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Coverage guide: Following the economic toll of Hurricane Irene

hurricane irene

Hurricane Irene evacuees. By Flickr user The National Guard

Morning TV programming was interrupted Friday for a unusual hurricane-related audio statement by President Obama from Martha’s Vineyard. That should give you a idea of how seriously the feds are taking this Category 2 whirler, which is expected to make landfall – possibly as an even stronger storm –  Saturday morning in North Carolina and then continue on up the coast.

The Weather Channel says more than 9 million people are under threat by the hurricane, which will start making itself felt late Friday.  Obama urged Americans to “take it seriously”  and said it’s “likely to be an extremely dangerous and costly storm.”

The president added that many federal resources are being brought to bear on evacuation, coping and recovery efforts, and said “I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane,  you have to take precautions now.  Do not wait.  Do not delay.  We all hope for the best but have to be prepared for the worst.”

A CBS meteorologist said the swath of the storm is so wide that its reach will be far inland – in some of the most densely populated parts of the country – and said “you don’t have to live along the coast to experience this storm.”  A CNN reporter called the worst storm to hit North Carolina since Hurricane Hazel , a Category 4 storm that hit the coast in 1954 and caused 19 deaths.

It all adds up to an event that will directly affect a significant slice of the U.S. economy and indirectly ripple out to the rest of us, through supply and transportation disruptions, as well as opportunities that arise in the aftermath.  No matter where you are, monitor Irene’s impact on various sectors of your local economy; from health care to fuel supplies to retail supply and sales.

Close to the path of the storm, some hospitals are evacuating, even ICU patients, and supplies including 60,000 Red Cross meals are being transported to shelters.  Tetanus shots for workers and volunteers will be in demand, along with other first-aid supplies.  Much of this activity doesn’t magically happen for free – companies from ambulance firms to blanket manufacturers to bottled-water purveyors may be getting a boost from the demand created by disaster preparations.  Workers will be earning overtime pay and extra workers may be summoned to batten down buildings and other facilities before the storm. Hotels, motels and other lodging/dining facilities – maybe even dog and cat kennels – outside the danger zone will get a boost from evacuee business.  Rental car firms may find demand hot as public transportation shuts down, as might sedan-car services and other personal transport modes.

Taking a page from a previous blog about tsunami effects, check this government database to find disaster-supply contractors in your neck of the woods: Check out GSAAdvantage.gov, a site for all sorts of government suppliers.Go to that site; click on eLibrary in the upper right corner, and use the search box to key in the name of companies you want to check.  Or, click the “Disaster Relief” menu item –  you’ll get a list of subcategories such as “Personal Care” or “Food” –  and continue clicking on submenus, and you’ll get listings — sortable by city and state — of companies that have been designated as disaster-recovery suppliers.  Click on the company, and you get full contact info, including hyperlinks to their websites, if applicable, and government contract number.  It’s a little unwieldy to go through the same process for each category of goods and services, but the website is fast and t’s worth trying to get a lead on firms that may be revving up to provide disaster supplies.

Others lose out, from surgeons who would’ve performed elective surgeries over the next few days, to malls, cinemas, casinos and other venues that probably were counting on a last-week-of-summer bump over the next few days, in addition to back-to-school revenue. Even if you’re far from the storm’s path, are any local processors or manufacturers experiencing canceled orders for perishables like food and flowers, or even a slowdown in parts orders from East Coast plants that expect a slowdown?

What about weddings and other functions that will be delayed or canceled?  Disruption to college move-in frenzies which were expected to take place this coming week could be costly or at least a headache for dozens of small businesses in college communities, from loft-builders to carry-out restaurants.

Will businesses outside the eye of the storm lose or donate workers to volunteer efforts?  Check corporate contributions emanating from your area – goods, money, the use of planes or expertise – for other local ties.  (And be sure to run a personal finance story about the usual post-disaster charitable scam warnings.)

The recovery effort is worth its own post, but if you have building materials suppliers – especially plywood and shingle makers or distributors – nearby, or any kind of lumber, ask about anticipated demand.  Same for flood-remediation companies.  This recent blog post notes that some websites were recruiting construction and skilled-trades workers to southern states even before Irene whipped  herself into shape; apparently there is an annual demand for itinerant builders and lots of good feature/profile possibilities there.

The trucking and supply chain industries are going to be hard hit; check with trucking companies and others near you about the cost of delays.  I notice that Sirius satellite radio has just announced it will broadcast The Weather Channel to aid truckers during the storm period; TruckingInfo.com is updating its audience and state departments of transportation are on the alert.  (Good sources for entree to trucking and cargo industry players).

Whatever your beat, be sure to check the websites of trade publications for story ideas that may not have occurred to you.

For big-picture angles, check out this New York Times blog post on the multibillion-dollar impact the storm may have on New York City alone; the post includes many solid sources of data and could serve as a template for a look at local events.

The NOAA site also has a fascinating menu of economic-impact information going back years, including crop damage (which may be a loss or an opportunity for your region’s growers, depending on where you are).  And for the “who benefits?” angle, the NOAA data also includes the ripple effect of recovery and mitigation spending, post-storm.

Ready.gov and Listo.gov, its Spanish-language counterpart, are the federal consumer disaster preparedness sites and may come in handy if you are preparing tips.  Floodsmart.gov, the site of the National Flood Insurance Program, has a ZIP-code searchable flood risk map.  And the Al Tompkins Workshops’ Storm Tools for Journalists includes a plethora of helpful links from FEMA to fraud alerts.

In Agriculture, Beats, Economy, Featured, Story ideas, Transportation | Airlines | Travel.

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