I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to preparing for — and unfortunately, responding to — natural disasters in hurricane-prone states in the Southeast United States. As a planner and responder, my life revolved around data, forecasts and real-time information.
One of the tools I’ve valued most has been the unparalleled quality of The Weather Channel to supplement the outstanding work of national, state and local governments, as well as the invaluable contribution of local meteorologists.
Unfortunately, many in the U.S. will now have to go without The Weather Channel because of a business squabble with one of its carriers, DirecTV, which abruptly dumped the channel last month for supposed cost-cutting reasons.
Regardless of the merits of the business dispute, I can say with certainty that having large portions of the country, especially those states that have to prepare for hurricanes and tornadoes, losing this “early warning” tool is a considerable setback.
During hurricane season, Floridians are naturally more attentive to the news. Our safety relies on it being timely and accurate. Thankfully, it is not very often that we see an Andrew or Katrina, but when we get hit with one of these monsters, the damage to life and property can be immense. Having real-time information from all sources is critical, and few, if any, news organizations are prepared to fill the gaping hole left by The Weather Channel.
DirecTV’s decision to take The Weather Channel away from its subscribers in the name of profit seems misguided, and one would hope that both parties can reach some sort of agreement to keep professional-grade weather information on the air.
Although DirecTV has offered up a replacement channel, it doesn’t seem to be winning too many bouquets from those who have looked at it closely. I read an analysis by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the Defense official who led the federal response to Katrina in the Southeast, which highlighted two key concerns for me:
First, the service relies on pre-taped loops and regionalized information. That simply doesn’t cut it when a weather event is threatening a local area.
Second, the service has faulty closed captioning, which puts those who are deaf or hard of hearing at risk, something that’s a major concern for many who live between our sunny shores.
Although DirecTV might invest mightily to try to rehabilitate the replacement channel, one might wonder why they don’t simply go back to the professionals at The Weather Channel and do it right?
I’m not a businessman, but I’m a planner and a first responder. There are countless Americans who do similar work, many of whom have lost The Weather Channel for a business reason.
My advice to DirecTV and The Weather Channel: Work it out, guys. Too much hangs in the balance.
Joseph Myers, a former director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, lives in Tallahassee and is the CEO of Disasters, Strategies & Ideas Group LLC.