When disaster strikes, news outlets sometimes escape unscathed. Sometimes they don't. But when the media become disaster victims, the public loses its source of emergency information. Fortunately for those living on Guam, the news media there has learned the lessons of previous typhoons. They know that preparedness pays off?for everyone.
When Super Typhoon Pongsona finally came ashore on the island of Guam last December 8th, most communication with the outside world stopped. But the Pacific Daily News (PDN), the island's only daily paper, had done its homework and put out the paper despite the horrific winds and rains that battered the island.
With power and telephone lines down, television and radio were off the air. Even when they got power back, most of their listening audience remained in the dark. But PDN didn't miss a day. The only place families, friends, and the world at large could learn what the storm had wrought was the Pacific Daily News (PDN) morning edition and its Web site.
Advance planning saved the day for everyone. As sustained winds of over 150 mph toppled power lines, blew out windows and doors, and tossed roofs aside, the paper's building stood strong. The shutters and other reinforcements installed after previous storms did their job.
Dedicated staff worked round the clock to get the paper out. With two back up generators?one for paper and one for building-- and emergency supplies, the paper kept going while the rest of the island went dark.
Working in a dim newsroom, with one computer and a skeleton crew, PDN staff put the December 9 issue on the Web and on the street by morning. Over the next few days, the paper became the primary printed source of disaster information for the island's 150,000 plus residents. Its Web site, whose server in Virginia was safe and sound, became the focus for families overseas concerned about their loved ones. Visits to the site jumped from the pre-storm 40,000 hits a day to more than 350,000.
As the most westerly U.S. territory, Guam is a critical component in the nation's Pacific presence. Information on the well being of the island and its inhabitants was of concern to many people, both here and off island.
Pongsona stalled over Guam for 12 long hours, but good planning and past experience allowed PDN to keep functioning throughout the storm. From the storm's first hours-- and for many days thereafter--the paper's building became work, home and shelter to those gathered inside, including some staff's families whose homes had been badly damaged or destroyed.
The paper had been tracking the monster storm since it had first appeared in the central Pacific days earlier. Three days before the typhoon was expected to hit Guam, serious preparations got underway.
"We told everyone to gas up ahead of time," said Managing Editor Rindraty Celes Limtiaco. "We brought in food to last at least 12 hours and did whatever we could ahead of time so people could go home before it hit."
The paper gave out emergency supplies to staff, including FixAFlat, a precaution against likely tire damage from debris covering the streets.
The paper's generator was up and running once the power went down, fueled by a large underground diesel tank installed after a previous typhoon. And the paper had brought in enough water to tide them over, since these storms frequently disrupt the water supply.
The night of the typhoon, core staff included two reporters stationed at two other locales on the island, staff in the newsroom, and Limtiaco herself, who would remain there until later the next morning. Staff knew the paper might be the only source of information for several days until power was restored and the...