Obviously a lot of human interest stories about Haiti will be coming out. And there are a lot of Haitians in the United States. Local news organizations will be (or should be) scouring their communities looking for Haitian immigrants to talk about their hopes and fears for their families in Haiti.
Church and civic groups are mobilizing aid packages and supplies for the people affected by the earthquake.
These are standard stories and don’t take a lot of imagination.
Reporters in Los Angeles and Northern Virginia, however, have an opportunity to look at the story from another angle.
Rescue teams from Fairfax and Los Angeles counties were mobilized as soon as the first reports of the earthquake came through.
These counties set up special groups of Search and Rescue teams that are ready to go where FEMA or the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance needs them.
The Fairfax County teams — VA-TF1 — has about 200 trained and equipped members. At team of 70 is ready to go on a moment’s notice to anywhere in the world.
The Fairfax team has provided SAR and medical help around the world. Past missions include the Chinese earthquake of 2008 and Katrina in 2005.
The Los Angeles team has had a similar track record.
The idea of having established teams of SAR experts came after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. The SAR help that came from the US was mostly ad-hoc. I know because my wife and I coordinated the US SAR actions.
The dog search teams and the USGS folks who helped in the rescuing of hundreds — if not thousands — of victims of the earthquakes (8.1 and 7.9 by the way) did not have any overall coordination. They were asked to come to help and they did.
Lessons learned from the 1985 earthquake changed a lot about how U.S. agencies react to international disasters. Just as Katrina changed how major domestic disasters are handled.
The point here is that the international rescue teams are often ignored or not better explained by local media.
Take the WJLA report on the Fairfax team:
A Fairfax County Fire spokesperson says the Urban Search and Rescue team is gearing up to go Haiti. He says the team is awaiting word from USAID about when the team will leave, but rescuers are preparing at the academy located at 4600 West Ox Road.
Assistant Fire Chief Dave Rohr told us, “We take a certain amount of people, it’ll be 72 people on our heavy task force this time and they’re trained of course in different specialties. So they’ll put together a roster, just like you would for a football team, if you will, and they’ll be prepared to go out the door.”
Officials say the team was in Haiti last November for a school collapse and many members will be familiar with the terrain.
The DC Fire & EMS K9 Kato Team will also deploy to Haiti to assist with the FEMA response to the earthquake.
The rest of the story was a summary of the situation in Haiti.
Now look at the WUSA story:
FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA) — Members of a local search and rescue team are preparing to head to Haiti after the country was rocked by a 7.0 earthquake.
More than 70 members of Fairfax’s International Urban Search and Rescue team are assembled at Fairfax’s Fire Training Academy gathering their gear in anticipation of being sent to the Caribbean nation.
Once the team gets the call, they don’t have a lot of time to get ready.
“As soon as we get approval to go into the mobilization phase from USAID, is when we bring our team members in,” says David Rohr, the Fairfax fire Assistant Chief. “And then it’s about a four hour process for us to go through.”
For some members, this isn’t their first trip to the impoverished nation.
The WUSA story continues to talk describe some of the past work of the Fairfax team. They let another story cover the update from Haiti. WUSA stayed focused on the local angle of the story. At the same time the reporters explained the international perspective of VA-TF1.
This story brought the disaster closer to home. It talked about the global connection between those who suffer around the world to the local community.
Given the number of assistance programs private groups run in Haiti and the diversity of the U.S. government offices in the country, I am sure that an enterprising reporter should be able to find a story other than a routine personal summary of the destruction caused by the earthquake. At the same time I am sure they can also find a way to make that devastation real to a local audience.