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Better safe than soggy

Yeah, there was a lot of hurricane hype. But some of us needed to hear it.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 29, 2011 3:13PM
Now that Irene has said good night -- and as a tropical storm rather than a hurricane -- it's time for everyone to attack the news media for hype and scare tactics.

I agree that the reportage was at times quite hyperbolic. Endless shots of TV newscasters standing in the wind and chanting what-if scenarios really wore me down. I'm glad that I don't have a television at home. If I did, I'd probably be glued to the tube during emergencies, or even wannabe emergencies.

But here's what I think:

  • If the storm had turned out as predicted, people would now be saying, "Wow, I guess the media wasn't exaggerating after all. So how do I get one of those FEMA trailers?"
  • Because it didn't turn out that way, people are upset with the media. Monday morning quarterbacking is a peculiarly American pastime.

Dire scenarios make great television. The old adage in any news medium is, "If it bleeds, it leads." This time, I'm OK with it. Being prepared won't hurt you. In fact, it may one day help you.

Should I stay or should I go?

Potential disasters are like medical diagnoses: They give you the worst-case scenario so you can steel yourself for ultimate awfulness.

And if the situation turns out to be not so bad after all? Happy endings all around!

When my daughter was 19, she nearly died of Guillain-Barre syndrome. When I got to the intensive care unit, the neurologist asked whether our home could accommodate a wheelchair.

"It could be two years before she walks normally," he said.

As it turned out, that didn't happen. But I had to be prepared for it to happen.

Suppose that people in those low-lying areas were told, "Well, there might or might not be a storm surge." Then suppose most of those people decided to stay and a storm surge did occur, resulting in multiple injuries and deaths. What do you suppose the reactions would have been? Post continues after video.

Why weren't we told?

Why didn't anybody warn us?

How come they didn't MAKE people leave?

Nothing bad will happen

I'll admit that the doom-and-gloom coverage made me anxious even though I was in the safest possible place. My dad has a cellar full of food and a wired-in generator. He was prepping when prepping wasn't cool.

But all those other people? The ones with no supplies, no water, not even a flashlight? Maybe they should have felt anxious.

On Saturday afternoon a Philadelphia news camera was set up in a supermarket parking lot. People ambled in for supplies as though doing their weekly shopping. One woman joked about making sure she had enough junk food to see her through the hurricane.

Maybe the up-to-the-minute coverage had let them know they still had X hours before Irene made landfall. Or maybe they just didn't believe that anything bad would ever happen to them.

Ask the folks down in Florida what it's like to be without power for days or weeks after a hurricane. Imagine yourself standing in line waiting for food or water. Now imagine getting to the head of the line and being told, "There's nothing left. You'll have to wait for another delivery."

I urge you to take basic steps toward self-sufficiency. Do it now, before you need to be self-sufficient. My recent MSN Money column, "Survive a disaster -- in your condo," offers tips on creating a plan even on tight budgets and in tight spaces.

Understand: Normally I am not a fearmonger. It's true that the media overdid it. But certain things should scare us. Better safe than soggy.

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

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