I was preparing for Hurricane Irma and taking into consideration the things I learned from Hurricane Matthew, I made sure that I had a laptop from the agency so I could have access to SJSO materials freely. I was also handed a MiFi internet box as well. I put it in my media bag along with the other things I knew I’d need for the time I’d be at the EOC. After work that night, I ran to Target to grab a wireless mouse and a mousepad.
I never really thought about what other people didn’t know until it happened. We had left the EOC to take photos of the damage and destruction of the county, and I had grabbed my media bag to go with me. Sarah, a friend of mine, commented that her phone was running low on battery and without thinking about it, I handed over an external battery and an extra charging cable for an iPhone. There were jokes about how I was prepared and how I should be on their team (they worked for the county, and I work for law enforcement) but that’s when it hit me.
Everyone who is in public information should have a media go bag; a media bag with tools of the trade on the off chance that you find yourself in a position that is outside of a building with electricity. A kit that has essential tools that would allow you to do your job no matter what the circumstances are, one that you can grab at a moments notice and just go when called upon.
I’ve been building my kit since I started here at the Sheriff’s Office, and here is what I have in mine:
My Smartphone: I love my iPhone 7. I use it for everything, and I post to all of the social media platforms we have to it. It’s essential to my job. I keep it in my back pocket at all times if I’m not already on it. I can’t wait for my upgrade to the iPhone X because the camera on it is ridiculous and will make my life a lot easier. PRO TIP: spend the money on the extra memory. You will benefit from it because video takes up a lot of space, and you will want to keep a select number of photos and graphics on your phone at all times for quick posts.
External Battery blocks, with charging cables: I currently have a bunch of smaller external batteries, but am going to be purchasing one giant block soon. The smaller ones are easier to carry in my pack because they are lighter and easier to stick in my pocket when charging. Having a large one, however, that can charge your iPhone multiple times before it needs to be recharged itself is a great thing to have for when you are not roaming around doing work. Having extra charging cables on hand is a bonus as well. PRO TIP: Always double check to make sure that the charging cables will actually work. Some of those cheap ones you can grab for $5 won’t work past two uses and it’s a waste of money. I got a couple of good ones for $20 each and they are still going strong 2 years later.
My DSLR Nikon Camera: My Nikon D3100 is a lifesaver when I want high quality, high-resolution photos of whatever it is I am at. Whether it’s a PR event or an emergency, these photos will be achievable as well as used for media releases and videos down the road. Plus, my Nikon also shoots really great video, which helps for bigger projects as well. PRO TIP: Using your DSLR camera for video can actually be better than your phone in some instances depending on the videos you are trying to produce because the quality will be significantly better. Consider that when you are looking to produce a video for the situation you are in. In an emergency situation, your phone is great, but if you have the time to produce something and actually edit something together with software, use your DSLR.
A Laptop: My agency issued Dell laptop is essential to my job. While my phone is great, there are things you can do with a laptop that your phone just can’t do. Plus – I can type faster on my laptop than I can on my phone. That being said – having access to a laptop with an external mouse can make life a lot easier. Plus, having access to things like Microsoft Word, Outlook for your email, a photo editor such as Photoshop or Gimp, and the like. PRO TIP: Use those connection cables for the battery to connect your phone to your laptop. Charge your phone and your you photos over to your laptop to free up some space on your phone. Boom.
A Flashdrive with your agency ‘must haves’ – I have a folder on my desktop at SJSO that has almost 1 gig (just under 1,400 images) of data that I have saved and organized in a folder called Social Media Images. There are things in there for every unit in the agency, sharable things, photos for the weather, for traffic, for all kinds of things. I am still collecting them and organizing them as I go. I did this very same thing at WJXT. I also have important documents, files, videos, and other things of the sort gathered together. I have these files on a flash drive and I carry it with me at all times, so that if I need to jump on a computer to post something I have them with me. I encourage you to do the same thing. That way, you always have what you need on you. A back up is imperative.
My MiFi Hotspot: Mine is agency issued, but if you can make your phone a hotspot, that can work too. This allows you to use your laptop in the field and have an internet connection. There have been times I’ve been in the car as a passenger and using my hotspot to allow me to answer questions via my laptop on Facebook because my phone was dead and it was charging. PRO TIP: Having a hotspot available to you, even when there is a wifi connection available, gives you a chance to have FASTER internet. When we were at the EOC, we ended up using our own hotspots bc the net was so bogged down from everyone using it that it took forever for us to load things. Those hotspots saved us.
A monopod with cell phone adaptor: Think a tripod but with one leg instead of three, and you have a monopod. Perfect for stabilizing your camera or your phone for those video moments, or those photography moments. I have two and have used both at once at many different moments. You never know when you will need one, and you should always have one on you just in case. PRO TIP: Have that cell phone adaptor with you at all times. It fits the bigger phones too.
A Wireless Microphone that works via Cell Phone or DSLR: This is a fantastic bonus piece of equipment to have in your stash. I got mine from B&H Photo and it works beautifully with the camera and with my phone. I use it for when we are doing live feeds as well as recorded pieces of video and it really helps with the audio. PRO TIP: When using this, don’t use your Apple headphones or any other headphones that have a microphone on them. Grab a set that is just headphones.
An External Light: When it’s dark out, it’s going to make your video or photos dark. Having an external light source will help illuminate whatever it is that you are trying to take video/photos of without using the harshness of the auto flash on both the phone and the camera. I got my LED external light also at B&H Photo. I hope that my next purchase will be an iPhone circle light.
A bottle of water, a pack of gum, and some Clif bars: You never know how long you will be in the field or where your next meal will come from. I always keep a bottle of water with me, a pack of gum (my favorite is bubblelicious) and at least three Clif Bars in my bag for emergencies. Usually, if I’m out on an emergency with my agency, they will have water on hand and will bring food in if needed but it’s safe to not rely on that in case it doesn’t happen. Plus, who knows how long it has been since you last ate? You might need something sooner than they will. A reusable water bottle that you can refill, gum to keep your mouth and throat wet, and snacks for quick bites are necessary.
There are some other things like a first aid kit, sunscreen, and cash in there as well, but those are the big ones. I also try to have multiples of whatever I can. It’s important to keep the kit ready to go at all times because you just never know when you will need it. It’s also important to make sure you check and recheck your kit often to make sure everything is charged and ready to go. I recharge my batteries once every couple of weeks if I haven’t used them to make sure they are ready to go.
Being prepared is one of the most important things you can be in the media world. This is a great place to start.