Asking the Right Questions: Reporting on the Thousand Year Flood

Graduate Year: 2018

It’s been a long night, and it’s not over yet. I’m tired, a little soggy and I haven’t eaten in twelve hours. I can feel that familiar lack-of-food headache starting to settle right in the middle of my forehead. I drink a little water and rub my eyes. This is as comfortable as I’m going to get for the next four hours; I may as well go ahead and crack open my textbook.

It’s October 2015, and the entire state of South Carolina is getting pounded by massive amounts of rain in what will eventually come to be called the “Thousand Year Flood.” It’s night one of rainfall, and I’ve been reporting for five local TV stations for twelve hours. I’m set up in the state’s emergency operations center (EOC for short), and have a little downtime before my next live report.

I also have my first major grad school paper for the online Master of Public Administration and Policy due in two weeks.

My friends called me a glutton for punishment when I told them I’d enrolled in American’s online Master’s program. I had an infant daughter at home and a job that kept me on my feet for anywhere from 10 to 18 hours a day. I was waking up before dawn (and in between diaper changes) to get my work done, and bringing my textbooks with me to work. Six weeks into the program and I was still working to find my stride.

But I was glad I had my textbook with me that night. Our class just wrapped up a case study on Hurricane Katrina and how government agencies failed to prepare for the massive natural disaster.

Within five minutes of arriving at the EOC, it was clear that many of the same issues in New Orleans in 2005 applied in South Carolina in 2015.

My questions to command staff echoed what was in my reading: What’s your interoperability strategy? How are decisions being made between local, state and federal officials? Are there any training programs that tackle scenarios like this one?

My beat at the EOC lasted five long days, but thanks to my public administration textbook, that long assignment turned into some of my best reporting of my career.

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  • About the Author

    Will Whitson

    Will Whitson is currently enrolled in American University's online Masters in Public Administration and Policy program. He worked as a TV news reporter in South Carolina, covering national and state politics. He is currently a news producer for Fox News, and lives outside Washington D.C. with his wife and daughter.