I get some journalistic excitement when I hear that someone’s planning a mock exercise.
That’s usually an opportunity for multiple agencies to get some training responding to a disaster or some related major event. And it usually turns into a decent news event that I get to attend and practice my journalistic skills. In other words, I get to cover the exercise as a news event and write about it.
The exercise participants get some training and so do I.
Saturday, a mock training exercise was staged in Royse City’s Hidden Creek Estates neighborhood by the Northeast Texas Child Abduction Response Team (CART). The scenario involved law enforcement and volunteer organizations from Rockwall, Hunt and Kaufman counties responding to the kidnapping of a 7-year-old boy.
I played the part of a newsman during the activity – and I think my performance was pretty realistic. I had my “press” picture identification badge attached strategically to my clothing so I could be properly and easily identified. And I was wearing my yellow vest that has “PRESS” printed boldly on the back. Yes, everybody has got to have a vest in today’s world, and even I have one.
While 50 or so participants went through their emergency response activities, I went through mine. I drove around, shot some pictures, observed what was going on and even talked to a few people who would talk to me. OK, you can probably tell that some people would not talk to me. That’s right. They had been trained to not talk to the news media, and some passed the test. My test.
The fact that some people would not talk to me is fine. It’s part of the challenge of being a newsman who is covering a spot news story. I get a pretty good feeling of accomplishment when I can overcome multiple challenges and still get the information needed for a pretty good story.
When the exercise concluded, the participants returned to the Hidden Creek clubhouse to talk about their successes and areas where improvement is needed.
On my way home, I critiqued my performance as a newsman. Story? Check. Pictures? Check.
Success? Not entirely. I was drenched from the top of my Sonoma cap to the bottom of my Asics running shoes. I learned – rather, was reminded – that if I’m going to continue doing this reporting job I need to be properly and professionally attired for spot news stories that occur in the rain.
During this event, I talked to some officials about how I would have been treated if this had been a real emergency. News people would have been pushed far, far away from the scene – possibly behind tape or orange cones or on the third floor of a four-story building five miles away.
Their response reminded me of a mock emergency exercise held in Rockwall in 2010. I showed up as an uninvited participant in the exercise that was intended to allow local responders in fire, police, public works and emergency medical services to practice their emergency roles in response to a weather emergency.
At the scene – a county building on Whitmore Drive – I did something that I probably would not do at the scene of a real life emergency. I approached a police officer, introduced myself and showed him my press identification badge. If it had been a real emergency, I probably would have kept moving closer to the scene until somebody in authority told me to stop.
In this case, the officer escorted me to some orange cones down Whitmore Drive. I was instructed to stay behind the orange cones and to not go beyond them until somebody told me I could.
Well, I’m not sure how it happened, but a few minutes later I find myself standing in the middle of the emergency scene of a possible tornado and partially collapsed building with people trapped inside.
I believe I actually blended in with the emergency personnel. Almost everyone was wearing a neon-colored vest and, yes, I was wearing mine. What should have tipped them off that I wasn’t one of them were my Nike cap, Asics running shoes and the vest that has a target of sorts printed on the back – PRESS.
That five letter word on the back of my vest finally got the attention of someone I identified later as Capt. Jerry Miller of the Rockwall Fire Department.
“Hey, Mr. Press man,” he shouted at me.
Of course, I was politely escorted away from the scene into the care and custody of Sgt. Ray Fitzwater of the Rockwall Police Department.
Miller and Fitzwater did their jobs and, of course, it kept me from doing mine. But that’s just the way it is. Their job involves keeping people safe, including me. And their job involves keeping people – even Mr. Press Man – away from emergency scenes so emergency personnel can do their jobs.
Just so you know, I usually use much better judgment during a for-real emergency than during a mock one. If that had been a real live emergency, I probably would still be standing behind those orange cones.
Jim Hardin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.