Dominican broadcast journalist, Nester Phillip is well-known in Caribbean journalism circles. He has travelled the region and reported extensively on a variety of developmental areas. Then, on the night of September 18, 2017, he confronted the story of his life. He resorted to social media to sound an early alert about conditions following Hurricane Maria and the first video he posted has been shared scores of times.
Since then, his Facebook Live posts have told the story of Dominica following the hurricane.
Here is a Q&A with Phillip conducted by ACM president, Wesley Gibbings.
Q: Can you describe the impact of the hurricane on yourself and your family?
A: With regard to the impact of Hurricane Maria on myself and my family, essentially, we have significant roof damage. Not all our roof is gone, but we have significant roof damage, in the sense that with the roof gone, and of course, the water damage that affected our homes, it has basically messed up our appliances, our shoes, our clothes, our rooms; so that’s basically the long and short of the issue. Our personal belongings have been messed up through this hurricane; we are lacking some of our usual personal items.
Q: Describe the tensions, if any, between your responses as a human being in a crisis and your need to tell the story as a journalist. I saw you were early on the ball. Was it at the expense of securing your own safety and well-being?
A: Essentially, I am a citizen that is directly affected, and I’m also a journalist. Through it all, jump high, or jump low, true a professional has to stay true to his or her profession, but I always maintain that fundamentally, one is a citizen first.
Whether a doctor – a citizen first. Whether a journalist – a citizen first. Whether a mechanic – a citizen first, and of course, it directly affected me, so I, as any human being would do, jumped first to look at the citizen aspect, but then of course I noticed ‘well hey, the journalist in you can also tie in with the citizen and tell the story.’
As such, I basically went on Facebook Live which provided unfettered ability to do what I have to do in terms of telling the story. So the intention was there, for example: yes I’m telling everybody the story, but when do I actually take care of my own roof? When do I actually take care of my own belongings which are drenched in water? Admittedly, I ended up having to, despite being a citizen first, end up telling the story first. The story of the wider society first, before actually handling my own affairs: such as clean up and so on.
Q: What should journalists learn from the experience of Dominica?
A: Journalists should learn that they have to plan, plan, plan and prepare, prepare, prepare. Yes there may be no absolute planning and preparation, fine, but you can still do a high-quality-level of planning and preparation. For example, at my workplace there is a sort of disaster committee if you will, or disaster group within the company that prepares for these things.
But I’ll tell journalists to look at for example, backup power, which is critical, which is something that I’m suffering from right now, in the sense that I lack backup power. Look at transportation, how do you get around to tell the story? Get bicycles, get scooters, things that you may not normally look at as being necessary, or may not really go with your day to day work. During disasters, they may be the best thing that you ever had.
So my point to journalists is: be prepared with all the relevant tools and things that help make the job possible, like a bicycle to get around. At some point, your 4×4 will not be able to travel along some roads. At some point, the power will go out. At some point, you’ll need water purification kit. So my message to journalists is that they should learn to have backup systems to help with the production.
Q: If you had to prepare for another episode like this, what would you NOT forget to do next time?
A: What would I not forget to do, is exactly what I’m trying to do right now: build resilience. Build resilience. In the sense that I need, I genuinely need a generator as a power source. I also need a solar-powered generator.
I need a bicycle. Interestingly enough, these things are kings right now. And these are some of the things that I will not forget to do, in the sense that going forward, I will not forget to procure these things, because I need resilience so that whenever those things happen in the future, immediately I can be up and running again.
I am sure that if I do a more targeted, focused audit, I could find out that there are some crucial items that I’m missing, but for me I’ll not forget to really go ahead and build resilience.