Florida Papers Take Hurricane In Stride p. 17

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

No significant disruptions reported as fast-moving
Erin brings the Sunshine State more rain than wind damage sp.

THOROUGHLY PREPARED FOR a much harsher hurricane, Florida’s newspapers suffered no significant disruptions when Erin made landfall early in morning of Aug. 2.
Even at the very center of the hurricane in Vero Beach ? where the Vero Beach Press-Journal greeted Erin with the headline, “Ground Zero” ? the local newspaper managed to print and distribute its Aug. 2 edition.
“It was a minimal hurricane, a Category 1 . . . . It was a whole different situation from Hurricane Andrew. Erin started to break up pretty fast. We didn’t even get the water they were talking about,” said Darryl K. Hicks, associate publisher and general manager of the Press-Journal
Andrew, rated a Category 4 on the 1-to-5 scale of hurricane strength, devastated newspapers operations during its destructive path through South Florida in 1992.
Like papers throughout Erin’s projected path, the Press-Journal had geared up for a much fiercer storm.
Its presstime was moved back to 6 p.m. from the normal 2 a.m. to allow carriers time to deliver their papers ? and take cover themselves.
The Press-Journal had also dispatched an emergency crew to a Daytona Beach motel in the event the Vero Beach facilities were crippled.
A crew drawn from the newsroom, production and composing departments were prepared to put the paper out on the presses of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Hicks said.
The two papers have had a reciprocal agreement for publishing in natural disasters.
As it turned out, that was not necessary ? and the only limitation on the paper was that delivery was prohibited in the evacuated barrier islands and mobile home parks.
“We probably missed 35% to 40% of our home delivery customers,” Hicks said. Copies of the hurricane edition were delivered to those subscribers with the August 3 paper.
An assessment team sent through the newspaper’s facilities on the morning after the hurricane found no damage, Hicks said.
At nearby Port St. Lucie, the Tribune also moved its presstime back to 6 p.m. ? and sent most of its employees home well before that.
“We planned for the worst,” publisher David T. Rutledge said. “We worked with a skeleton crew. We sent people home in the early afternoon.
“In fact, though, we could have gone with our regular schedule,” Rutledge said. “The storm just sort of whimpered in.”
Probably the hardest hit newspaper was Gannett’s Florida Today in Melbourne, which suffered an estimated $250,000 in damages when fierce winds ripped a sign from its standard and blew it into the building’s roof.
Publisher and chief executive officer Michael J. Coleman said the sign punctured the roof and caused flooding in about a dozen circulation, advertising and executive offices.
“It was messy stuff more than anything else,” Coleman said.
Like 70% of its Brevard County market, Florida Today lost power, but the facility suffered no production downtime because the entire plant and office complex has backup generators.
Florida Today pushed its presstime back an hour and was able to deliver to 80% of its market. The only areas not served were coastal neighborhoods closed by public authorities, Coleman said.
Coleman, who is also senior group president of Gannett’s South Newspaper Group, was on the phone with executives of the Pensacola News Journal through the day of Aug. 3 as Erin made its second landfall.
“Pensacola, like us, has an active dynamic disaster plan,” Coleman said. “We implemented ours to the letter ? and it really worked.”
The Palm Beach Post and its sister paper, the Palm Beach Daily News were in similar emergency preparedness modes during the long hurricane watch.
“We had contingency plans so that if we lost power we could set type using [office] laser printers and put out a 16-page edition,” said Lon Danielson, executive vice president and general manager of the Post.
The papers have emergency generators for their presses.
Additional circulation vehicles were called in and journalists were deployed throughout the expected path of the storm, Danielson said.
Presstime was moved back from the normal 1 a.m. to 11 p.m., but then it was moved forward to 11:30 p.m. as it became clear that the storm was not as powerful as advertised.
Luck was with the paper through the night, Danielson said. Not only was Erin weak ? “The hurricane, really, was just a gusty rain storm,” he said ? but there was not even the problem with downed power lines that typically affect the area even during summer thunderstorms.
Only a minimal number of papers bound for the evacuated barrier islands ? perhaps 1,000 ? went undelivered, Danielson said.
Further inland, the Orlando Sentinel moved its presstime up an hour, and kept to that time even when it became clear that Erin was declining rapidly as it moved across land.
“We wanted to give our carriers a little extra time in case they encountered some problems,” production director Jeffrey M. Johnson said.
In the end, however, there were no production or delivery problems at all, Johnson said.
“Actually things went better than they do most nights,” he said.
“You prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Johnson said. “And in this case that’s exactly what happened.”
Erin weakened a bit after passing across the state of Florida, but picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall again in the Pensacola, Fla., area.
The severity of Erin’s damage along the Gulf Coast depended a lot on timing. Many newspapers were hit in mid-morning, after the papers had gone out. Those having to make afternoon deliveries coped with treacherous road conditions, downed power lines, and evacuated areas.
“It was one nasty storm,” said Glenn Tabor, circulation manager for the Mobile (Ala.) Register. The morning delivery went smoothly, but by the time the afternoon edition went out, subscribers near the water had been evacuated, leaving carriers unable to deliver to “less than 1,000” newspapers on Aug. 3, Tabor said.
The Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal lost power about 11:00 a.m., said publisher Denise H. Bannister, long after all of the Aug. 3 newspapers were safely delivered.
When the power went out, the News Journal staff had to depend on a generator which only permitted a 32-page newspaper containing no inserts.
By Friday morning (Aug. 4), carriers were coping with closed roads, evacuated areas, and a much-delayed delivery time.
“We learned a lot,” Bannister said, “We’re fortunate that it was only a Category 1. We’re going to review our disaster plan and probably modify it somewhat.”
?(Dorothy Giobbe also contributed information for this article.) [Caption]

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