Tuesday 23 July 2019
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Producing Award Winning Videos for Chatham County Public Information Office : NICK BEARD

story by Katie VandenHouten     photos by Nelson LaPorte
The 2018 hurricane season has just begun, and if you’re like most people, you’ll appreciate any information that could help your family if a storm hits. With Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and then Hurricane Irma in its wake in 2017, the low country braced for impact and then dealt with the aftermath of the storms.
During storms and other emergencies, Chatham County’s Public Information Office is responsible for getting the latest information out to the community. Pooler resident, Nick Beard, is the PIO’s video producer who assists in that important task.
Filming for the PIO is not just about hurricane footage. Beard works with all the departments in Chatham County, including Chatham County Police Department, Parks and Recreation, and CEMA (Chatham Emergency Management Agency.)
It is his job to provide footage and relay up-to-date information to the people of Chatham County, keeping them informed and safe. He also produces instructional videos, public service announcements and has started streaming live CEMA footage on social media so that the public can get first-hand information from CEMA instead of it being filtered through a third party news organization.
Beard’s video footage for CEMA won two awards for its social media coverage during Hurricane Irma. It won second place in the Government Social Media Organization’s Crisis Communications category, second only to Las Vegas for their communications during the infamous mass shooting at Mandalay Bay. Facebook also awarded CEMA with the Facebook Favorite Award, which was presented at the GSMO Conference for the innovative live video footage posted throughout the storm.
Winning awards was the farthest thing from Beard’s mind during Irma, but getting national recognition validates his work and his passion for film production. “Most of the time we’re producing these videos, it’s under pressure and we’re trying to get the information out and you want it to look good,” says Beard. “But it’s very humbling when you can come back seven or eight months later and you get recognition.”
Beard got the idea for live CEMA coverage about a month before Hurricane Irma. “It would be nice if we could go live and actually show people in the community what’s going on without having to call the news stations to come out here to cover it,” he says. “This is what CEMA representatives are actually saying, not the news interpreting what we’re saying.”
Though Beard serves all county agencies, whenever there is a hurricane, CEMA takes over and becomes the PIO’s number one priority. What made the task more daunting during Irma was that the category five storm was originally projected to hit the Georgia coast. This put CEMA officials into action early. While citizens were anxiously watching the news for updates, Beard and others at CEMA and the PIO were brainstorming in preparation.
Keep in mind, the widespread power outages and downed trees were substantial in the wake of Matthew, which was only a tropical depression. A direct hit would have been devastating for the Georgia coast. “We got pretty lucky this time, because the storm was projected to come straight here, but it veered off course and went away. Thank God,” says Beard.
During Irma, Beard worked tirelessly with CEMA’s Community Outreach Specialist, Chelsea Sawyer, to put out informational videos on social media regarding how to get ready for the storm. The instructional videos focused on how to keep a water supply and other safety tips to help the community prepare for the worst.
Thankfully, our area was spared a direct hit, but many residents were upset that they were told to evacuate in the first place. In cases like these, Beard advises everyone in the community to take CEMA’s advice. “Don’t just watch the news. Go to CEMA’s website and get information and see what they’re recommending,” he says. “I know a lot of people hate to evacuate, especially if a storm shifts, but it’s better to evacuate going off the predictions that we have than to be here and you can’t get out.”
Though hurricanes are a major focus for CEMA and the PIO this time of year, Beard must be ready for any disaster, be it a natural disaster or man-made.  Most recently, Beard responded to the deadly military plane crash on Highway 21 in May. “You have to be professional and get through it as best you can,” he says. “It can be overwhelming, but you just have to realize it’s your job.”
Not everyone can handle the ever-changing, fast-paced environment at the PIO, but Beard loves the challenge. He knew he was in the right place as soon as he started. “My second day working this position there was a tornado that dropped down, and I had to go out with CEMA and the National Weather Service, which was an experience in itself,” he recalls. “You always hear about the National Weather Service, but to go out with these people to an event was absolutely amazing.”
From natural disasters to shootings, car accidents and plane crashes, Beard has seen and captured it all. Even though he may cover fearful situations, he wants people to know that the PIO has lots of positive information for the community as well.
He films two 30-minute shows bimonthly for Chatham County’s government  channel that focus on local events and must-see places in the area: The Chat with Chatham and Chatham County Parks and Recreation.  “There’s just so much that’s available in Chatham County,” Beard explains. The shows feature various parks, museums, festivals, activities and other community events the county has to offer.
Beard writes the scripts, shoots the video, and does the editing for both shows. And if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he also makes training videos for various county departments.
“The best part is there are no two days that are the same,” he says. “Today, for instance, I was out with the police department with new recruits. We started the day with the civil rights museum, and we ended the day under the bridge at a homeless camp so the new recruits could get awareness of the diversity of what goes on in our community.”
No matter which department he’s with, Beard pours his passion for film into every production. He has been known to spend hours listening to music in search for the best background track, and he is meticulous when it comes to scripting and planning shots for his videos.
“I take it as a challenge to make anything that we put out, video-wise, to make sure it looks professional, to make sure it’s in focus, it’s high definition, and the video is smooth,” he says. “That’s what they expect of me. I try to always make sure I’m ready and all my equipment is ready to do what I need to do, regardless of what the situation is.”
Beard, along with the staff of the PIO, CEMA, Police Department and other emergency services, all make sacrifices to ensure the safety of the community. When they take the job, they know they will be at the forefront of risky situations.
But even though the job comes with the element of risk, Beard says the county and the PIO do their best to make sure their families are safe. “It’s hard to concentrate on doing this job at this level if you’re worried about the safety of your own relatives,” he explains. “But the county does a really good job of making sure that our families are taken care of so that we can do our jobs.”
His ultimate goal is to eventually transition into doing major motion pictures. Film crews are flocking to the Savannah area, and Beard would love to join them one day. His current “big screen” production can be seen in the form of a thirty-second CEMA promo that plays before the main feature at Pooler Stadium. “I haven’t gone to the movies in a while, but people have told me that they’ve seen it on the big screen and that they enjoyed it,” he says.
For now, he loves serving his community with the PIO and wants to get more involved with Pooler, in particular. “My wife and I absolutely love Pooler,” he says. He plans to become more active in Pooler government meetings and get more involved in his community as well.
Nick Beard is the talented PIO video producer who puts his heart and soul into every production. And while the community loves to see CEMA winning awards, perhaps they wouldn’t mind if his videos weren’t in the running this year for the crisis category. But if a crisis does strike, the community can rest assured that our emergency services workers are doing their best to keep them informed and safe.

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