Sunday, September 5, 2010

Off the Bike, In the News

Bikes are not my beat, everything is. So there are times I fall off the bike...this week has been one of those times.

The week was crammed with news...including the hostage-taking at the Discovery Communications building in downtown Silver Spring. As someone who's been at this business of covering news for a good long time, covering a breaking event like this has a certain familiarity. Racing to a scene, trying to keep out of the way of police while gathering news, but making sure you get the story, balancing the desire to report all that you see with the concern that the person at the center of the barricade or hostage taking may be watching or listening and therefore influenced by those same reports, and more. All of this while making sure your equipment is working, that you don't lose your tiny bit of real estate before the microphones (we reporters get up close and personal with each other while jockeying for space before the microphones) and making sure you don't blow a deadline for a live feed.

As a reporter, it's not my job to be a cheerleader, as a matter of fact, should you ever catch me in that mode, you'd have to wonder if the watchdog had its teeth removed. But I must say I was impressed by the challenge the police and fire marshal's office faced  and the response to that challenge.

If you heard the WTOP broadcasts live, or the WTOP reports on the release of the 9-1-1 tapes on Friday, you probably share my appreciation for how tense and difficult that job was. Police and first responders had conflicting reports, and little information to go on, and they had nearly two-thousand people to get out of a building in the middle of a downtown with a Metro stop nearby. They didn't know if James Lee was alone. They didn't know exactly what he had with him. And they had very little time to piece things together and try to bring this to a close safely.

Friends and family asked me about my day, how stressful it must have been, how scary. I have to say the stress was felt by the people inside that building facing a life-and-death situation--the hostages. And stress was felt by the people outside the building responsible for trying to keep the public safe. Know how hard it is to get a group of people to agree on something as basic as what kind of pizza to order for lunch? Imagine the challenge of having to coordinate first responders from state, local and federal agencies (police, fire, ATF, FBI, transit agencies) in the middle of a downtown at a major transportation hub.

Also evident: the care and concern that ordinary citizens had for others as they helped each other out of the building, handed cell phones back and forth, called 9-1-1, trying to get police as much information as possible. Many of the 9-1-1 callers displayed real calm in a scary and rapidly unfolding situation. And the 9-1-1 operators juggled those calls, sifting through information, working to make sense of the sometimes scrambled calls. Daycare operators made sure the children in their care were kept safe and calm as they hustled out of the building. And the nearby businesses opened their doors to people struggling to contact and reassure each other.

As a reporter, sometimes you see the best of people in the worst of situations. I hope that's a part of the story that stays with our listeners and web followers. There are people among us who race towards a problem to solve it so the rest of us can be safe. And they do it with the hope that everyone gets to go home to their loved ones.  I am grateful to have been a witness to those efforts.

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