BBC staff give tips on covering floods

Jon Kay ducks as he gets hit by seaspray on the beach BBC correspondent Jon Kay was hit by sea spray during a piece to camera at Lyme Regis

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Spring has sprung but the year started in miserable fashion with the wettest winter on record.

As waters now recede, BBC reporters and crew operators share lessons they learnt from covering this year's floods.

Wear waterproofs

Don't walk into water "unless you really, really have to", suggests West Cornwall reporter Denis Nightingale. If you must, use a long stick to check for unseen holes or manhole covers washed away - even if you're only going a short distance.

Fiona Lamdin stands in her waterproofs in floodwater Points West reporter Fiona Lamdin highly recommends using waders

Wellies, waterproof trousers and a change of clothes are essential. "Thermal undies are horrendous passion-killers but a godsend for the storm-lashed reporter," recommends Radio Devon presenter Michael Chequer.

However, even wellies aren't enough to keep you dry, says Points West reporter Fiona Lamdin.

"I was literally on my tip toes to make my welly boots higher - then water started pouring over the top of my boots so the locals who I was interviewing started to give me piggy-backs from house to house.

"Always, always, take waders."

Her colleague and senior operator Anthony Ward adds: "If you have to really exert yourself in chest waders, perhaps with a long walk to the filming point, these can make you perspire terribly. Thigh waders might be a better compromise."

He also advises taking a towel "in case you fall over in the floodwater".

Have a Plan C

Ward says reaching filming locations without encountering flooded roads proved to be difficult. "Know which roads are flooded and don't let the satnav lead you up to the roadblock."

Even though the weather has improved now, Lamdin suggests carrying as little as possible since "you can't put anything down".

"I was in someone's home, which had been so badly flooded that there were green bloated rats everywhere. In the end I hung my bag from a tree in the garden as the whole place just smelt of poo."

She adds that it's useless to just have residents' landline numbers as they could be out of their homes for months. Take note of their mobile numbers, especially as they could make great follow-up stories. "You want to go back and see them when they return to their home for the first time and discover everything has gone."

BBC Berkshire staff pose outside their Cavesham offices under umbrellas Many staff, including those at BBC Berkshire, worked double shifts to report on the floods

Whatever the time of year, always develop contacts with councils, coastguards and relevant organisations, says Devon reporter Michael Chequer. "Then your call may be treated with more enthusiasm when it all hits the fan."

Have a Plan B, and ideally a Plan C, if you're doing a live broadcast, he adds. "Don't assume you'll get 3G. Have you reported from these places before? Was there someone friendly with wi-fi you could tap up again?"

He points out: "If the coastguard is warning people to keep away from the coast, that means you too. BBC staff are not immune from the power of violent weather systems."

The power of social

Chequer is one of several staff who emphasises the significance of social media as the story unfolds.

"When the storm hits, keep across social media. You've got thousands of unpaid amateur reporters out there who will let you know something's happening long before the authorities do."

Radio Cornwall journalist Claire Hawke recommends dedicating a person to updating Facebook and Twitter "as it's now some people's first source of information".

As anyone who works in TV and online knows, good images are incredibly important. BBC Spotlight reporter Sophie Pierce tweeted a picture from the Devon coastal town of Dawlish after a massive hole opened up under the railway line.

"It wasn't a great picture but it was the first time we'd 'seen' the story. It drove masses of traffic back to our breakfast show - we normally have about 350 interactions in a day, this time we had 7,500 in just two hours."

A big hole underneath rail tracks edging in to houses Sophie Pierce's picture showed a large hole around rail tracks in the Dawlish sea wall

The floods were the first time she covered a story almost entirely through her smartphone. Not only did she tweet photos and file copy via Quickfire, but she also used it to record audio and broadcast live interviews.

"This can make us vulnerable though, as these devices are not that reliable. They are prone to sudden unforeseen problems as I discovered on several occasions - software blips, poor 3G signal and lack of bandwidth when lots of reporters are in the area all devouring the available broadband."

Claire Hawke suggests keeping battery power-packs fully charged, as handheld devices can run out of charge quickly.

She concludes: "Make sure you give rolling updates on disruption every 15 minutes - with plenty of talk-ups so you can signpost people to the latest information.

"Crash into pre-recorded or national programmes and replace with local output wherever possible."

  • The Storms That Shook the South West, BBC One South West, Friday 11 April, 7.30pm
  • Further tips on smartphone journalism can be found here

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