Some Resources for Covering Environmental Disasters

November 14, 2012

Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call on many levels — especially as a lesson on the need to be prepared for disasters. SEJ's Reporting Tools library may help you prepare for covering environmental disasters. But here are a few more that may come in handy.

  • EPA's National On-Scene Coordinator Phone Book is a listing of crisis responders within the agency — often those focused on Superfund hazardous waste incidents — in many cases including 24-hour numbers. Ignore EPA's press office, who are rarely helpful, and will tell you to go through them, and call the On-Scene Coordinator anyway.
  • WISER, the National Institutes of Health's Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders, is a mobile app you can run on your smart phone (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry). It is a quick entry to TOXNET's Hazardous Substances Data Bank, including support for radiological and biological agents. Starting point.
  • Some of the biggest impacts of Sandy were on sewer and water infrastructure. The Water Environment Federation has published many guides related to disasters affecting public drinking water and sewage treatment plants.
  • EPA has collected Risk Management Plans for some major hazmat-handling facilities that could kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a catastrophe — but makes it hard for reporters to access the information. To find one near you, start here. It's a good thing OMB Watch's Right-To-Know Network has compiled the verboten information in easy-to-access form.
  • If you really want to prepare for chasing hazmat trucks, you may want to download and install CAMEO on your 4G-tethered laptop or tablet. It's the same system most hazmat trucks carry onboard — to tell them what chemical risks they face and what vulnerable sites (nursing homes? schools?) may be nearby.
  • Another key resource is the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, which includes help on covering natural disasters in all their facets, including mental health. Further resources are available from the International News Safety Institute.
  • The International Center for Journalists also offers help. Check out "Disaster and Crisis Coverage," by Deborah Potter and Sherry Ricchiardi; and "Journalism and Trauma," by Deborah Potter and Sherry Ricchiardi.

SEJ's Reporting Tools library includes toolboxes on floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, oil spills, hurricanes, wildfires, and more.