of while hurrying to leave, such as health and homeowners insurance policies and a digital inventory of one's home on CD.

While the remaining viewership in the market may be dwindling, Brown says WWL is broadcasting via satellite on the digital channels of sister Belo stations WFAA Dallas and KHOU Houston to let evacuated citizens know what's happening back home. "It's an opportunity to provide real information to those people," he says.

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