Vincent Laforet’s Blog

Last Minute Advice for Those Covering Gustav
September 1, 2008, 11:15 am
Filed under: Articles
©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times


One of the first big decisions I had to make upon returning home from 18 days in Beijing – was wether or not to pack right back up and go cover Hurricane Gustav.   A major news magazine was asking me to go – and they gave me overnight to make a decision.   While the newsman in me definitely wanted to go, I knew that A. I just didn’t have the mental energy to live through another Katrina after an Olympics and B. it just wouldn’t be fair to my wife who had just spent 18 days alone taking care of our son.

So I passed on the assignment – which is never an easy thing to do for any photographer –  but I’m now confident that it was the right move (I’ve been catching up on a LOT of sleep these past few days – your body and mind know when to decompress and let go…)

So I thought I’d throw a few last minute thoughts together for those to covering the storm:

I. Even though the current headlines are stating that the storm will miss New Orleans or move to the West – never write off a storm.   Similar things were being said about Katrina – and some people put their guard down.  The levees, not the storm, are the story for New Orleans.

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

II. Make sure you have plenty of:  Fuel, water, snacks, baby wipes, maps, quarters (for payphones if they work) a fair amount of cash, extra batteries and a power converter for your car to charge laptops, cameras etc – and have a second power adapter for your laptop as it can fry easily when plugged into power converters.  Buying a few extra car fuses for the fuse box is not a bad idea either – as those blow rather easily when you plug too much into the car’s AC port(s).   Boots, bug spray, sunblock, first aid kit, and one of those cans to re-inflate your tires.

III. Remember that having all of this makes you a huge target – always watch your back.   Always have an exit strategy.   Your first consideration whenever you drive into anywhere is:  can I get out of here 15 minutes from now or a few hours from now.  Always think things through before you take any action – or it can literally be your last… don’t depend on anyone else to come rescue you – try to be entirely self-reliant at all times.  Never walk too far away from your car:  it’s your only way of getting out -and there are too many valuable things in it – to let it sit unattended.  Remember – there are no tow trucks, no police cars coming, no ambulance on their way – and likely no one manning the 911 switchboard.

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

IV. If you have any cell provider other than Verizon – you might want to consider picking up a disposable Verizon phone – they have the contract with the federal government and agencies – and will be the first to put emergency towers up should cell coverage become a victim to the storm or it’s aftermath.

V. Travel light – at least in terms of camera gear.   Having a backup camera and lens in a Pelican case is a good idea in case your main camera gets dunked in the water.

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

VI.  Don’t lose perspective:  the big story here in my opinion – is not necessarily the storm.  We’ve already seen that in Katrina… the story here is:  how much better prepared are we as a nation and how will our government deal with the aftermath this time… has any real progress been made since the horror of Katrina?

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

VII.  If you want to get into a helicopter – make sure you’re working with experienced people… most of the “good” pilots and helicopters were booked days – if not weeks – ago – by the oil companies to get their crew off of the oil rigs in the Gulf (and they are holding the helicopter – paying them to stay safely on the ground at the ready – to go back and put those men back on the rigs ASAP – for repairs and to resume work.)  So getting one now is close to impossible.  But keep trying.  I left my name at a local airport at their front desk – and pilots ended up finding me in the end… you never know.  And sharing a helicopter with someone else is always a good option in these situations.

VIII. Obey law enforcement – and especially the National Guard – in times like these.  This is not the time to argue.  If the storm does happen – they will be stressed out, and mentally and emotionally exhausted.  Not the time to argue with people on edge who have guns at their disposal.  In fact – it’s safe to assume most people out there have guns – so be careful.  You will be entering the Wild West.   I made friends with the national guard last time because I had extra (empty) fuel tanks – which they needed.

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

©Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

I’m hoping this storm fizzles out – for the people in New Orleans and the Gulf area.   No one deserves to go through this again.   To all of the photographers, journalists and other rescue workers out there (not to mention the citizens of course!)  – Good Luck!


16 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think I will never cover an Hurricane but this post is relaly interesting, and it’s full of great images.
I think you did the right choice, after 18 days in Beijing you should stay with your family for a little.

Comment by Marco Togni

I feel like I will be covering more and more these types of events. But I have not made the leap yet to go into this type of proactive journalism. It is good to read the list of gear needed, but any thoughts on being a freelancer not assigned to cover a huge event?

Comment by stephenmcgee

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I was a military photographer/journalist at Katrina and my boss was integral in getting civilian photographers into our UH-60 Black Hawks. Sadly, me and my old helicopter unit are deployed in Iraq right now, I’m sure those guys would love to help anyone this time.
If the military ends up fulfilling the same mission this time, I suggest finding out which military units are flying out there – and find the Public Affairs Office at their home station. A couple phone calls to the NCOIC or OIC there should put you in contact with the right people on the ground.
Also, please drop a line for the units performing the missions. “Active duty Army” or the “National Guard” is pretty vague to us military folks when it’s the 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade or the Company B, 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, saving the day. I ask that any photographer out there get the right unit designation all the way down to at least the division headquarters. i.e. 1st Cavalry Division or the 3rd Infantry Division.
As far as gear goes, I suggest bringing a tactical flashlight of at least 60 lumens. Check out or Google for Streamlight. You really get what you pay for and that light may save your life if you get into trouble.
Most importantly, be safe if you go out there!

Comment by Creighton Holub

Very insightful. Not a photographer but respect the work that you did during Katrina as well as all the photographers. I am sitting in a house with no power (UPS for the internet) while Gustav’s eye passes over us in Lafayette. Thanks again!

Comment by Daniel Kedinger

Amazing article!
Here in Hungary we havent got huricans, just floods, but I am allways very proud of every one who work around this dangerous areas!
Take care!

Comment by Csanadim

Daniel – stay safe – hope this storm continues to die down from hereon out! Pls post any further comments on the new site – – cheers – v

Comment by Vincent Laforet

Hi, Vincent … outstanding article, as always.

Please don’t delete the old blog – until you move over ALL of the articles. It is a valuable resource that should not be lost.

Thanks for all you do. I hope our paths cross someday.

Comment by Bill Millios

A new home for your blog? Looks like I’m going to have to update my bookmarks…

Comment by Emanuel Nordrum

what a great article with unique picture. that was great

Comment by johnjimat

Thanks for sharing. The pictures are great.

Comment by wau

Gustav was a horrible tragedy. The pictures serve as a grim reminder of the damage that hurricanes cause to both people and communities. Our prayers are with everyone

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Comment by Vincent Axelsen

Marvelous, what a weblog it is! This web site presents helpful
data to us, keep it up.

Comment by Maryann

disaster happens, what we could is value our and other peoples’ life, trying our best to live meaningful

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