By: TJ Ware
Cape Coral, FL
Less than ten days after Hurricane Ian damaged much of the Florida peninsula, DRUDGE REPORT, a top conservative-leaning news aggregation site dropped Ian-related headlines from their headline story just a week ago, to the 20th story from the top. Ukraine, Russia and Donald Trump again occupy most of the leading headlines, leaving Floridians to wonder if the waves of support will dry up as fast as they arrived.
For hurricane survivors, the trials and difficulties of recovery continue for months and years after landfall despite the event falling out of favor quickly with news outlets trying to keep up with today's accelerating news cycle. Ian has already claimed more lives in Florida than any storm since 1935, and the toll continues to rise. An event of this nature, both in terms of loss-of-life and financial impact will continue to feature in national news, but the frequency of such reporting is already tapering off significantly. In September of 2021, as New Orleans was impacted by Hurricane Ida, residents of Lake Charles, LA, located 200 miles to the west of the city worried that resources and contractors would abandon them for the new storm without completing needed repairs. Lake Charles had been devastated by Hurricane Laura in late August of 2020, and in a year of COVID lockdowns and a presidential election, the survivors felt abandoned by the national news media from day one. Unfortunately many contractors did abandon the city, as the national news media had done the previous year.
Hurricane Ian was much larger than Hurricanes Laura or Ida and will likely become one of the top five costliest storms to impact the U.S. mainland.
When it comes to the news media cycle, national awareness of certain events can fade quickly when other stories break. The musical artist Coolio died on the same day that Ian made landfall, and it's likely that many Americans missed the headlines completely due to the coincidental timing. Another example of news suppressed by a bigger story is when the actress Farrah Fawcett died in 2009. Most people were unaware at the time because superstar Michael Jackson tragically, and unexpectedly died the same day. Michael's death, much like his life, was a media circus.
This week we saw the nation surround our Florida communities as emergency crews continued search and rescue operations and the president flew overhead to survey the damage. Residents of coastal states had watched closely as Jim Cantore and The Weather Channel descended on SW Florida to keep viewers informed ahead of the storm, but Jim and others covering the storm's landfall often move on the the next major weather event almost as quickly as they responded to this one. After the initial phases of recovery and national attention fade, communities turn inward and rely on each other to complete the long journey of recovering from disaster.
Social media is where most disaster victims now turn for long-term support. Every natural disaster spawns multiple Facebook groups where people gather information and resources. These groups are grassroots-level communities comprised of residents, contractors, professionals and government officials. These communities also become a place for people to share personal and emotional topics related to the disaster and its aftermath. Doug Quinn, founder and Chief Executive Officer and Heather Shapter, Chief Financial Officer of United Survivors Disaster Relief use these Facebook communities to spread information and help disaster victims deal with both storm recovery and emotional trauma. Doug lost his home to superstorm Sandy in 2012 and spent years fighting insurance companies and fraudulent engineering firms before eventually securing enough money to rebuild. After spending a period of time homeless and years fighting his improper claim denial, Doug and Heather came to realize that survivors often have little support dealing with the trauma of the ordeal. USDR uses volunteers, many of whom have survived previous storms, to support storm victims and highlight their mental and emotional needs in addition to life's basic necessities. USDR also has volunteers who are military combat veterans, familiar with trauma and the stress disorders that sometimes follow trauma victims.
It's important that national news sites and television stations document the extreme need and massive devastation hurricanes bring, but remember that our modern news-cycle ensures that once other headlines capture more views, the people of southwest Florida will have to look inward, and to social media for the long term support this recovery will require.
TJ Ware is a licensed public insurance adjuster, board advisor for the American Policyholder Association, board advisor for the American Adjuster Association, Secretary for American Policyholders for Fair Insurance Claims, a retired Marine Corps combat veteran and volunteer for various non-profit organizations including the UDSR.