How Vermont Public Provided Lifesaving Information Amid Historic Floods

By Cait Beroza |

Downtown Montpelier on July 11. (Mike Dougherty)

When historic, catastrophic flash and river flooding ravaged communities across the state, Vermonters turned to Vermont Public for reliable, lifesaving emergency information and recovery resources.

Vermont Public Connected Residents with Lifesaving Information

In July 2023, a powerful storm produced heavy rainfall – as much as nine inches in 48 hours – causing thousands of residents to lose their homes and businesses, significant damage to towns, washouts of numerous roads and bridges, and landslides.

Vermont Public, a statewide public radio and television service, was on the front line, connecting residents with vital information and flood victims with valuable resources.

During the flood, the organization provided special, up-to-the-minute coverage on radio, television, social media, their website, and on-demand programs. A trusted partner of the Governor’s office and Vermont Emergency Management, Vermont Public broadcasted and streamed State press conferences to disseminate in real-time crucial information for local residents.

During the worst week of flooding, hundreds of thousands of Vermonters depended on Vermont Public. From July 9-15, 274,000 people visited the public media station’s website and app. More than 270,000 received flood news and information via their social media platforms. Through broadcast, more than 180,000 listeners and 100,000 viewers were reached.

Vermont Public’s impact extended beyond the state, with appearances on nationally distributed shows during the first week of flooding, including Liam Elder-Connors reporting on NPR’s Morning Edition, Mikaela Lefrak on WAMU’s 1A and Nina Keck on Vox’s Today, Explained.

Vermont Public Supports Flood Victims

From providing unmatched recovery resources to raising funds, Vermont Public supported local flood victims. Flood victims received targeted information like how to safely re-enter a flooded house and detailed instructions about how to access private and public sources of flood relief.

The depth and accessibility of Vermont Public’s coverage led local organizations, including the University of Vermont’s home health care system, to refer clients to the station’s website for invaluable resources.

Senior reporter Bob Kinzel speaks with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in Barre on July 12, 2023.

(Credit: Joey Palumbo)

In collaboration with the Vermont Community Foundation, Vermont Public inspired donors to give nearly $900,000 for flood victims with a special fund drive.

Vermont Public Reflects on Lessons Learned

Unique in the media landscape, public media stations are locally operated and staffed, and reach almost every household. When disaster strikes, it’s not just another story — it’s personal. During the devastating floods, staff at Vermont Public came together with the shared purpose of protecting fellow Vermonters.

Vermont Public’s reach, approach, and public trust were fundamental to their effective coverage of the crisis. The station’s communications strategy ensured residents had multiple, real-time methods to receive information. By providing key information on social media, digital platforms, and broadcast, Vermonters had multiple ways to access their trusted news source. There was widespread acknowledgement among staff that their recently expanded digital team was a critical asset in their rapid-response coverage.

Federal Funding Supports Public Media’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Coverage

Federal funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) accounts for more than 10 percent of Vermont Public’s operating budget. This irreplaceable source of support allows the station to maintain its extensive broadcast and digital infrastructure throughout the mountainous and rural state, ensuring 99% of Vermonters can access Vermont Public.

Reaching these rural households is costly, which is why they’re often underserved by other local media sources. Broadcast continues to be the most reliable method to connect the unconnected. Vermont Public would not be able to serve these small towns without federal funding. The station is also seeking Next Generation Warning System funding to upgrade broadcasting equipment to ensure communities are not left behind by infrastructure failures.

Vermont Public Looks Ahead

The story isn’t over. The state was hit by another flood in December.

With flood damages still coming into focus, Vermont is moving more deeply into the recovery phase. Vermont Public has and will continue to be there for Vermonters, covering the issues – from proposed aid packages to intersectional matters, like climate change, Vermont’s housing crisis, public infrastructure, lax regulations and food insecurity – affecting the comeback of homes, businesses, towns, and infrastructure.