In the aftermath of last weekend's Hurricane Irene, one small state found itself a major target of the storm's damaging winds and rains. For even the most prepared Vermont residents, power outages, massive flooding and washed out roads have caused deep disruptions to daily life. As the focus in the state now turns to response, recovery and, eventually, rebuilding, Vermont Public Radio's Brendan Kinney has seen first-hand how this storm has both torn up the community and is now bringing people together.
"The phones just don't stop ringing," he says. "People want to connect, share stories and provide updates."
To keep the audience informed and relay important public safety news, VPR – which is a network of 23 stations across the state — has aired additional live and extended broadcasts of its flagship newsmagazine, Vermont Edition.
Meeting the great need for additional, immediate and hyperlocal programming isn't exactly easy in the aftermath of a storm like Irene that knocked out power and roads across the state. VPR also lost power to two of its stations for several days.
"Some of our news team and staff have been personally impacted by the storm," Kinney says. "One staff member canoed his way to safety. Some are still at home dealing with flooding and damage there. One had to hike from his house into town just to make a phone call to tell us he was okay."
VPR staffers have all been working long hours traveling around the state to report on storm and the recovery in the individual communities and provide the best coverage for their listeners.
"With our news team working such long hours, we are trying to do as much as we can while keeping in mind their personal safety and well-being," Kinney says.
In some cases the listeners themselves have contributed to VPR's coverage.
"The amount of engagement we have with our listeners makes VPR so special," Kinney says. "People have contributed information and photos on our website, Facebook and Twitter. Their contribution helps us flesh out the story and get perspective from communities we haven't gotten to yet."
This partnership between VPR and its listeners is truly a two-way street, in a state where even just an unobstructed street is a luxury right now.
Kinney says VPR "provides the platform to help Vermonters feel connected to each other. When there is a high level of distress in the community (like now), our audience uses us to remain connected."
As the reporting transitions from recovery to reconstruction, Kinney and VPR know soon it will be time to start looking forward.
"In the months to come, our next challenge will be on the rebuilding," he says. "We will continue to explore in a thoughtful way the issues and conversations about that process. We are proud to serve as a forum for those discussions."