Thursday, January 14, 2010

Your insurance covers terrorism and war, but not nuclear, biological or chemical attacks

Busy day.

I woke up to see, like most of the world, that a massive earthquake had struck Haiti. The country was in flames, shrouded in dust, without electricity or telecommunications. The picture that might sum it up best:

Presidential palace laid low.

Being a journalist, the question quickly turned to, how can we cover this? There were other stories closer to home that needed covering too. How do we get it all in the paper? What happens next?

What happened next was, I remembered that we had done a story last week about the UAE's Urban Search and Rescue team. Their job--and they are United Nations-certified!--is to respond to global crises and extricate people from buildings. It seemed obvious: They would be headed to Haiti.

Several calls by one of our plugged-in reporters confirmed this. And the story widened... why not send a photographer with them? And why not a reporter? Why not, indeed. And the team said our people could ride on their plane.

Suddenly, we would not only have an exclusive story, but we would have people on the ground in Haiti... something no other news outlet in the region (and maybe even the continent) could say.

Much had to be done! We chose the reporter and shooter who would go... a difficult process, because who doesn't want to go to an earthquake-ravaged, poverty-stricken crisis zone? I'm not being sarcastic here, either. Everyone really did want to go.

The next step was getting them insurance. I handled that one, and that's where the subject line came from. For a few hundred pounds a week (per person) you could be insured against loss of life or limb... as long as you weren't getting dismembered or killed by the aforementioned weapons of mass destruction. Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.

The folks we were sending had all the relevant inoculations, but we scrambled to find them some malaria pills too. (although, evidently, Haiti has zero malaria. Oh, well.)

Meanwhile, page editors were planning for the weekend. Our coverage would be big.

And then... then it all fell apart. The rescue team wouldn't be going after all, we were told. So neither would our reporters. Our readers wouldn't get to see any of this. And all the vicarious excitement about heading to a big story in the midst of a crisis, well, it ebbed big time.

Maybe next time. And, one hopes, we won't have to spring for the truly comprehensive coverage.

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